The combination of ever rising costs and customer expectations of ever falling prices means we’ve started culling our herd of Berkshire pigs.
Prices were up again when I paid the bill at the feed merchants today, necessitating a dip into our household savings and that’s unacceptable even though we have three porkers going through at the moment.
Pork from the growers will recoup the money from our savings but there will be nothing left to pay for further feed, much less the replacement stock we need. Or fencing materials, veterinary costs, farm insurance and the like. We broke even last year so there’s nothing left in the bank for them at this point.
If we could cover our costs and get the small margin we need to rebuild our cushion, it might be worth going on with the pigs. But with the majority of potential customers for pigs and pork—five of seven in the past fortnight—demanding prices that are one-third to one-half the cost of the production we see little point in carrying on. (Ironically, we have a bigger base of potential customers than ever thanks to most other local producers quitting.)
As our boar, Gus, and one of the sows, Daisy, were already in ill health I decided to cull them immediately instead of running up further veterinary and feed bills.
A neighbour with a firearms certificate, endorsed for culling injured stock, brought his .22 over this afternoon and shot both of them.
I’d have preferred to use a shotgun as it’s safer and more effective—fired at close range into the skull about an inch above the eyes—but the people who let me use their shotgun (under supervision on my land) if needed were away. (UK firearms laws have so far prevented me obtaining a shotgun certificate.)
With both pigs, the first shot from the .22 didn’t hit quite square thanks to the pigs moving their heads slightly. The fractional change in angle, combined with the hardness and thickness of a mature pig’s skull, meant the bullets ricocheted up their foreheads.
I’d anticipated this and positioned the pigs with the empty hillside rising behind them, but it wasn’t pleasant to have rounds zip off bone into the air then plough into the soil far up the rise.
In both cases, the second shots hit square, at very close to a right angle to the forehead, and penetrated the bone. Both pigs dropped immediately, indicating their brain stems were destroyed by the rounds.
The neighbour and I moved the pig carcasses around to the hardstanding to allow the knacker to collect them tomorrow. They’re under a tarpaulin to avoid offending passers-by—we know from experience how few people like to be confronted by the realities of farming.
As for the remaining sows, I’d like to send them to slaughter. If we can turn them into sausages, chops and hams we can cover the costs of culling them, plus the costs of disposing of the boar and sow.
However, most abattoirs up here only take pigs to 80kg and the sows are in excess of 200kg. If we can’t send the sows to slaughter, we’ll have to pay the cull costs from the proceeds of the last porkers.
It will leave us a little out of pocket but not as much as keeping a herd of pigs on and subsidising at least half the cost of other people’s food, as an ever increasing number of would-be customers make clear that’s what we’re expected to do.
Well, their expectations won’t be met at our expense. Instead, they can go to the supermarket, fill their trolleys with cheap, imported and intensively produced pork while blaming the supermarkets for farmers not getting paid enough for milk or pork.