Another day I’d choose to forget but know I will not, regrettably, in a hurry.
The wind had whipped with increasing fury around the house, during the night; so our pre-dawn start was not welcomed but greeted with an icy blast & squally showers. I prepared the movements paperwork required for transporting livestock whilst Tony (in an even worse mood than yesterday as it was an even earlier start – we had to set off for Haverfordwest by 0730) stomped down to the lower yard to put temporary collars on the kids & load them into the trailer. By now the older of the males were so fearful that something wasn’t quite right, that they jumped clean over the hurdle across the door of their pen & straight out into the field; however they were soon persuaded to return with the enticement of a bucket of feed. The two groups of males – those that were born in March & the two born in July – were still kept separate in the trailer, to minimize stress on the journey as much as possible. It reduced me to tears however, when pretty little Arvel, on hearing my voice, came running up to the side of the trailer, crying in the hope that I’d let him out again; he was such a trusting little chap, & just looked so small & vulnerable. Tony almost left me behind at that point; however I felt I owed it to the boys to accompany them on their final journey to ensure they were quietly & sympathetically handled at the other end.
The one-and-a-half hour trip passed in silence with Tony still in his negative mood. On arrival at the Pembrokeshire Meat Company I checked the kids had travelled well – though by this time poor little Arvel was trembling from head to foot & cried pathetically to me as soon as I appeared. It was absolutely horrible. The kids were unloaded from the trailer & I discovered Tony hadn’t taken their collars off before we left, as I’d asked; & one by one the little leather collars were placed on the trailer roof as each kid was coaxed down the ramp & into the holding pen. Thankfully they all saw it all as a bit of a game & soon started chasing each other round & mounting each other eagerly – so you could say they literally went out with a ‘bang’. Thankfully, at least when they were stunned prior to dispatch they never uttered a sound; & indeed knew nothing about it.
I found the tears welling up again as I put the little collars back into the truck. It seems I’d named Arvel aptly, after all; his name means ‘many tears’ & he was so called as he was born just after we’d received the news that our appeal to defra to have our scrapie status accepted – which would have meant we were licenced to export stud males (although in hindsight it wouldn’t have made any difference this year anyway, with the Governmental blunder which caused the FMD outbreak at the Pirbright laboratory this summer resulting in the imposition of a blanket export ban) – had been rejected, so the chances were our lovely little pure-bred boys would end up having to go for meat.
I grimly assisted with cleaning & disinfecting the trailer; the only positive news on the horizon was that five of the kids were immediately purchased by a trader who was desperate to fulfil an order for kid meat at a top London restaurant, where chevon as it is called is becoming a much sought-after dish on the menu. We agreed to keep the largest kid – Arfryn – for home consumption; apart from Tony’s keenness to taste the meat I was also concerned that as he was the most mature male his meat might taste a little strong; & as the gentleman concerned had already offered to take any other kids we couldn’t sell for breeding in future, I wanted to ensure his customers weren’t put off by any potential male taint. But it is something of a relief as it will both make us a few pennies & won’t clog up our freezers (we’re already concerned we won’t have enough space for our next batch of pork & bacon!) although the cost of producing the kids was far greater than the amount for which we were able to sell them.
It was horrible to be handed the bagful of offal – still warm, of course – from the kids; but the whole process had been remarkably swift, which is all for the best I suppose. We were advised that for biosecurity reasons we couldn’t take the skins directly from the abattoir & would have to collect them from the rendering plant over on the Cardiganshire coast at Tan Y Groes.
After a brief discussion with the butchery department we set off for Carmarthen, pausing at Whitland to collect the plans for the proposed Process Rooms of the Dairy Complex before going to ‘Pets At Home’ to find a new halter for Nanuk. This time we’re going to try the ‘Gentle Leader’ in the hope that it doesn’t rub in her eyes in the same irritating way that her Halti does – the more comfortable & happy she is, the better she should walk on the lead. We returned home to do the chores & I braved the rain to check that the lambs had settled in their new field. I then took the opportunity to clear the last of the apples from the orchard, as I had my shepherd’s crook with me so could reach the few remaining which were clinging grimly to the topmost branches in spite of the strong wind. I grubbed up the last of the windfalls & fed them to the pigs, a final feast for them before they too are taken to Haverfordwest tomorrow.
Having unsuccessfully tried to contact the rendering plant at Tan Y Groes we decided to visit instead, to find out whether we could indeed get our goatskins back. After searching fruitlessly along the Cardigan to Aberystwyth road for a few minutes, we called in at Aberporth’s lovely little Welsh butchers’, who helpfully gave us the directions we required.
We’d actually driven past the place a couple of times but there was no public indication as to its’ existence; hardly surprising I suppose, considering the profusion of Animal Rights activists who might otherwise cause painful problems for the plant (in spite of the employees’ necessary task of dealing with any unfortunate, fallen stock). Personally I am an ardent supporter of vegetarianism. However, being a farmer too, I am very much aware of what would happen to this ‘green & pleasant land’ if the livestock were removed. This was brought uncomfortably home to me shortly after we moved here when a deserted farmstead on the hill only a mile or two across the valley was left without livestock & is now a classic example of tragic farmstead desolation, having been reduced over the last couple of years from productive pasture to a scrubby wildreness of brambles & bracken.
So whilst I applaud & indeed wholeheartedly encourage vegetarianism for those who cannot (or will not) personally raise & nurture their own meat, I must admit that if we all simultaneously embraced the philosophy overnight, the horrific crux is that many of our beloved rare breeds would swiftly disappear – as would the more common ones. Animals can & indeed should be farmed, considerately & carefully, for their wonderful produce (whether eggs, fibre or milk). However, they also provide a vital service in keeping Britain’s countryside in good heart: after all, if it wasn’t for our farm animals, the UK would rapidly become a weed-infested wilderness. But there is a middle way: so please, everyone, let’s work together to preserve our sceptred isle as the rich & diverse natural habitat which we have nurtured it so to be.
Our visit to Tan Y Groes was strange in the extreme. On leaving the vehicle I immediately shrunk against the ferocity of the chill gale which was roaring off the sea; huddling close in my jacket against the furious ravages from the unforgiving coast, I hastily searched deserted outbuildings & desolate offices before finally finding two lone men in the corner of a twilight shed, rapidly shovelling salt onto pile upon pile of individual animal skins.
Having acknowledged my presence, the manager came over to determine my business. I inquired regarding the skins; but it didn’t look good – normally goat skins are just thrown straight in the skip. He contacted his driver who said he thought he might have collected two skins from Haverfordwest – but that they could have been mixed up with a batch of calf skins. The helpful manager told me could readily identify them & said he would go through the consignment tomorrow & let me know whether they’d been salvaged. I have mixed feelings about it: part of me would like them back & I’m curious to see how they look once they’ve been tanned; but by the same token, knowing each individual animal as well as I do I’m not sure how I’ll feel about seeing those pretty little pelts again.
By evening we had to load the pigs onto the trailer. Tony grew more & more grumpy as his frustration grew, trying to manouevre the trailer into position in front of the pigsty & annoyed at my poor directions (which admittedly should have been far better as after all I am trained to guide vehicles up the ramps of transport aircraft!). By the time the trailer was secure his mood had again deteriorated; & it wasn’t helped when he opened the sty gate but the girls wouldn’t be persuaded onto the unfamiliar metal ramp – despite a liberal covering of straw – no matter how much food I scattered for them. He tried forcing them forward by pushing them with a board; but they were having none of it. Tony barked orders at me, putting up a barrage of hurdles & slapping at the pigs with his aluminium crook, which had absolutely no effect as it just bounced off their thick hides. Eventually he lost his temper to such an extent that his angry shouting sent the pigs into a terrified huddle against the door to their bedroom; so I sent Tony indoors to calm down with a cup of tea.
I switched off all the bright lights around the yard, & with the cold wind whipping in from the east I gently stroked the trembling pigs, scratching behind their ears & talking to them softly. I took out handfuls of feed & scattered it at their feet; & after a few minutes their inevitable greed got the better of them & they started to show an interest in having some supper. After a little while I gently encouraged them to turn around; & then like Hansel & Gretel I left a little trail of food from the sty & onto the ramp, which Bacon eagerly followed. Sausage, her more cautious sister, followed behind but was not to be persuaded onto the ramp for another twenty long, cold minutes.
Gradually, gently, I persuaded them further into the trailer; & whilst they were snuffling through the straw for the tasty titbits I’d liberally strewn therein I quietly went back to the house to fetch a suitably chastened Tony, who had been convinced we would be unable to load the pigs that evening if indeed at all. Between us we quietly closed the ramp & then, once we were satisfied the pigs were comfortable & free from hunger & thirst, we left them to sleep in the trailer. Tony had been keen to turn the trailer around this evening; however I persuaded him the pigs had endured enough stress for one day & that it was best to leave them to enjoy a last, peaceful night’s rest in their deep straw bed.
It’d certainly been a difficult day; but at least it was now over.