When was the last day you can remember of relative normality? For me it was Tuesday 17th March, the day I took some pigs off to slaughter. I say 'normality', but even on that day the vegetable aisles of Morrisons in Berwick were almost empty. It felt quite a big deal at the time, those heady days of panic buying. However we could still move around freely, walk past our fellow humans without fear, go into a normal, non-food shop (let alone having to queue) and then pick up a cappuccino on the way home. Those five weeks ago now seem a world away.
Prior to Boris Johnson's evening address the following Tuesday I would half-joke that our life here at West Bastelbog is pretty-much one of self isolation. Working around here I could go days without seeing anyone other than Alexa and the kids. And so it has been for the most of the past four weeks. Putting aside the loss of three of our four incomes, we have muddled on as best we can in the past four weeks. It might have been a different story if we were in the midst of November with days getting shorter, the wetness of the winter past and the thought of a looming Christmas governed by the lockdown rules. Thankfully the sun has been shining, the ground has been drying out, the geese and hens are laying well and there's been all the joy and freshness of Spring with the bursting blossom and flowers that it brings.
There has been a bit of adjustment. Not just financially. There's been the home schooling for Oscar. No creche for Harriet. The increasing difficulty of getting materials to proceed with any planned work around the farm. The queuing outside the Co-op in Duns to get milk. The strange new ways of interacting with neighbours; no handshakes and keeping a slightly awkward distance.
However this enforced slower place has given us a renewed "livin' of the fat o' the land" vigour and brought forward our farm produce plans. We originally planned to use the first batch of pigs for home consumption. It would give us time to play around with organic sausage mixes and gradually test the demand and types of products that might sell. With the loss of incomes, that all quickly changed and we decided to do what we could to keep some cash flowing. Four of our lovingly raised pigs were finally sent off for slaughter. It was a tough day for me, I must admit. Tougher than I had expected. I'm no stranger to field dressing, skinning and butchering a deer but to take the pigs down to County Durham (yes, ridiculous as it is that's the closest slaughterhouse) and drop them off at a factory was quite emotional. Big jessie I hear you say. Maybe. Was it the industrialised, mass animal slaughter (and this was a small slaughterhouse by standards I am told) with the livestock waiting in line for their impending doom? Or having seen them born, this marked the end of a period of time? Or just the loss of part our twice daily routine of feeding and checking? Who knows. Either way it keeps us connected to the welfare of the livestock to try and give them as good a life as possible.
It wasn't long before the emotions subsided and we were onto the next stage. Sampling and selling. That was a real surprise. Within a week almost all our produce had sold. We were bowled over by the demand and then the wonderfully kind feedback we received. The sausages, bacon and, in particular, the Easter gammon seemed to go down really well.
The pork went down so well that in May we will be doing more bacon and sausages along with West Bastelbog lamb. Watch this space!
Although it's not all been about pigs and pork. There have endless jobs to do. From vegetable planting to preparing wood for next winter, to setting up farm gate egg sales, restoring some of the old machinery, ploughing, harrowing, tattie ridging and planting, liming fields, installing new gates and fencing. More of that in the next blog. Who knows when lockdown will end, but for now all we can do is plod on, keep doing what we're doing and be grateful for the sunshine.
Until next time.