Blog Index
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20 MARCH 2017

Two ewes, four lambs – the ideal outcome that every shepherd longs for.  Along with red sky at night, these numbers are a shepherd’s delight.

As the ewes start to lamb at this time each year, so do the rooks in the trees that surround us here build their nests. The collective noun for rooks is a parliament. If you can, make the time to pause outside the shop and just listen to them and you’ll immediately understand why. It’s like a recording of the House of Commons.

There’s  a column in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, written by an NHS doctor ‘How not to Die (Yet).’  I’ve just realised this a particularly terrible pun.  I quote:

The Japanese eat less fat than us and have fewer heart attacks; the French eat more fat than us and have fewer heart attacks. The Japanese drink less red wine than us and have fewer heart attacks. The French drink more red wine than us and have fewer heart attacks. In fact, you can eat and drink what you like. It’s speaking English that kills you.

His point in fact is the difficulty of establishing cause and effect in nutritional issues and advises against gluten free diets unless you have coeliac disease – which most of us don’t.

In the meantime, just in case, I’m trying to learn Italian.

See you soon


13 MARCH 2017

These pigs photographed last Monday can be seen in the field on your left as you come down the drive.

This is the problem:

There is only one abattoir in Northern Ireland that is prepared to do private kills of pigs. It’s in Derry which already makes the distance an economic problem for the small batches of pigs we deal with. To exacerbate this problem, the abattoir will only take pigs under 100kg. We currently have one sow that is past her sell by date for breeding purposes but would make excellent sausages – and a lot of them. She probably weighs at least 150kg and though she is fully organic will probably have to be sold on to a cull specialist who will almost certainly send her either across the border or to England for slaughter. She will probably end up in some mass produced non organic mince pies. Instead of being able to make some money on her we will in fact get a pittance.

As I’ve mentioned recently we have a critical shortage of pork in any case. Apart from the Camphill Community, there is nobody else in NI doing organic pork. We already work very closely with Camphill, but even when we buy their surplus, we haven’t enough bacon and sausages to keep both the shop and the Tea Room supplied. I spent some hours last week and eventually sourced some organic pigs in County Laois. I was organising to pick them up when I discovered that they are all over 100kg and therefore unslaughterable in the North of Ireland. We are currently trying to get them slaughtered in the South in order to bring them home for Ilse to butcher.

The simple facts are these. There is no understanding by the powers that be concerning the difficulties facing small artisan producers – this despite the fact that artisan food production is a major growth sector in the economy. As I mentioned in my email a couple of weeks ago, the local food technology college is more interested in teaching producers how to maximize the profit from their indoor reared, mass produced pigs by filling them to the legal limit with enhancers and e-numbered preservatives, than it is in developing a sector that is trying to produce a top quality and healthier alternative.

I know many of our very good vegetarian and vegan customers will find such talk of killing and slaughter distasteful. But think on this: the pigs you see in the picture are from a saddleback sow and a Tamworth boar. These are old rare British/Irish breeds which are in very real danger of extinction. They are simply not suited to mass production methods and if it were not for small artisan producers such as ourselves they would cease to exist. In the grand scale of things this might not be a disaster for humanity, but it would be to me yet another milestone on our own road to perdition.

See you soon


07 MARCH 2017

Photographic Competition Winners- on the left the winner of the under 13 category: ‘Fairy Bridge’ by Amber McIlwaine-Biggins (aged 3&1/2). Well done Amber – only very special people who go on the walk actually spot the fairy bridge. This is the first actual photo I’ve seen. On the right the winner of the adult category: Zoe Brook. Zoe hasn’t given her picture a title, but I think I’ll call it ‘Tonsils’.

Both entries showed an imaginative take on the farm walk and will receive a £25 for the Tea Room or Farm Shop. Winners, please let us know which you would prefer.

You may remember early in January I mentioned planting some 125 trees in our continuing effort  to have specimens of every Irish native tree represented on the farm walk. We are devising a simple competition to encourage you out onto the farm walk especially in this the best of seasons. Can you match the newly planted trees to the locations, both of which will be shown on the entry forms? There will be a tie-breaker question and once again we are offering a £25.00 Tea Room voucher to the winning adult entry and the winning 12 or under entry. (Teenagers are deemed adults for the purposes of this competition.) Entry forms will be available later in the week – watch this space. Please make sure when handing in your entries that you indicate whether you are adult or child.

See you soon



27 FEBRUARY 2017

Patricia photographed this holly tree a few days ago down beside the tunnels. It’s beginning to shed its berries – presumably with procreation in mind. In the meantime, like so much of what surrounds us, it looks rather beautiful.

Virtually the whole Ballylagan team decanted down to Dublin yesterday to see Ireland defeat France in the women’s six nations. Inexplicably Ilse was left on the bench. We’re hoping the coach is reserving her strength for the crucial match against the old enemy England on St Patrick’s Day.

Ilse attended a course run by CAFRE last week which taught the latest techniques recommended in curing and smoking of meats. The list of chemicals you are permitted to use is quite extensive and though many of them sound pretty benign, some of them have an alarming number of syllables in their names. I’m afraid that my scientific knowledge is so limited that a syllable count is often the basis of my prejudice. I remember a BBC agricultural correspondent commenting  that when he first heard what BSE stood  for (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) his blood ran cold. He had no idea what it meant, but the sheer length of the name conveyed very bad news indeed. Anyway, much of the course was dealing with how you could maximize the use of these chemicals without infringing legal limits. Ilse explained that she was from an organic butchery and was asked what chemicals she used in her cure. ‘Sugar and salt.’ This was greeted with incredulity.  

We are having real problems sourcing organic pork – the demand is insatiable and the Tea Room alone takes all we can produce. We already buy in from Camphill whenever they have any to spare and are currently looking further afield. As far as we are aware there is no one apart from ourselves and Camphill producing organic pigs in the six counties – if you know better, please let me know.

See you soon