April on the Farm 2024

The last pigs to be reared in Sulgrave, twenty years ago
Photo: Colin Wootton

Richard Fonge writes:

I started last months notes by saying that there had been a much needed break in the continual wet weather allowing some field work to be done. Sadly it was just a short break, and now in mid April the continual rain persists. It is now a very serious situation for farmers and growers, which could have an impact later on in the year on food prices. You only have to look at the unplanted fields up the concrete road and on the Moreton rd to realise that the chances of planting a crop this spring is unlikely. The effects of the excessive rain can be seen in the winter wheat crop on the Stuchbury footpath. Multiply these field situations across the country and you have a serious situation. We are less than 60% self sufficient food wise as a nation anyway, so we do not want to be sucking in more imports.

In the grass field off the Helmdon rd there is a flock of young sheep. They are ewe lambs which will be bred from this autumn to have their lambs next spring at two years old when they will be called theaves. Sheep terminology is endless and confusing as it varies from different regions of the country. This wet weather has not been good for the lambing season, making it an extra pressure at a busy time. It must be remembered that lambs are born with a coat that is there to protect them from wet and cold, with wet the most threatening of the two. However providing the ewe has the milk to feed her lambs and they are born strong all should be well.

At our forthcoming fete in June there will be skittles played with the winners receiving prizes. This game was once called bowling for the pig, with the first prize of a weaner pig being hotly contested between the men of the village and others from neighbouring villages. Up until the mid 1950s the pig still paid a vital part in the household economy. The saying went. “The only bit of a pig you couldn’t eat was its squeak.” A valued prize. The pig was fed on waste food and fattened up to a good size before being humanely slaughtered by the local pig sticker. The sides were then salted and hung from hooks in the out shed and cottage kitchen. The bacon often 80% fat was vital to that cottager’s family along with the fresh vegetables from his allotment. It must be remembered that work was far more physically demanding, especially farm work where there was often a bike ride to work after a hard days labour, so the high fat meat was soon burnt off.

A man I knew who had been a teenager during the Second World War, said how well they had lived in the country during that time, with vegetables, the pig, fresh eggs, and always the odd rabbit and pigeon and cockerel to supplement their healthy diet. For that is what it was. Living off the land with no preservatives!

Richard Fonge


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