This blog is one I’ve held off writing now for a couple of years. Hopefully it’s one of many as I share my personal journey grappling with thoughts and feelings around, whether to eat meat or not, plus , ultimately gaining a fresh perspective and respect for the animals we’re responsible for.

I’ve always had a real love for animals. My dad grew up on a farm, and from an early age we had chickens, geese, pigs, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, we even ended up looking after a friend’s horse for a bit, now that was fun!!!

I loved animals so much that all I wanted to be was a vet, and was convinced vegetarianism was the way to go! Problem was I didn’t have a clue what to do and it was before the days of Google and WI FI!!! Lol! Think I lasted about a month going meatless much to my mum’s pleasure as she didn’t know how to cook for me either apart from no meat on the plate! Poor mum! I’ve continued to be a meat eater, but being part of a fantastic group of friends collectively known as Origin, has brought a whole new perspective on how we view animals and how caring for them affects our environment, eco-system, sustainability and completely changing our way of life. That’s a little bit about me and why I’m choosing to share some stories about how my own way of life is slowly changing as I learn and experiment with others on this same journey…

A couple of years ago we decided to add some pigs to our collection of animals. This was a new venture as up until then we had been building our flock of free range chickens for eggs, a couple of goats and geese to munch away on the grass and being loved by everyone that came to visit or help out, especially the children. This was about getting to grips with hand rearing animals for meat. This was different!

We found some Saddlebacks for sale and after much thought decided to go get them! That day was an adventure in itself. I drove with a closed in trailer for the first, ever so slightly glad my brother was there as I found out how hard it was to reverse! Also when we arrived one of the little piggies managed to escape by the side of the trailer and took much delight in making a run for it! But finally we got them into the trailer all ready with dry, warm straw and a few handfuls of feed to help them settle. I was so aware of the precious cargo and was kinda glad to get back safe and sound where we took the first photo of our new additions as they lay curled up together sound asleep in the straw!

The next few days we got to grips with learning how much to feed the pigs, learning how strong they were and how clever they were, especially when it came to finding escape routes – those early days were full of fun to say the least!

Getting the five Saddlebacks outside was a huge step as what we didn’t want was the pigs coupled up inside but very much free to roam and enjoy the outdoors. This is where the realisation of what we were doing was different started to sink in. We couldn’t help but name some of the pigs. There was big boy Spot, the definite leader of the pack, followed by his two sidekicks, then there was Big Bertha who really loved her grub and Babe who was the runt of the litter, always bringing up the rear yet was also the one with a bit of a mischievous side to her. They all had their own personalities and became well known within our community.

We had many happy memories with these pigs but we always knew the time would come to take that huge step of taking them to the abattoir. We did much searching to make sure we got a highly reputable abattoir and find a butcher to take care of the ‘needful’ afterwards.

We got all in place and as the day drew closer and closer the time with Spot and the gang became more precious as we battled with thoughts, emotions and an element of fear of the unknown.

The morning came, 6am, we went out to take the piggies on their final journey and I’ll not lie, it was tough. It’s a time I still look back on and remember the feeling standing watching them come out of the trailer, just as always, Big Boy Spot led the way with his two sidekicks, followed by Bertha and finally Babe. It was hard as they walked past especially as Babe seemed to turn and give me what looked like a mischievous grin and a big grunt! I’ll be honest I had to look away with a tear in my eye, struggling with a whole host of emotions and thoughts racing through my head. But it was over, or so I thought.

A huge part of the learning curve has been the awareness that our journey with meat doesn’t just start and end with getting some animals, feeding them, killing them and eating them – it’s much, much more than that and that’s what’s bringing a change to how I view meat on my plate! I got the opportunity to be part of the butchering of the pigs and it was during this time that so much of what we do with animals became obvious. I had a great teacher for the day! Sandy was the main butcher guy for a family run business, Broughgammon, based on the outskirts of Ballycastle. As I got kitted out with protective clothing, footwear, headgear, etc, etc, we entered the butchery.

I had myself all geared up to see Bertha or Babe lying there heads and all attached but it wasn’t like that at all. The pigs had already been quartered and then I got the choice of which pig I’d like to learn butchery skills with. I looked and knew Babe straightaway and something in me decided there and then I would honour Babe by choosing her to be my first butchery lesson. It was so surreal as I looked and knew which pig was which. But the experience itself was an awesome learning curve.

Sandy, took such care and precision in creating perfect cuts and explained what each part of the pig was, why some parts are more tougher, leaner, etc, than others. He also explained that a butcher can tell how a pig has been cared for by looking at the state of the meat, thickness of fat around the meat, etc. It meant so much for him to then turn round on the next breath and say he could tell these pigs were well looked after! The sense of ‘we really did love these pigs well’ was overwhelming, and as the day progressed I found myself concentrating with every part of me to make sure each piece of Babe I handled was handled with respect, care and love as an extension of that respect, care and love I tried to give those pigs during those months since first bringing them to Origin. It was an eyeopener of a day!

A week later we had the different portions, shoulder roasts, loin chops, sausages, and so much more, back in the fridge.

Sitting down for that first prepared meal with good friends Kenny and Vicky, looking at the vegetables that had been freshly pulled from the ground that day from the raised beds at Origin Space, along with our very own hand reared pork chops, it was a surreal moment. As we took our first few bites and savoured every flavour on that dish, we had a sudden new found, deeper respect for everything that this plate of sustenance stood for.

The way I look at meat, chose meat from the shelves, even the amount of meat I now buy changed from that moment on. The journey I was travelling on took a leap forward into unchartered territory which has led me to research more into how animals are treated, why eat meat, why choose not to eat meat – it’s a journey I’ve got a long way to go on and I’m not sure how it will all turn out.

What is a certain is that thanks to five fantastic Saddlebacks I now have a deeper passion to be more active in finding ways to do my part in restoration of the environment man seems so keen to destroy, living a more sustainable life, and helping to pass on the lessons I’ve been learning in treating animals with the respect and care they deserve.

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