Sunday 17 December 2017

How Margaret's farm animals are tickled pink

All things eventually lead to food for blogger Margaret Griffin

THE GOOD LIFE: Margaret Griffin with Little Pig and Rasher, whom she has raised by hand in Co Meath.
THE GOOD LIFE: Margaret Griffin with Little Pig and Rasher, whom she has raised by hand in Co Meath.

Lucinda O'Sullivan

'The abattoir is a small one and he had almost finished a consignment of pigs when we arrived. The smell was all embracing – it seemed to settle in a gelatinous layer on me. The screams of the pigs were blood curdling and I glanced at 'Sausage' who had shrunk down into the corner of the trailer, fear in her eyes. She was unloaded and pushed into the shoot. I was heartbroken."

So wrote Margaret Griffin of her experience on taking the first of two pigs she had raised for the table to be slaughtered. It was strong stuff and not for the faint of heart. I know sending stock off to market is an everyday experience for farmers, but I wondered what turns a city girl from Foxrock into a real Co Meath huntin' shootin' fishin' type.

Margaret Griffin has a food blog, 'Foodborn and Bred', and is also an avid tweeter under the username @fiestyfoodie. Through these social media forums, she voices her opinions and arguments on everything from hunting to bread-making, intensive farming to her abhorrence of GM foods.

She had also set up a Twitter account @rasherandsausag for the porky duo, whom she called Rasher and Sausage, so people were following their somewhat humourous progress before Sausage became bacon!

I first came across @fiestyfoodie when she tweeted, over a year ago, looking for a home for an abandoned donkey. A farmer friend, Michael Browne, rode in to the rescue with horsebox, and brought the animal to the green fields of east Cork where he is now renamed Sarkozy and residing in state between the farm and the Green Barn Lifestyle Store & Garden Centre near Youghal, where he featured in the crib this Christmas.

Margaret says she lives food. She cooks, bakes, preserves, grows it, eats, and talks incessantly about it.

"I do have other interests but eventually everything leads back to food," she says. Living in a very pretty rural area of Meath, Margaret enjoys a River Cottage lifestyle. Horses have been a big thing in her life, and she keeps her Twitter and blog followers briefed on her dogs, Piaf, Oly and Loubie Lou, and on the constant battle between the foxes and her chickens and ducks.

She is a qualified landscape designer, and also has a professional qualification in food science, and has worked in both the meat and bakery food sectors.

"I wasn't from the posh end of Foxrock, I was from the Dublin 18 end, that they called Foxrock to sell the houses," Margaret quips with her usual frankness.

"I went to an Opus Dei School – that's why I'm not religious! However, I had some great teachers there. My friend used always say to me, 'if somebody tells you to do something, you do the exact opposite'. If someone tells me to behave in a certain way, I go off the other way," says Margaret.

"I then went to UCD and did a degree in agriculture, but specialised in landscape design. I had a ball there. I was in a faculty with 100 men and 14 women so I was like a child in a sweet shop.

"It was a four-year degree course with a year out for practical experience, so I went to America for 18 months working in landscape design in San Diego Zoo, which was amazing. I met my ex-husband in UCD during that period but, in 1986 when we both qualified, there was no work here so we went to England where we had our children, Patrick [now 24] and a chef, and Sadb [now 22] before coming back here in 1992," she says.

"When we drove into Navan in March 1992, it was a beautiful day, the daffodils were out and I remember thinking, I don't want to be living out in the sticks, I want to be back in Dublin. That was 21 years ago and I am still here!

"I got into horses first, I grew up with them and I always had a thing about animals. I started off getting my kids riding, and then I asked the instructor if I could go back to riding. She said, 'we'll have you out hunting this season' – and she did.

"We got very involved in the horses then and my daughter Sadb Shaffrey, now at University in Manchester, used to compete for Meath in the Pony Club Triathalon and Tetrathlon. We were all over the country, hauling horses around. The kids then wanted me to get chickens, and then we got ducks."

Margaret says she had a real learning curve with geese. "The goose and the gander had a gosling. It was the nicest thing ever, the 'daddy' minded the baby. It used to walk with the baby between his feet and he would put his belly over it to keep it warm. It was like the penguins in the Arctic, and the kids were fascinated.

"Unfortunately, my husband's business was down at the back of the field, and they used be down there and someone ran over the gosling. There was devastation with the kids. Then the fox got the goose, and then the gander was on his own.

"One day I went out and I found him paralysed, so I took him to the vet, who probably thought I was mad. He diagnosed a virus but said I would have to keep him moving, so I got a child's toy deckchair and cut the seat out of it and put the gander down in it and he used to flap his legs back and forth. I rehabilitated him and he lived for a number of years, before the fox eventually got him."

Margaret wanted to get back into working outside the home but says she didn't like landscape design and always wanted to do something with food. She saw an ad for food science course and embarked down that road.

"Of course I didn't see the 'science' bit – I just saw 'food' so found myself bang into food chemistry, food processing," she says.

She finished the degree in 1998, but there was not much work available in her area and it was 2001 before she got a job in a turkey processing plant, where she stayed for three years, before becoming involved in a French-style artisan bakery. She loved the bakery but was eventually made redundant and it has since closed down.

"I got back into keeping hens to have my own eggs for the table, and then this friend in Trim had saddleback pigs. Two things that annoy me in this country are the way both hens and pigs are intensively reared and treated – it is beyond appalling. I believe that if people in this country saw how pigs were reared, they would never buy pork.

"I used go over to my friend's place in Trim on the pretext of riding her horses, but I would sit down and look at the pigs. They just fascinated me. I got my own first two pigs in June 2012. I don't feed intensively because every bag of feed in this country, unless it is organic, has GM soya in it and GMAs and they actually label it as such, but they don't label human food. Tell me the logic in that?

"We pride ourselves as a GM-free country but every animal is fed GM nuts. I feed my pigs on potatoes and fruit. The blog is a hobby, I write about things that annoy me, I rant."

Margaret says she was really dreading bringing 'Sausage' to be slaughtered.

"I didn't sleep for about three nights beforehand. I got a new little pig immediately afterwards called Little Pig, but Rasher is now ready to go to be slaughtered and processed.

"I'd like to raise pigs on a larger scale but it's very hard work. They have a wonderful quality of life, I tickle them behind their ears, and they are so intelligent. There is a huge demand for free-range pork and very little of it available," says Margaret.

If only all pigs were tickled behind their ears and had the quality of life that Margaret gives them.

Sunday Independent

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