This week the abattoir lost one of our pigs.
‘Did it run away?’ asked Smudge, very sensibly. But no, it didn’t run away, as it was dead. They didn’t lose a live pig. They lost the carcass.
We’ve learned to take the rough with the smooth and the unexpected since moving into small diversified farming operations. And since the back end of farming, dealing with abattoirs, suppliers, feed merchants, butchers and the like, is not an experience where ‘customer service’ is seen as a speciality, a matter of pride or even something to bother with at all, having a bit of a thick skin and a sense of resilience is useful.
It’s a disaster for us, losing a pig like this. It means we’ve got less product to take to market. As a small farming operation with a niche product, we deal in very small numbers. Oliver takes two pigs to slaughter every fortnight. This time he took a third. We’ve got orders from a market manager who wants two back legs to make prosciutto from, and a restaurant doing a feature menu using our pork belly.
That third pig, a little like Graham Greene’s third man, is possibly what caused the problem, raised suspicions of subterfuge in the underbelly of the pork world, and brought about a week of suspense. The unexpected difference in numbers, from two to three, threw things out of kilter.
There’s no insurance for this scenario. We knew the most we could expect was the abattoir offering us a replacement carcass. This is a complete non-starter for us. Our pigs are rare breed Berkshires raised free range and producing pork of outstanding quality with a completely different taste profile to that ‘normal’ pork. The marketing of our business hangs entirely on ethical farming and this marked difference in flavour and quality.
We knew the abattoir would offer us a standard large white porker sequestered from someone else’s order, bred and raised in an intensive farming operation, born to a sow in a stall and kept indoors on concrete for all three months of its short life.
No way in hell can we offer our customers such a replacement product and no way would we ever try to pass it off as our own as it would be immediately obvious to anyone with a discerning palate or a keen eye. And we would know, and we really don’t like the idea of pigs being kept in that manner, even if they are adaptable, naturally happy creatures.
As luck would have it, we didn’t even have to countenance a replacement, which we would have turned down anyway. The abattoir finally rang our butcher and told them the carcass had gone to the next door shop by mistake. Our butcher immediately phoned Oliver to let him know it had been located. The butcher next door either never noticed, or didn’t bother to mention, that they’d taken delivery of an extra carcass. And the abattoir never bothered to return any of Oliver’s calls.
Such is the way of life and death and customer relations in a small diversified farming operation. We’ve gotten used to it. We grateful to our butcher and his ministrations. And this week, with a third pig in the fridge, we have extra sausages. So the day ended well. Although not so much for the pig.