AVRIL Allshire has been up since 5am making puddings; Willlie is either cutting timber, doing paperwork or feeding the pigs.
The two sons, William and Maurice, are by degrees either driving, delivering, tending pigs; curing, slicing, packing bacon, sausages and pudding or making Biltong.
Later they’ll fix a tractor or a quad bike before heading off for Cross Fit and then meeting up with their girlfriends.
Six days a week, this is their schedule at their farm in Rosscarbery, where they make award- winning pork products under their brands Caherbeg Free Range Pork and Rosscarbery Recipes. But it is far from just pork that the Allshire’s work at and excel in.
When Avril and Willie established Caherbeg Free Range Pork Farm in 2000, they had a modest 17 acres of mixed use land.
“One of the first things we did was plant 40 fruit trees on a patch of land that had no use, then set up the pig paddocks. The farm has increased in size over the years from 17 to 58 acres,” says Avril, although insisting Caherbeg is a small farm in comparison to others.
In 2001, the Allshires added another string to their bow: Rosscarbery Recipes, owned previously by a neighbour who was selling so she could retire.
“After about a year, we heard she was having difficulty finding a buyer. Willie and I talked about it and we decided we didn’t want Rosscarbery Recipes to disappear from the local area, so we decided to buy it and take it on.”
The duality of brands enabled the Allshires to do two things: First, they could embrace the slow food culture the pig farm had established, continuing to produce exceptional quality free range pork under Caherbeg. Second, the Rosscarbery Recipes brand enabled the business to grow by creating a bigger range of products using locally sourced pork from other West Cork farms.
Over the years, Rosscarbery Recipes has innovated and produced products that cater to the different dietary needs and tastes of their customers: award-winning gluten free black and white pudding and most recent of all, beef Biltong.
Biltong is the brainchild of Maurice, the youngest Allshire. An obsession with Cross Fit kickstarted a search for an all-natural, protein rich and lean post workout power snack. Finding nothing suitable on the market, he decided to make his own and Rosscarbery Recipes Biltong was born. Prime cuts of Aberdeen Angus are meticulously rubbed and air dried by Maurice. Once cured, the Biltong is thinly sliced and packed by hand along with an extra dusting of his specially developed spice mix.
Meanwhile, Willie is in the woodshed cutting firewood surrounded by stacks of slowly seasoning timber. A trunk is loaded onto the cutting machine and there is a rhythm to the clunks, clatters and shears as it moves up and through, sliced into round blocks by the blade and pushed through the log splitter.
“I come in here as often as I can — it’s like therapy!” says Willie. “After a morning sat at the desk dealing with paperwork, I’ll escape into here for 30 minutes or an hour to cut logs or kindling. I can lose myself in it and just really shut off for a bit.”
Zen doesn’t have to be about silence, just a moment of escapism even in the midst of cacophony.
Next, we’re going to walk the farm, so Avril fits me for wellies. In October, 2017, she and four other West Cork dairy and beef farmers together launched West Cork Farm Tours. The tours aim to provide visitors with an authentic farm experience, running from April to October so as not to interfere with the main calving season.
“West Cork Farm Tours are an acknowledgment of something that all five farms have been doing for years: telling our stories and showing visitors around our farms,” says Avril.
“The stories change every time, these are working farms so no two days are ever the same: the weather, time of year and who is on the tour can all change what happens on the day.”
As we walk the farm, Avril talks about their latest venture: Agroforestry. Until recently, commercial animal agriculture and forestry were not farmed together — a farm could have animals and forestry on its land but the two would be grown mutually exclusive of each other. Pigs are rooting animals — their natural instinct is to dig their strong snouts into the ground and rummage for bugs, roots and maybe the occasional mushroom, so Agroforestry is an exciting prospect for a pig farm.
“Currently, we have 22 acres that are dedicated to forestry but this will increase over time. Trees in an Agroforestry are planted in rows a certain distance apart, and our pigs will roam freely in around each row of trees.
“The benefits are that we can increase the number of free range pigs we keep on the land, rest the free range paddocks for longer and further improve animal welfare.”
I excitedly ask whether there are plans to incubate truffle spores in the base of some of the trees in the hope of West Cork Truffles becoming a thing, but unfortunately that’s a no, “not unless the mushrooms decide to grow in the forestry naturally,” insists Avril.
The last part of the farm walk leads to the pig pens and a mix of Tamworth, Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pigs. Outdoors with plenty of fresh air, shelter and mud for wallowing, the most striking thing is the smell: there isn’t one!
“Of course it’s untrue that pigs smell,” says Avril, “they are some of the cleanest animals you will find. They keep their beds immaculate. We help by putting straw and sawdust down near the entrance to their shelters so they don’t drag in the mud.”
Avril’s animals haven’t needed a vet on site since 2004, almost unheard of in modern, intensive animal farming.
Just then, Avril stops me and points to a pig house a few steps ahead. I see a tiny little piglet running around the pen and jumping off a small stack of hay. Then another, and another. Tiny little piglets surrounding one large, flah’d out mother pig.
“I would say they are just a few hours old,” says Avril, “I reckon she might still be farrowing too!”
All piglets are born naturally here — no farrowing crates, no human intervention, just letting nature take its course. It’s quite something to behold, and I feel honoured to have witnessed it. With such care and empathy for the animals and lands under their charge, it is little wonder that they and their produce are frequent recipients of awards.
Earlier this year, William and Maurice were intronised into the prestigious Le Commanderie Des Fins Goustiers du Duche d’Alencon making the Allshire’s the first Irish family of parents and children to be made Chevaliers (Knights) of this respected and renowned Fraternity.
So while we are all still nestled in our beds at 5am, Avril and family are in full flow. And as my visit draws to a close, I’m thinking of a relaxing cup of tea and a sit down. But for Avril, I suspect her day is only just starting.
Next week: ‘Ballinrostig Homestead’.