Our first pigs
Early in 2018 we sourced three Tamworth weaners from a local specialist rare-breed farm and, after the worst of the snow had passed, we let Acorn, Bramble and Catkin have the run of a half acre paddock full of opportunities to root in the ground, wallow in the mud and sleep away the afternoon in the shade. In other words, just doing what pigs do.
Tamworth pigs are listed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust watchlist as “vulnerable” meaning there are under 300 registered breeding females left in the UK. They are considered to be Britain’s oldest pure breed and are well suited to outdoor living, being particularly hardy.
Keeping rare breeds going requires a market and an outlet for animals that are not selected as future breeding stock. From day one our pigs have been destined to provide food for us and others so although it was a slightly sad day we knew that they had been well cared for.
In contrast to commercial pork production our girls weren’t weaned until 8 weeks old (versus 3 weeks) and we ran them on until over 7 months old (versus 4 months). They were not intensively fed but instead left to grow at a slower, more natural rate producing a more flavoursome meat, which has a deeper colour – not the paleness we generally associate with pork. Nor did they receive any growth promotors or unnecessary treatments.
During their time with us and apart from an initial few weeks in the barn during the worst of the snow they have lived outside the whole time with freedom to roam whenever they pleased.
They only ever made two road journeys, both under an hour long, and were expertly butchered by an award-winning local business.
Home grown pork
The three girls returned to us as a freezer full of delicious pork, succulent sausages and wonderful bacon. As we are fully registered as a food business this gave us the opportunity to sell a proportion of the meat to help support the costs of raising them and to introduce people to the taste of rare breed pork reared to high welfare standards in the hope that they choose this in future.
Whilst our prices may be a little more than you would pay in the supermarket, even the supermarkets’ premium ranges do not use rare breed pigs and they are generally only outdoor-bred (which means they only live outside until weaning, often at a few weeks old, and are then brought indoors for growing on) and not outdoor-reared like ours who have continuous full access to their paddock throughout their lives with us.
After careful thought we set prices so that the sale of all our meat would recoup the costs of buying, raising and preparing the pigs and a proportion of the infrastructure costs we incurred doing so, leaving a small amount (10%) to be reinvested in the next group. This leaves out all the general farm costs like insurance, vet bills, tools, power and fuel and so on, and doesn’t factor in anything for our time.
If you would like to order some pork, gammon, sausages or bacon, please get in touch. Meat can be collected from the farm by appointment or, if we pass your way, we may be able to drop it off. All meat is supplied frozen and must immediately be transferred to a freezer.
Feedback from recent customers:
"The pork is great, we had one of the shoulder joints last night – wonderful flavour & good crackling! We have had old spot pork in the past and the Tamworth is every bit as good. Next time there is some pork, please let us know."
"Wowsers. That pork is delicious. Moist, tender, flavoursome."
A second batch
We had sourced our first pigs earlier than originally planned and they had reached slaughter weight sooner than anticipated. The paddock felt empty without them there and when we heard that the breeder had a few weaners from another litter available it seemed that they were destined to join us on the farm.
So Damson, Elderflower and Foxglove were soon barking, grunting and squealing at us from the other side of the fence. Ultimately they too went for slaughter and applying our learning from the first group to the feeding regime improved the pork which didn't have quite as thick a layer of fat covering it.
A piece of loin that we have kept in reserve to turn into back bacon.
A slab of belly beginning its journey into streaky bacon.
As the following Spring began thoughts turned to that year's pigs. We always planned to try a number of different breeds and scouring the breed society websites, Facebook pages and livestock for sale forums we found a breeder that had Berkshire weaners available at the right time. So on a sunny April morning we drove down to Derbyshire and picked Gooseberry, Hazel and Iris out from a pen of noisy, active piglets and brought them back to the farm.
They didn't waste much time getting out of the trailer and exploring their new home.
Ultimately they too have gone for slaughter and the meat has been amazing.
So much so that our butcher, who has won several awards, said he would be interested in buying some to sell in his shop if we scaled up in future. To be asked this by such a high quality local business, prepared to put our produce on sale, felt like an amazing achievement and has spurred us on for the future.
"The crackling was phenomenal."
"So much flavour in this pork, it makes each mouthful a pleasure."
In keeping with our plan to try a number of native breeds 2020 has brought three Oxford Sandy and Black gilts. These are the first lop eared pig we've kept but the rumours that they are more docile because of this seem to be a myth - they have been just as boisterous as any of our previous pigs!
Following our alphabetical order for names they are called Jasmine, Kale and Lavender and have been amusing passers by with their antics, particularly when their ears flap about like Dumbo as they charge around the paddock in excitement.