• Farm Update
  • Thinking Environmental: Planning for Wood Pellets

    I’ve been thinking about the environment lately and what more we can do help it.

    Although the well-being of the pigs that live on our land is always our number one priority, we also have a responsibility to look after the planet as a whole.

    I’ve had arguments with many an embittered vegan over the environmental pros and cons of raising animals on an industrial scale.

    I firmly hold the belief that an animal can enjoy a rich and satisfying life before going to slaughter, but I do still have to concede the vegan’s point regarding waste and gas emissions. UK farms are constantly reminded to keep environmental best practices at the heart of their day-to-day activities. We’re no different here – recyclable materials are meticulously collected and the animals’ waste is collected to be used for manure.

    However, I always have the nagging feeling that there’s something more that we could be doing.

    During the winter months, our overheads often end up rising significantly, due to the cost of heating our workshops and offices. Not only do we currently use oil, which is terrible for the environment, it’s also costing us a fortune. As we are a relatively large organisation, with a lot of buildings to heat, I’ve decided that we should take the plunge and invest in renewable energy. By ploughing a large amount of money into the initial setup costs, we may well lose in the short term, but within 20 years we should hopefully start seeing the returns.

    Although we have the space to install a small wind farm, I don’t like to think about the disturbance the installation would bring to our pigs, who would be sheltering beneath them. Instead, I’m electing to put some money into Bio mass fuel, more specifically, wood pellets. In addition to installing wood pellet burners throughout the farming estate, I’m also going to be planting my own coppice of Willow. In 5 years times or so, we’ll be able to heat our buildings with completely sustainable energy.

    To begin with we’re going to have to make do with simply purchasing wood fuel pellets online. They’re relatively cheap and at least we’ll no longer have to pay more money for gallons of oil to be delivered every few weeks.

    We own around 20 acres, here in Essex, although we only keep pigs on half of the land at any one time. The meadows are rich and unspoiled, just begging for a more diverse batch of plants to be introduced to the ecosystem.

    Part of our plans for 2017 is to introduce around 20 new types of wild flower, shrubs and bulbs to our meadow land. Before we think of planting anything, we’ll need to consider the effect that these myriad new organisms will have on our local ecology and ensure that there aren’t any plants that might be poisonous to our pigs. Hopefully, within a few ears time, we’ll be able to encourage more natural wild life to share the pastures with our few hundred pigs.

    We’re yet to fully understand the impact that our farm has on the environment, but hopefully we can aim to put more work into pushing towards a greener future nonetheless.

  • Farm Update
  • Wild Boars – Worth Farming?

    With the ongoing success of our farm here in Essex, I’ve recently been considering the idea of diversification.

    Although I don’t much like the idea of opening up the farm as a tourist attraction, I have always wondered what it would be like to raise Wild Boars.

    We get so many enquiries at Farmers’ Markets, as to whether we stock Wild Boar Steaks, I’m now considering buying my own small herd.

    The Wild Boar was a native dweller of England, before it was hunted to extinction around 300 years ago. Boars usually grow to around a metre in height (taller than the average farmed pig) but usually weigh in a little lighter, at around 90kg the heaviest. Their meat is a rich red colour and carries a gamey flavour that cannot be found in standard pork. It’s meat is also lean, offering a healthier alternative to the fatty meat of the pig.

    Although most people have grown accustomed to seeing wild boar on menus at novelty wild burger stands (alongside crocodile and ostrich), many are unaware that the UK has it’s own truly Wild Boar population. In the mid-90s, a mass escape from a farm led to a small herd of wild boars escaping into woodlands near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. For 10 years this small population went about it’s business, slowly growing until an illegal release of 60 farm-reared boars broke onto the scene, bolstering the numbers significantly.

    Over the ten years following the return of the Wild Boar to the UK, the numbers have swelled significantly. Recent attempts to number them, using thermal imaging technology, have put their numbers above 1000, with some going as high as over 1500. This had implications on the local environment. There have been reports of dog walkers being attacked and dogs being injured. Farmers have also reported that their lands have been decimated by boars who forage for food late at night.

    Regardless of the mixed reputation that the feral population has had amongst the British public, their popularity as a breeding animal has risen in recent years. There are a few pros and cons to breeding Boars. One of the biggest draw backs of farming them is their classification as ‘dangerous wild animals’ by the UK Government. This means that you have to apply for an additional license to keep your animals, as well as pay an increased insurance bill.

    Wild Boar are also notoriously good at escaping. If they’re not sufficiently fed, they are known to uproot fence posts and bend wire, in order to search for more food. As such, an electric fence has been recommended to me, by a number of helpful farmers. The Wild Farm are based in Glenlivet, raise Deer, Belted Galloway Cow and Wild Boar, to name a few. They praised the animal as easy to look after, only needing to be fed once a day and being able to live quite happily in the coldest of Scottish Wintrers.

    After conducting this brief research, I feel ready to jump in and purchase some boars. However, I don’t much fancy paying that Dangerous Animal License, so I might simply hire a Boar stud and create some cross-breeds instead. Watch this space!<z/h3>

  • Farm Update
  • December Pig Farming Update

    Our Farm is moving, Pork prices are falling, but our sales are on the up!

    Reports show that we may well have a challenging new year ahead of us…

    A report published on the Pig World website suggests that next year could be a tough one for UK pig farms.

    Global meat consumption has been steadily increasing year on year. The eating habits of developing countries, such as China and India, has led to the development of a supply-driven market – where producers are constantly forced to push their prices down, in order to remain competitive.

    Despite harbouring a frosty political relationship for decades, the United States is one of the largest exporters of Pork to China. With the rising strength of the dollar (and uncertainty over the future stability of trade deals with China and other countries), the pig farms of America are expected to scale up their efforts all the more, to take advantage of this increase in demand. This, in turn, will put more pressure on UK farms. After a tricky year, following the effects of Russia’s sanctions on EU pork, it looks like things won’t be getting any easier for us in the coming year!

    Packing up the pigs and equipment is going to be a big challenge…

    As far as news on our farm goes, we’re finally making the move, 10 miles down the road, to a larger site.

    Despite some tricky financial setbacks, the farm’s been doing well, with our focus on animal welfare helping us sell more products at farmer’s markets as well as butchers. This is the first time that I’ve organised such a large migration of livestock and equipment, so it looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me leading up to Christmas.

    Luckily, I’ve got a group of old Union buddies who co-own some great vehicles to transport the pigs in. As far as the equipment goes, I’m looking to invest in a large amount of timber crates to move the gates, feeding units and troughs. I’ll be able to pack them down, once they’ve been used, and store them for deliveries of products at a later date. I’m calling in some extra hands with the heavy lifting – wouldn’t want to put my back out so close to the holidays…

    Pop the champers, our Christmas sales are bigger than ever!

    Although most people associate Christmas time with turkey eating, more and more people seem to be moving towards pork as an alternative Christmas Dinner centre piece.

    Christmas sales of both our roast joints, as well as our sausages and bacon, are at an all time high. This has been a tough year for us. We’ve had to withstand plummeting industry prices as well as stiff competition from outside the EU.

    Thankfully we’ve had the Great British public to rely on as faithful consumers of our products.

    Thanks to the promotion of our products through Food Festivals and Farmers’ Markets, we’ve been able to share our passion of ethically raised pork with the people of Essex and this has, in turn, had a positive impact on our sales!

  • Pig Talk
  • 5 of the World’s Most Popular Pigs

    Pork consumption is growing across the World!


    To celebrate Pork getting more popular, lets run through a few of the World’s most iconic pigs, to get to grips with just why Pork is starting to become the planet’s favourite food.

    There are millions of pigs farmed across the world, here are the World’s Favourite 5:

    The Large White

    When most people think of Pigs their mind goes to a baby pink, lightly furry creature with a curly tail. They think of little pink creatures trapped in straw and brick houses, or children’s Film characters. In short, they think of the Large White. One of the most exported pigs and, arguably, the World’s Number One choice of breed.

    Made famous by movies such as 1995’s Babe, the Large White is a hugely versatile creature, able to cross with and improve many other breeds.


    The Mangalitza

    This furry porker created some minor headlines back in 2014, when it was discovered that it provided the world’s most expensive ham. A hardy, woollen creature – the Mangalitza’s meat is famed for it’s rich marbling.

    An extremely high fat content makes it’s meat perfect for curing. However, you might want to save up before investing, a 15-pound leg joint of this wonderful creature could set you back nearly £2000!


    The Hampshire

    One of the most recorded breed of pigs in America, this chap is easy to recognise from the white band that runs around his middle and over his legs. Known for being particularly well-muscled, this pig has an exceptional carcass quality.

    Hampshire sows can breed for much longer than other pigs, although they don’t grow as fast as competing cross breeds, they still give most other English breeds a run for their money!


    British Saddleback

    A pig emblematic of Modern day life. The first British Saddleback was created back in 1967, making this versatile breed not yet 50 years old! Large and deep bodied, this pig is a cross-breed of the Essex and Wessex, simultaneously bred for it’s pork and bacon.

    A typically hardy British pig, the Saddleback is known for it’s ability to graze and can survive all kinds of climates – they’ve even been exported to the extremes of Africa!


    Tamworth

    Finally, the oldest of all the English pure breeds, the Tamworth is instantly recognisable by it’s bright red hair. The meat from this old breed of pig is particularly gamey, making it a common choice for crossing with the Wild Boar.

    Although this pig’s meat is highly prized, it has more endearing features that explain why it’s one of England’s most iconic breeds. Along with having excellent excavation skills, this noble pig is now prized for it’s heritage more than it’s meat.


    British Pork is only getting more popular – thanks to these noble breeds of pigs we can hopefully look forward to several more decades of pork dominance!

  • Uncategorized
  • Research Trip to the Scottish Highlands

    One Porky Pilgrimage To Scotland

    With one weekend left before the Christmas rush is upon us, here at the farm, I thought that I would take a couple of days off to explore some farms in the North of Great Britain.

    Although many people would prefer to be taking a weekend break somewhere much warmer, I donned my waterproofs and long-johns and embarked upon a frosty pilgrimage up North to visit a farm specialising in raising animals of the wilder variety.

    The relationship between Scotland and Pork is a slightly strained one. Scottish Historian and Anthropologist Donald Mackenzie famously coined the concept of the ‘Scottish Pork Taboo’. Despite archaeological evidence of pigs being eaten in Scotland, Mackenzie insisted that there was a cultural abhorrence of pork that still existed in modern society. Any prejudice that might have existed in the past has now been safely discarded, however, and Wild Farm (situated on the Crown Estate in Glenlivet) is a farm that is proudly proving that by producing high quality pork with a difference.

    Before visiting the farmers  at Glenlivet, I had an appointment with a plate of Slow-cooked Pork Belly at the Culloden House Hotel, Inverness. A four star hotel that has been crowned with two Rosettes for it’s refined British classics, Culloden House is a grand stately home just a stone’s throw away from Inverness.

    After a long, long drive up from Essex; I was grateful for the wonderful service and glad that I’d dressed smart – a high class establishment through and through, I would’ve felt a little out of place in my farming get-up!

    After a very civilised lunch, I drove down to the lodge that I’d booked a few days prior. Highland Heather Lodges (http://www.highlandheatherlodges.co.uk/) provide luxury self-catered accommodation in the heart of Scotland’s gorgeous countryside.

    When I arrived, the sun had long set, so it wasn’t until the morning that I could fully appreciate the awesome views that surrounded the small collection of lodges. Massive lakes, trees and mountains all collected in one vista. It was a shame to only stay there for the one night, but time was pressing and I was to yet arrive at my destination.

    After a comfortable night’s stay, I headed down into the Highlands proper to meet the passionate farmers at Wild Farm. Although they initially made their money raising Reindeer, these noble creatures are now kept as display animals only. Although Britain has been treated to slightly warmer weather this December, the winds still felt pretty icy up on the hills of the Crown Estate. After moving away from farming Reindeer for meat, the lads wanted to diversify their livestock, whilst minimising the amount of care they had to give in the frosty winters.

    As such, all the animals on the property come from hardy species requiring little maintenance and a little feeding from time to time. The Belted Galloway Cows, a Scottish breed, lives happily off the pastures of the hillside whist also providing a rich meat, deep in flavour. Their Soay Sheep are similarly thick-skinned and do not require shearing, giving them more time to look after the one animal that I was really interested in: their Wild Boars!

    Whilst researching Boars a couple of weeks ago, Wild Farm’s website proved invaluable in providing me with some great hands-on information as to the practicalities of raising Boar. Their one boar breeds with 6 sows, all through the year, providing them with a good stream of pigs to grow. Each sow provides the farm with between 8-10 piglets, these growers can be purchased at a good price, from £5.50 per kg.

    Rather than raise pure bred Wild Boar (and pay for an additional license to keep a Dangerous Wild Animal), they have elected to raise a cross of Boar and Tamworth. Similarly gamey, this cross-breed makes for rich eating with a surprisingly low-fat content. The Boar are the only animals on Wild Farm that require regular attention from the farmers. As the animals are essentially semi-domesticated, it’s important that they are regularly handled to keep them compliant with feeding and slaughtering routines. The amount of attention these animals get possibly exceeds the amount that I give my own pigs, something I might have to consider before purchasing my own sounder!

    Although, I think the lads at Wild Farm were hoping that I might leave with a couple of growers under my arms, I left empty handed.

    Boars look like a big investment in time and money, a big deision that can definitely wait until the New Year!

  • Pig Talk
  • Is The Sow Stall Ban Being Adhered To?

    Sow Stalls may still be in use in EU farms.

    Although the use of farrowing crates may well have been banned throughout the EU in 2008, there are some worrying reports that their use is being continued in up to 13 of the 28 member states.

    In 2007, global discussion regarding the banning of sow stalls reached the forefront, when American professor Temple Grandin stated that keeping pigs in gestation was akin to ‘asking a sow to live in an airline seat’.

    This caused outrage in the industrial pork keeping market. They argued that the use of sow stalls was integral to the welfare of the pigs. After a sow has been inseminated, she enters a more aggressive mode of behaviour begins competing for food. This occurs more frequently amongst pigs from different litters and can often lead to increased aggression and fighting. The leaders of the pork industry maintained that keeping the animals in separate cages eliminated the risk of them harming each other and allowed them to gain as much nutrition as they needed.

    Initially, anti-sow stall lobbyists had a difficult time convincing the world that the use of farrow cages were detrimental to the health of pigs. Contradictory reports were written during the 00s. Whilst academics, such as Gradin, effectively put forward an argument of practicality, the American Veterinary Medical Association disagreed, promoting “gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy”. This backed up previous research undertaken by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, taken in 2001.

    Off the back of these reports, the United States have lagged behind in Animal Welfare for a number of years now. To this day there are roughly 5.3 million breeding sows kept in the US, with the majority of them being kept in ‘gestation crates’. Despite significant research into the psychological effects of sow stalls, only 9 states within the US have made the move to ban their use. Several studies have identified certain groups of stereotypical behaviours that suggest boredom and trauma. Bar-biting, tongue rolling and head-weaving are all behaviours that exist in ‘factory farmed’ pigs alone. These repetitive actions cause the animal harm, in the form of sores and skin lesions.

    In addition to this, pigs kept in confined conditions also exhibited behaviour that points towards a development of ‘learned helplessness’. Pigs that had been kept in sow-stalls for their gestation period were reported to no longer react to physical stimuli (such as prodding or splashing with water), suggesting that they had psychologically ‘given in’ to their surroundings.

    Successful campaigning has led to many major food companies across the world, including corporate giant McDonald and Smithfield Foods (owner of 187 piggeries in the US), phasing out the use of sow-stalls – yet there is still more work that needs to be done in Europe.

    Despite pressure from the EU there are many farms within Europe that resist changing their farming methods. Although the legal fight has been won, it’s important that the ethical pig farmers of the world should unite and put pressure on those who still refuse to conform.