Debbie Kingsley talks to smallholder David Edwards about Tamworth pigs
My partner, Heather, and I run Little Lotmans Farm. I am 57 and have been farming our smallholding in Crowborough, East Sussex, for the last 10 years. The farm consists of 78 acres of grass and 12 acres of woods where we run pigs, sheep and poultry as small projects. We also keep five bee hives.
“We look to sell rare breed registered stock and run a high welfare meat business alongside this. We find customers who care about the traceability, extra space and conditions that our animals have over more intensive systems; we use straw, have wallows and allow natural behaviours in the woods. We also do not use high growth formula foods.
“We leave our pigs out as long as possible, but when our heavy clay soil gets waterlogged they happily come in to the barn with deep litter straw beds. These are little extras that add up and I really believe that they make an improved product. The farm has been steadily increasing its turnover to coincide with our retirement. We keep Tamworths and Berkshire pigs, Lleyn sheep, Welsummer, Black and Lavender Wyandottes and Cream Legbar chickens.
“The ginger Tamworths have a special interest for me. We have semi-woodland pig pens and they look fabulous in the landscape, particularly at sunrise and sunset and, of course, in the autumn. They are excellent mothers and although litter sizes are lower than more commercial breeds, once they have established the farrowing process they are incredibly capable.
We have been getting litters of 10 to 12 piglets from our breeding pair (Jaqueline/Royal Standard) and have recently bought in a fresh bloodline, a Princess sow.
“My brother likes to say that I started keeping pigs because I couldn’t find a dog that looked like me; those first pigs were Large Blacks. I swapped to gingers after
We use straw, have wallows and allow natural behaviours in woods and do not use high growth formula foods
trying meat from them and although I think different farms can influence the flavours, we have produced the best pork I have ever tasted from our home-bred and reared animals.
“I like to feel that we are supporting a breed that is very vulnerable to decline and, on top of this, they fit in with the principles that we use on our farm. These are to maintain the land as predominantly wild flower meadows, support rare breeds to high welfare standards and, as far as possible, enjoy ourselves in the process. We like to eat meals that have as many home-grown ingredients as the season allows.
“The Tamworths are excellent for clearing scrub, and an advantage which can also be a disadvantage is that they dig deep. I think if smallholders buy them as weaners they can work really well, or if they have some more space to move them around the farm then this helps. They can be harder on the ground than some smaller breeds, but they come into their own for clearing brambles or overgrown woodland.
“We started off using AI (artificial insemination), but have progressed to owning our own boar. I find this more reliable and although the journey to find unrelated bloodlines can extend to days, they do exist in the UK and the breeders’ club is eager to support and help, as are the British Pig Association (BPA).
“Breeding has mostly gone well for us. We find that the sows need to try for two litters a year and we have had to be very careful not to let them overeat as this can be really detrimental for fertility levels.
“We tend to send male weaners off at around five months, which is slightly older than our Berkshires, which are nearer four. We run the females on longer as we are always looking to try and sell breeding stock, but there is also a very good ham to be had if plan A fails. In fact, plan B also provides bacon and other delights as a slow grown, well loved outdoor animal produces infinitely better meat than any from a supermarket shelf.
“We find that there is less demand generally for male weaners and we discount prices slightly and send them earlier than the females for slaughter. The females going for meat can be kept longer to make hams and bacon without the risk of boar taint, but the males make very tasty pork killed at the correct age. We generally send pork animals at 50 to 55 kilos live weight (resulting in 40 kilos of meat) as the fat ratio is correct for the slow grown way we raise them. This will be before six months for the Tamworths.
“We do not currently show our animals, but along with making bread it is something I plan to do in retirement, which is fortunately getting much closer. I have a day job as a telephone engineer which has paid some bills that farming struggles to meet and the pension will allow me to avoid having to make hard financial decisions regarding the animals. It will let us continue to run things in a more laid back way.
“We sell a lot of pigs and meat by word of mouth and have sold breeding stock abroad through our Little Lotmans Farm Facebook page. We are making a small profit from Project Pig and this has steadily increased over the last few years, but we do not go with the boom bust that unfortunately seems to plague some pig keepers. I don’t know if it is right, or something that has come with age but we are cautious; I prefer to run out than have gluts. We sell straight to a returning customer base and quite regularly say thanks for the invention of sausages.
“I feel a sense of place in time with these pigs as they are one of the oldest breeds with links back to the original forest pigs. I would happily recommend them to keepers as a very noble and rewarding creature.”
At the wallow
Rusty, our first home-bred sow
A litter of piglets