The Tam­worth

Deb­bie Kings­ley talks to small­holder David Ed­wards about Tam­worth pigs

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

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

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