Organic OSB’s – Andy & Rachel Rivers

We are quite often asked what the main differences between keeping conventional and organic livestock are. Some who asked are surprised that in my opinion there is little difference between organic and any other high welfare system. Access to drugs is , of course, limited to a proven need and some of the more critical antibiotics would need a derogation to be used. This sometimes has to be applied for retrospectively as livestock have an annoying habit of getting sick outside of office hours.

Wormers and other medication given to conventional livestock routinely are not allowed although a derogation may be available if exceptional circumstances can be proved.

We started to keep pigs with just one large white gilt, she did us very well but was not ideally suited to our organic system. We experimented with Gloucester old spots but found they tended to get fat quickly. We purchased an Oxford Sandy and Black boar and were very pleased with the cross, after a couple of litters of crosses we purchased 2 Oxford Sandy and Black gilts from Cirencester OSB rare breed show and sale the resulting litters have been very promising and we have decided to concentrate on pedigree pigs.

Finding organic breeding stock, more so with less common breeds can be impossible but the soil association have no problem with conventional animals being converted. Converted breeding stock will never be organic but can produce organic offspring after a 3 month conversation period.
Feeding pigs organically is only difficult because food to soil association standards is hugely expensive, bagged nuts can be as much as £1000 a tonne, so our pigs never see any. We were fortunate to find a 30 year old roller mill for little more than scrap price and now mill our own cereals. The pigs get a kilo a day each, barley is favourite and they will happily eat wheat. Rye however seems to be one of the few things pigs won’t eat it just gets pushed around the trough and you get really discontented stares.

We have not yet been brave enough to farrow outside and the girls come in a couple of days before they are due. They farrow in loose boxes, the first few litters we restricted the amount of straw and set up creeps. The sows piled all the available straw over the piglets and they never used the creeps so now we let them nest with more straw and have discarded the creeps. Piglet mortality is very low.

Even after three years we do not always get the finished pigs right although the fat is never too extreme. We sell most on line or through word of mouth, either as jointed half pigs or sausages. We are lucky that the butcher we use will take as many surplus pigs as we can produce at a good premium.

Dermot Allen – Hog Roasts

Nine years ago my youngest had her 21st and as she was inviting around 300 people to her party she suggested having a Hog Roast with one our own fatteners to feed the masses. We sourced a spit roaster machine and the day was magic with the pork going down a treat. A few of Georgia’s (my youngest) friends asked could we do their 21st and a new business was born. We sat down with an engineer and designed a Spit Roaster with a few tweaks and a few practices on family and friends we were up and running. We got our Environmental Health Officer on board from the start and completed our food courses etc.

One of our first Hog Roasts.

We made mistakes and learnt from them and have grown every year since. We have catered for a Stag party for 14 lads canoeing down a river with our Hog Roast waiting for them, to feeding 3000 people at a Dept of Agriculture Open Day. My family are on board now and we do the whole event with bread, sauces, knives, forks, plates, napkins and salads made fresh on the day.

Six years ago we sourced Oxford Sandy and Black gilts and a boar from Maureen and Andy Case after spending time with them on their farm in Wiltshire. My aim was to get the 13 female bloodlines and 4 male bloodlines and as of writing this, we have purchased the final remaining bloodline, an Alison due in Ireland soon.

Six years ago I attended a meeting of a group of 6 people interested in pigs with a view to setting up an all Ireland group interested in all aspects of pigs and The Irish Pig Society was born. We formed a committee and attended shows promoting pigs, held Open Days, working closely with the Irish Department of Agriculture concerning people obtaining herd numbers and making people aware of the approaching threat of ASF.  We have a tent at the All Ireland Ploughing Championships where 300000 people attend and the pig tent is full from 7am till nightfall answering the public’s questions.

We have started showing our pigs at the All Ireland Agriculture Show in Tullamore with the likes of Brian Merry and Tom Alty coming over to judge and I have been lucky enough to win two of the last three years with a Dandy Gilt and a young Alexander Boar.

With Brexit and ASF in the near future, the Society has a lot of work ahead of us and I’m halfway through a three-year term of being Chairman of the Society.
As of March 2018 I am now full time at pigs, breeding, cooking, TV work and it is the Chinese Year of the Pig and only yesterday we attended a photo shoot and had a photo with one of our OSB and the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland on the front of most of today’s national newspapers.  I feel the future for both all aspects of pigs and Oxford Sandy and Black pedigrees is bright but it’s on ongoing labour of love and when you wake every morning and jump out of bed knowing the Oxfords are waiting for you, you know you have the best job in the world……

Then and Now – by Philip Langley

This photo was my first Christmas after my father passed away earlier that year, what memories, although I had been working in the shop for 4 years buying stock for Christmas was a completely different aspect from the normal weekly sales. I had some of Dads old contacts, and had placed my order for most of the Poultry especially the Turkeys , so going from previous records that I could find , Dad didn’t write much down , but he had a very good memory , I ordered 100 Turkeys, 50 Capons, 6 Geese and 12 Ducks, as I didn’t have a game licence, so no Pheasant, Venison etc. With regards to the Pork, leg of Pork was very popular, not like today I’m afraid and I don’t really know why? Perhaps the famous Chefs on the telly don’t promote it enough order to get enough legs of Pork for the festive season, around the middle of October we saved some each week, scored them covered up well, and put them in the old Tea Chests and took them to the local Freezer Rooms , we usually stored around 60, always off our own pigs to get the right size, not off the larger Cutter pigs. Lots of people wanted the centre cut, my mother in law included!

So you had to ensure you sold the Knuckle ends first or put the centre cuts back in the chiller for customers who had previously ordered them, Traditional Sausage meat was made but not in the plastic sleeves, just put on a large tray and cut it off. All the Poultry had to be prepared in the shop, and all the Sinews were pulled out , god help you if you snapped any off, you were not very popular with the head butcher who trussed the birds up using long wooden Skewers , putting them through the wings, and tying up the rear . When gutting them you had to make sure you didn’t break his bum hole as this was used to put over the Parsons nose to close the body cavity, and you had to ensure you removed the lungs or no brownie points there. When you had to get the Sinews out of the big Stag birds , the foot was placed in a claw hook and it was pull and twist till they all came out, at the end of the day your chest and arms really ached, lotsof warm water to keep your hands warm and clean, and a nice piece of Muslin to dry out the Cavity. If you had one that was just coming out of moult you had to get a pair of Pliers to pull especially the wing feathers out. Going back to the Pork it was all sold on the bone, even the Shoulder , the blade bone was left in, in my opinion, that’s why all meat tasted better on the bone, not very convenient for the Electric Carving Knives I suppose, but then they didn’t exist then. Very little Lamb sold , it wasn’t in fashion in those days , mainly the Poultry , Pork, Beef, and some Gammon which also was sold on the bone except perhaps the Slipper,(that’s the muscle of the leg usually with the Knee cap attached ) there was no such thing as Horseshoe Gammons in those days , just whole legs, I feel I’ve probably written enough for now as Kim has remarked I should write a book on my exploits of being a butcher for 57 years

When I very first started full time at Dads stall, he employed three full-time butchers and me of course, my turn always to scrub the large block in the Summer, it was so hot, but not so much in the winter as it helped the butchers to keep warm. The secret of getting the wooden block nice and clean and white was, first of all, get some very hot water, just to get the surface wet, not sloshing it around, dry it off and get some Sawdust and rub it into the surface to absorb the grease and any staining. Get your wire brush and with a sweeping motion pressing down hard on the brush, you soon got a sweat on, you continued this until you reached the other end, this block was 9 ft by 3ft so plenty to clean. This should show nice and white and dry, you then you did the rails around the block, got reprimanded if you chopped or caught your handsaw on this part as it was softwood. This part acts like a clamp holding all the individual blocks usually maple together, next time you look at a traditional block you may notice small wooden discs on the side and the ends, behind them, are iron Bars with nuts on the end that go from end to end and sideways as well. Due to the length of this particular block, there were two bars running lengthways and three bars sideways. Every now and again as the surface wore you turned the block completely over if it was too badly worn in several places you would get it to the local Sawmills for them to skim it off as best they could.

Meat Consumption was quite large in those days, no McDonalds, no Pizzas, no ready meals, just good old fashioned fish and chips, Ona Monday morning our delivery was 10 forequarters of beef, 6 Hindquarters of Argentine Chilled Beef, it was the best in those days, lovely Angus / Hereford Beef, shipped in the holds hanging for six weeks from the River Plate, some of it through the Vesty Group as they had plants there and there own Shipping line, 20 NZ lambs to start the week, had 20 more on Wednesday. The Lambs were hung up to soften up a little and were all chopped up with a cleaver, which is a long-handled version of a chopper and a much heavier blade. The butcher was so strong he would really swing it right from the top, no electric bandsaws in those days. 6 pigs on a Tuesday only porkers, if they were much over 100 lbs dad, would send them back too big he would say, such a difference to the weights nowadays,I always tried to get Gilts around 55 to 60 kilos, all the Pork was sold on the bone even with the shoulder blade in , and the hand was sold with the hough on ,took the small foot off though , they were popular at times when people made there own pork pies to boil and get the Gelatine out of them to pour into the tiny hole they made in the top of the pie to fill it out . There was a cut called the hand and Spring which was the shoulder with some belly attached, also a blade of Pork which is the blade out of the shoulder taken out from underneath leaving the meat and the crackling on the top. This leaves you with Sparerib Chops, they are delicious roasted with some stuffing and such a lovely sweet taste, as the saying says , nearer the head sweeter the meat, lots of the beef was sold on the bone and the forequarter cuts were very popular , Brisket and the flank end on the bone delicious, the eye of the Chuck was skewered up with the metal skewers, not much string used in those days, some weeks we sold more steel than the Steel Company of Wales! The blackstrap was removed from the Chuck, sold these days as your dog Chews ,it is these that have been Roasted, when raw a slap with one of those and by golly you felt it, the Jacobs Ladder was put in a casserole, nowadays people put them on there BBQ it is the end off the top of the ribs of beef , then there is the leg of mutton cut ,so named as it’s in the shape of the leg, originally it was called also the Bread and butter cut, because there was a layer of fat in between the bone on the inside and the muscle on the top, this cut is in the lower shoulder opposite to the Chuck . Always remember all lean meat Is muscle, hence the legs(shin)or the neck carrying a large head has to be very strong. The Fillet Steak is inside the animal or tenderloin in a pig is always tender as there’s not much strain on there.instead of having to say 2 kilo of Chuck Steak in slices they would have it in a piece often on the bone and put it in the oven and slow roasted with perhaps a few whole onions, the gravy from this was to die for ,so tasty just like the Brisket only the Brisket was more flakey. Have you ever tried a bit of skirt!! It’s beef don’t sweat it’s not porno. Cornish people will know as they say it’s best for Cornish Pasties, especially what is known as the goose skirt, this is a muscle found inside the hind legs of the animal usually triangular in shape , the heart skirt or feather skirt this is to be found next to the heart and when sliced lengthwise looks like a feather , the other one also inside the body cavity is called the body skirt ,it is just below the ribs on a pig , skirting is the general term and it shreds apart ,just pulls apart it is quite lean. One more tip for tonight if you like liver at all, if you wish to get rid of the strong flavour leave the liver soaking in milk overnight, butchers used to put Ox liver in overnight and said it tasted like Calves liver.

A Very Happy Christmas to you all and good health for the New Year Philip

Oxford Sandy and Black pigs at Tom’s Farm – Nightingale Community Academy

By Joshua Farrell

 

 

What is Tom’s Farm?

Tom’s Farm at Nightingale Community Academy (NCA) is a Special Academy for boys aged 4 – 19 who have Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs. Boys join our school when efforts to educate them in the mainstream fail and we are named on their statutory Education, Health and Care Plan.

Tom’s Farm opened with the generous help of parents John and Estella following the tragic death their son Tom ap Rhys Pryce’s in 2006. It is an integral part of our school offer and is utilized as a therapy center delivering opportunities to develop skills such as empathy, teamwork and respect; it is a place of serenity and quiet. In addition to our therapeutic work we offer several academic courses (e.g. AQA unit awards in land-based studies and BTEC First awards in Animal Care) that provide opportunities for young people to harness and develop their enthusiasm, achieve accreditation and some cases transition into higher-level learning establishments or the farming industry.

Since starting at Nightingale Community Academy in April 2018 I have expanded and developed the farm; creating a safe, educational and calming environment in which pupils with a range of special needs spend time. Rare breeds have always been my passion and my aim is to make Tom’s Farm at NCA an RBST approved city/school farm. We want to work closely with the RBST and the breed societies to support conservation, educate our students and to inform the local community. I have placed the growth and conservation of rare breeds at the heart of everything we do; encouraging young people to appreciate and join the cause.

In addition to our boys we provide educational opportunities to the D Deaf community from Oak Lodge School (http://oaklodge.wandsworth.sch.uk/ols/) and the PMLD community from Orchard Hill College (https://www.orchardhill.ac.uk). The farm is progressing at an exciting pace, which has allowed us to run more weekday classes and to accommodate a number of community volunteers at weekends. These children work towards Duke of Edinburgh awards and we are delighted that they choose to spend their spare time in this fabulously productive way.

As we establish ourselves as a breeder, we hope to take our volunteers and students to a range of shows and sales to raise the profile of our great quality livestock and to provide experiences to which most children in big cities are barred by opportunity. Our students take great pride in grooming and presenting the animals and they willingly invest a huge amount of time prepping and training them.

My history with Oxfords?

I started keeping pigs from a young age on the heritage woodland at my parents, I kept many of the traditional breeds and fell in love with the Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. Since then I have kept the breed at various places of work and I’ve become besotted with these beautiful orange and black creatures.

In recent years, throughout dedicated conservation work I have discovered the importance of pedigree registered stock. Understanding the bloodlines and genetic diversity is crucial to success within our rare breeds. I have spent many evenings looking through pedigrees and trying to match up pigs – I find it fascinating and it’s amazing to see my pupils become so engaged with a topic that means so much to me.

So why Oxfords?

Being a city farm with limited space makes the slightly smaller, slower growing rare breeds better suited. I have worked with all the traditional breeds of pigs within my career however, the Oxfords have always been my favorite. They hold a special place for several reasons …

  • Ascetics – they are a truly beautiful breed, well-proportioned and striking to look at. As the piglets are born, it fills me with so much excitement to see the individual markings appear and develop! They are unique in their appearance and are instantly recognizable.
  • Behavior – I have worked with a large selection of breeds and I have always found the Oxfords to be gentle and well mannered. Their lopped ears cover their eyes and making them a pleasure to walk around with a board and stick.
  • Versatility – When producing a small amount of stock – you need to be breeding the best! On our small city farm we need breeds that are versatile with plenty of demand for them both as meat pigs and breeding stock. Our aim is to produce just two litters a year, in each litter we will be able to pick out (if possible) the best gilt to register and show throughout the year with the aim of selling them at the Oxford Sandy and Black show and sale and the end of the season. The rest of the litters will be sold on as meat pigs.  
  • Conservation – We wanted a breed of pig on the farm the acted as an ambassador for rare breed conservation. A pig that caught the eye of students and visitors and engaged them in learning about rare breeds and why it is so important to keep them alive – The Oxford seemed perfect for the job.

The process involved

The first point of call was to get rid of the already existing Tom’s Farm pigs – They produced over 180kgs of sausages between them, which made a fantastic addition to the end of year BBQ and were enjoyed by staff, students and parents. Next was the create the perfect space. As an educational facility we must provide top quality accommodation and demonstrate to our students an ideal way to keep pigs.

We have a paddock on the edge of the farm, which Is fitted with a large automatic water trough, a solid field shelter, a mud wallow for the warmer months and the whole pen is covered by an extremely large willow tree, offering dappled light but protection from the harsh sun. We also have stables that we will bring them into for farrowing and routine procedures.

Everything was ready – all we needed now was the pigs! I have always enjoyed a show and sale – This seemed like the perfect opportunity to purchase some pedigree registered gilts. The joy of such an event is that you see the pig move, meet the breeder/owner and gain advice from the surrounding enthusiasts. The breed rep – Jane Mathews was present to run the kinship programme and there were beautiful pigs on display. Everything was set! The auction began had I had my eye set on two gilts which had shown well and ended up fetching a very fair price for both vendor and buyer. Tom’s Farm purchased two gilts of the Gloria bloodline; one from Peter and Patricia Colson and another from Mrs. Britany. The girls were coming up to a year old which fitted perfectly with our breeding plan.

What was the next step?

Next, we needed to find a suitable boar to breed with both our gilts. Something of a similar age and size that offered the same level of quality. I got in contact with the society and the Oxford Sandy and black pig group to put feelers out for a young suitable boar. It just so happened that there was an Alexander boar bred by Kim Brooke and owned by Peter and Patricia Colson that was ready to work! After reviewing some pictures and cross-referencing pedigrees – the date was set! It was to be a romantic six-week affair in which our two gilts would hopefully get pregnant. Six weeks allows time for the boar to be in for two cycles ensuring the girls do not return into season.

With the girls due in January, we’d be producing two litters with the hope of being able to register a gilt (if possible, from each). My students love bathing and training the pigs – This will give them a focus and a project. We are working towards being able to show the two January born gilts throughout the year with the aim to sell them at the Oxford Sandy and Black show and sale towards the end of the season. Showing allows the boys to take great pride in what they do – Taking a pig into the ring, beautifully turned out is such a fantastic feeling! Being a small-scale farm means we are very limited on space! The two gilts kept back would have to be sold each year, to allow space for the next litters. The rest of the piglets born in the litter will be sold to other breeders and meat producers at 8 weeks old to help fund the farm; being a registered charity we depend on donations and self-funding to keep this incredible facility running.

We are now moving in the colder months of December and January – My students enthusiasm is still going strong and they insist on staying out in all weathers to ensure the pigs have a happy and healthy life. We aim to give example of high welfare standards in hope that the next generation will take these standards and aspirations into their future careers; improving the lives of animals one facility at a time! These young people are the next generation of rare breed enthusiasts. It’s crucial we harness this positive energy and focus it in the right direction – to help create a sustainable future for breeds such as the Oxford. If we wish for our hard work to be continued it’s crucial, we support these facilities in aid of allowing young people to express an interest and engage them in a subject the means so much to us. Facilitating their enthusiasm allowing them to learn about the importance of high welfare and keeping pedigree resisted stock. It is imperative to the survival of our rare breeds. If there is any way you’d like to help us or feel you can offer some support please contact me for further details

Thanks for reading,

Joshua Farrell – Farm Manager

Jfarrell@nightingaleca.org

07947491870

The Barr Family – Gary, Sonya, Maisie and Lewis

Two and a half years ago Gary and I set out to create a whole new life for our family. We were lucky enough to be able to rent a small holding to help us get started. We moved into the Farm and after a few weeks Gary announced he wanted to keep pigs to provide meat for our own hog roast company to cover events and special occasions.

After weeks and weeks of Gary reading, studying he found the perfect breed for ourselves a great starter pig, fabulous meat and great mams to their offspring, so off we went on the hunt for our very own OXFORD SANDY AND BLACK PIGS. None of us had a clue what we were doing to be fair I had mucked pigs out on our school farm in my teenage years but keep our own ha ha this could go drastically wrong.

We then joined the OSB page on Facebook better known as the BIBLE!!!

We searched and searched for OSB in the County Durham area and really struggled, until one day I came across some for sale in Cumbria so off Gary set to collect our very first pigs, The fun was about to begin. We started with 2 gilts Dotty and Eleanor registered for us to breed from and 2 unregistered boars for us to fatten for meat to try it out this tasty pork Gary had read about a million times over (Gary is a perfectionist and takes his time with everything). The meat was exactly as promised, melt in the mouth fat, the tastiest pork we had ever had and THE BEST crackling ever.

We then needed to expand the business and we bought a hog roast machine and Gary wanted a jiffy van to use for events to sell hog roast sandwiches from. We managed to locate both quite local and had them stickered up with our company logo did what we needed to do with councils, insurances etc. and FROM FIELD TO FORK was born.

Next problem we needed to have enough meat to supply the business. We were struggling on the breeding side of it, we had a litter out of a gilt we bought in pig but it didn’t all go to plan as can sometimes happen in this game and we felt so deflated. I ended up hand rearing one of the piglets from the litter who ended up in the house with us until she became boisterous and sliding round the floors thinking she was a small dog ha ha.

Hope is still our favourite pig well mine anyway Gary wouldn’t agree he just shakes his head at her as she resembles nothing of an OSB looks more like Chewbacca and thinks she is a dog however she has by surprise and not planned got herself pregnant and had a wonderful litter of 6 good piglets and she has proved to be a great mam, eat your words Gary Barr who always said she was only good for sausage.

The OSB soon took a hold of us and we got the pig keeping bug. We needed a boar to complete our team, luckily because of the Facebook page we found Zander who we bought from Tom Wentworth Waite’s. Advice for everyone DO NOT try to transport a fully grown 4 year old boar in a horsebox, as Gary found out when Zander made his way from the back of the horsebox through the door to the living area (smashed it clean in half) and tried to climb through the open cab into the passenger seat to keep Gary company on his journey home. We still laugh about this now and a good story for the grandkids in many years to come.

We finally were on track we have had mixed litters some large (13) some small (2), some straight forward some not, however one thing is for certain every time we are farrowing we get the butterflies and excited nervous tummy and every time it’s over and we know our gilt/sow is fine and her babies start tootling around the smile is infectious we find ourselves standing for ages watching them with this ridiculous smile on our faces.

The support of the OSB group and the wonderful Kim Brook has made a lot of this possible. We were doing great and then the farm we were renting went up for sale, it was far too much money for us to consider buying it so we managed to buy some land in a neighbouring village to continue with our dream and passion. We had wanted to live on the land in a caravan and possibly build a log cabin in the future however our local planning department have other ideas and are making it all quite difficult and very frustrating. However we will sort it we don’t give up very easily does the Barr’s.

So now what do we have well, we have 2 boars 1 registered 1 not registered, 11 gilts/sows for breeding and around 21 for fattening to supply the hog roast and sausage side of things.

The hog roast side of things is going great and lots of events for 2018 and 2019, people always comment just how good it is the best pork they have ever had this gives us such pride and makes what we do even more worthwhile.

Maisie our daughter is 7 and she loves it she helps with all aspects feeding, bedding up, moving them, doing their waters, taking them to the abattoir and most importantly piglet cuddles ha ha everyone always comments on what a wonderful thing for her to be a part of and I would have to agree much better than an Xbox or Ipad if you ask me. She has work ethic, she shows compassion and love for animals, and most importantly she appreciates were her food comes from!!.

Lewis is 16 and not so fussed but will always help if needed and also loves to sneak in for cuddles when farrowing. We are a long way from where we want to be, but we will get there with hard work and determination to keep doing what we do and love. The Oxford sandy and Black pig will always be a part of the Barr Family.

I hope you all enjoyed reading I could of gone on for days with stories of the things we have done every day is a laugh with pigs even on the hardest of days there is one of them that will do something to make you laugh.

OSB’s in the Netherlands with Pipie Smits van Oyen

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Slide Show from Pipie Smits van Oyen

 

Two years ago we decided to keep some pigs as addition to our organic farm in the Netherlands to be
able to offer pig meat as well as our grass-fed Aberdeen Angus meat. Although outdoor pigs are
almost unknown in our country, we decided to take the plunge and looked to British pig keeping for
inspiration. After much looking around on the Internet and in books, we somewhat undecidedly chose
for the Oxford Sandy and Black breed, primarily because of its good outdoor qualities, meat quality
and inclination not to put on too much fat, and last but not least, its pretty looks. Since then, we have
fallen in love with the breed and the pigs have become a favourite on the farm, amongst ourselves,
employees and visitors alike.

With luck, we were able to purchase our first pigs (two gilts and two boars) from Taco van der Louw,
who had just imported them from Britain. We kept them over the summer and come winter, sent the
boars off to slaughter. We were stunned by the meat’s taste, from mincemeat to roasts, and have since
not gone back to buying other pork again. We fed those first pigs a finisher diet in their last few
months, which led to a substantial layer of fat, but this has not been a problem since we have been
finishing on a normal sow diet. We held on to the two sows for breeding, and they are now the basis of
our small herd.

The herd was expanded last year by the boar Luke, who was again imported from Wales with the help
of Kim Brook. After a shy start, he is now feeling very at home and has been doing his job
successfully while enjoying the grass and mud! The number of OSB keepers has been slowly growing
in the Netherlands, but with such a small population it is important to watch out for inbreeding so the
import of stock from other countries remains essential.

At the moment we are keeping the two sows and boar, with 20-30 piglets and finishers. We bring the
pigs to a abattoir, who butcher and package the meat, after which we sell it ourselves directly to
customers or to small retail or restaurants. The meat has proven very popular, with our customers
praising the full, “old-fashioned” taste. With an increasing number of pigs in the future, it will prove a
challenge to widen our customer base to be able to sell the extra meat. However, if no one else, the
pigs have made us happy from the first day they arrived. They are social, clever and beautiful animals,
and a minute spent with the pigs is never wasted!

 

 

Dave & Lizzie Reynolds – Our journey into pig-keeping

Lizzie and I always knew that we wanted space to keep some chickens when we began house-hunting back in the late 1990s and so every house was viewed from this perspective. Could we afford a quarter of an acre garden? We’d be delighted with half an acre. So it was without surprise that when we first set eyes on our slightly tired house and were informed that, ‘The garden finishes where that far fence is,’ we put in an offer almost without going inside the house. That fence was a long way away and we’d found ourselves an affordable 3-bedroom home with 0.85 acres in rural Somerset.

So next came the pure breed chickens, just 6 or so at first. Then 6 became about 36 and we acquired some more land off our neighbours. What could go on here? It had to be productive and serve a purpose. The answer was Pilgrim Geese – our first foray into keeping and promoting a rare breed. We breed as many as we sensibly can, have sold many birds for breeding over the years (with birds and eggs going as far afield as Norwich, the Scottish Highlands and The Isle of White), they’re great lawnmowers and the surplus stock provide meat for the freezer.

The only problem with Pilgrim geese is that they’re not always great natural mothers and their eggs don’t hatch well in incubators. So we needed some Muscovy ducks. And because we weren’t busy enough (!) we started beekeeping too…

Then, 3 years ago, we had the opportunity to purchase some more land off our neighbours which made our garden a neat, complete strip going all the way down to the river. This extra 75m length gave us about 1.2 acres in all and opened up another discussion about what should be kept there.

We’d always liked the idea of keeping pigs and, after an initial bit of research revealed that it would indeed be possible to keep them in our modest grounds, we went on an excellent course run by Gillian Dixon of South Yeo Farm East, Devon, entitled ‘Introduction To Keeping Pigs.’ It was on this fateful course that we were introduced to the different breeds and scribbled a note down about someone called Kim Brook who kept dual purpose Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs and had a Facebook group. And the seed was sown.

On deciding that this was probably the breed we wanted to keep, we duly joined the Facebook group, discovered the Oxford Sandy and Black Website and noted that our nearest conveniently located breeder was Susan Tanner and her Windwhistle herd. On paying her a preliminary visit to check out the conditions that her pigs were reared in, we were instantly hooked on the breed and astounded at how professional Susan’s set up was and how much she clearly loved and cared for her pigs. This was definitely the breeder and the breed for us!

And so it was that after lots of excited preparations in the field at home, including putting in new access from the bridleway (there was no way we were going to be herding pigs 350m down the garden when they needed to leave the premises!), on 29th May 2016, our first 2 pigs, whom we called Ham and Pickle, arrived. We were smitten from the start and decided immediately that pigs, and OSB’s in particular, were always going to be part of our lives.

Exactly 5 months later we were the proud owners of a new freezer full of meat and were convinced (as I’m sure all pig-keepers are) that ours was the moist delicious pork in the world! So in 2017, with plenty of meat still in our freezer for the 2 of us, we decided to offer pre-orders of meat for sale in quarter pig boxes to close friends and family. We were amazed at the positive uptake and soon realized that all the quarters that people wanted made 3 pigs not 2!

Susan Tanner duly provided us with 3 more, high quality, boar weaners and with a change in the feeding regime to the one promoted in the excellent Haynes Pig Manual’ by Liz Shankland, we reduced the fat levels and produced quality pork for our friends and family which we were really proud of and which our customers have given us nothing but rave reviews about.

So here we are in 2018 and we’re enjoying every second of rearing our next 3 pigs in exactly the same way as last year’s in the hope of replicating the quality of the meat produced. With word of mouth pre-orders from a couple of people in the village and from Lizzie’s family, we’ve already got customers for most of the meat without even sending out so much as an email making the offer. A real testament to the quality of the pork produced from this fantastic breed of pig. Thank you Gillian, Kim and Susan and to all the wonderful people on Facebook in the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group for their support and advice along the way – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Meet Hannah Coad, Taking Her First Steps with the OSB

 

I first discovered my love for pigs after meeting my boyfriend Luke, nearly 4 years ago at a young
farmer’s party. I have not been brought up or ever lived on a farm, so I am not your typical farmer’s
daughter! In my day job, I work for Cornwall Council’s legal department as a legal secretary for the
social care department.

Luke breeds pedigree saddlebacks and this was the first breed of pig I was introduced to. For our
first Christmas together, Luke let me pick and keep a saddleback weaner from a litter he had,
meaning ‘babe’ was born. We raised her from birth and she is now nearly 3, and has had two very
successful litters.

So, onto the Oxford Sandy and black breed. I had always loved the breed, their look and the rareness
of them. I had been looking for an OSB gilt for a while and then we went to look at a saddleback sow
for Luke, and Lucy was also for sale( I think if Luke knew this he would not have taken me to look!),
after a bit of convincing and nagging we came back with both!

Lucy has such a personality and the
fact I am doing a little bit to help save the numbers is great. Lucy is just over one year old and is now
due to have her first litter and farrow at the end of July. I would like to thank Kim for all of the help
she has given me, finding a boar in Cornwall which was not related to Lucy was a difficult task –
there was only one and he is Lucy’s dad! It resulted in Kim arranging for a boar to come down from
Wiltshire for which I am very grateful.

I am very much looking forward to Lucy farrowing and hopefully increasing my OSB numbers (if Luke
lets me!)

Recipe for perfect pork: Step 1, buy a farm …..

In this edition were hear from Sara and Robert Buttle and their journey to create there ideal farm, which features the wonderful Oxford Sandy and Black Pig

Robert and Sara’s plan to buy a farm and raise rare breed pigs can only be described as a mid-life crisis – most
of their friends thought they were mad to give up their jobs and comfortable life in suburbia. The plan had
evolved over several years, a combination of reasons but largely driven by a desire to raise pigs in a high
welfare environment. After looking for a small farm for some years, they are very hard to come by, their time
invested finally paid off and they were successful in buying at auction on July 24th, 2009, Lot 2 comprising ten
old farm buildings and 60 acres of land.

A lengthy period of negotiation with the planners followed and in summer 2010, a caravan arrived on site and
they moved in. One by one, each of the buildings was overhauled – fortunately, the Victorians built some
really good quality barns and the site was blessed with a number of brick buildings with slate roofs and mighty
beams plus one much older chalk-built barn with huge beams, a tiled roof and unusual vents (which is now the
Chalk Barn holiday cottage). All had been used for winter animal housing so required complete renovation
from top to bottom.

Soon after the caravan arrived, so did the first pigs– three Oxford Sandy & Black registered weaner gilts
destined to become our first breeding stock. One of them, although no longer producing piglets, is still with us
today! Today, there are six different breeds of traditional pigs in the Buttle Farm herd – five native British rare
breeds (OSBs plus British Saddlebacks, Tamworths, Large Blacks and Berkshire) plus the hugely popular
Mangalitza. They are all raised on the farm in an extensive free-range system, living in small groups, outdoors
all year round in a high-welfare and natural environment.

From these animals, as well as selling fresh pork, Robert makes a range of award-winning charcuterie including
bacon, salami and air-dried ham in the on-farm processing unit – a high-tech unit with temperature and
humidity control built inside the old grain barn. The pork and charcuterie are sold to quality local restaurants
all within a 25-mile radius of the farm and also direct to the consumer.
The only other livestock on the farm is the guinea fowl which roam free range around the barns into the
fields and earn their keep by devouring huge quantities of bugs along the way. They also pay their way by
producing eggs during the summer months which are mainly sold for hatching with any excess enthusiastically
eaten!

As with all small farms, diversification is important to the success of the business.
Two of the barns on the farm has been converted to holiday accommodation which has been rated 5* Gold
by Visit England – the ‘special’ feature is that all 4 bedrooms are equally lovely which makes the farm a very
attractive destination for groups of friends going away for a weekend together – no battles over who gets the
master suite and who gets the box room!

Robert also runs bespoke training courses in the processing unit ranging from general butchery and knife skills
to curing – learn what you want to learn rather than what the organisers want to teach you. These are hands-on
with a maximum of 2 students so that people get plenty of opportunities to learn by doing rather than
watching. Students vary enormously, ranging from 2*Michelin chefs to enthusiastic foodies. One rare breed
pig keeper was unhappy with the produce they were receiving back from their butcher – they felt that they
were missing out. By coming on the course, they discovered exactly what could be achieved to get the
maximum value from their pigs.

A wide variety of events run on the farm, mostly during the summer months. Every year, the Buttles team up
with the Slow Food organisation and run a Slow Pig day which is designed to bring people to the farm to find
out more about the importance of our rare breeds and to realise that they should ask more questions about
where their food comes from. (NB: the 2018 event is on June 3 rd )

Last year, the Farm was the venue for a wedding – the weather was kind and the day was a great success. The
terrace area where the ceremony took place has a spit roast, a large wood-fired oven and a BBQ and can
accommodate quite a crowd. As well as the wedding, it has seen gatherings ranging from Rotary Club summer
BBQs to WI evening meetings.

There have also been some interesting film, tv and radio crews visit over the recent years. CBC (the Canadian
version of the BBC) wanted to film some pigs working a maze – yes, really! Ten days were spent training some
15-week- old weaners to negotiate the maze. Thankfully, when the camera crew arrived, they behaved
faultlessly!

On the radio, Robert has appeared several times on local radio including one very popular session describing how
to cook the perfect crackling, and well as more recently on the BBC R4 Food Programme, to explain the value
of and importance of rare breed pork.

Then there was the camera crew who wanted to film a ‘Day in the Life of …’ documentary in the holiday
cottage focussing on a young couple who are top class cyclo-cross athletes.
And sadly, one that ended up on the cutting room floor, for C4, hosted by Michel Roux Jnr, comparing cheap
produce with premium versions – in our case, it was Bacon.