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