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

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

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.

A Pig Tale.. from the Scottish Highlands


Michelle Anderson-Carroll is kicking off our group members stories with how she found and fell in love with the Oxford Sandy and Black on her Croft in the Scottish highland. Michelle tells her story.. “A pigs Tale”..

Michelle on her Pig Farm at Achvraid near Inverness, picture by Trevor Martin.

Writing this in the spring sunshine, after the successful farrowing of our latest litter, it would be easy to pop on the rose-tinted glasses and think this pig breeding is all about happiness and joy… If only!

It was just over 2 years ago the first Oxford Sandy & Black pigs arrived on River Croft, our first ever venture into pig keeping. Our original intention was to get 2 weaners instead of a tractor to plough 3 acres, however, we were let down by the seller so looked further afield and what transpired next may well have been written in my destiny.

My bloody-minded determination told me that I WAS getting my own Oxford Sandy & Black’s. The first internet search I did came up with an advert at the top of the page for a small pedigree herd – 2 sows (1 in pig, the other with 7, 4-week old piglets at foot) and a boar and they were only 3 hours away. Was this fate? Should we or shouldn’t we take on this responsibly armed with the pig keeping knowledge found on the pages of one small pig keeping book? You guessed right, we bought them! Foolhardy as it was, I have not one single regret.

We made every rookie mistake out there and probably some extra ones too. I quickly learned that you cannot herd a pig, Elliot still tries much to my amusement. We had calls from neighbours that pigs were in various locations they weren’t supposed to be, a panic call to the vet to find out if it was normal for a pig to sneeze (thankfully it is and panic or culling an entire herd is not required, phew!), we sent 11 weaners to new homes with mange that I didn’t notice despite hand rearing them, lost an entire litter to hypothermia during a winter storm, our first porkers came out with around 3 inches of back fat, the list goes on… and on!

Morag Piglets

I thanked my lucky stars when I stumbled across the Oxford Sandy & Black Pig Group on facebook – informative, friendly and accessible. It is my favourite place to share the highs and lows of my life with this special breed of pigs.

Now here we are only 2 years on, Elliot and I have achieved so much with and on behalf of our beloved breed. It was a career change I never envisaged, hard work without a doubt, fabulous fun and desperate despair in equal measure, in short, an emotional rollercoaster. I am a generally a shy person that has spent a lot of my adult life battling with anxiety and depression but I think my I am tenacious and will not let these define my life. The passion I have found for keeping Oxford Sandy & Blacks has given me drive and courage to go out and promote their conservation.

Through the group, I have made contacts and friends. We expanded our herd; concentrating on diversifying the blood pool in the north of Scotland we already had 2 Elsie sows so travelled to Somerset for our Alexander boar (he was star of the BBC County Showdown), to Wales for our 2 Clarissa gilts (now on their 2nd litters) and most recently have acquired a Duchess from central Scotland (about to have her 2nd litter). Our herd is complete… well until more fencing is done. Can you have too many pigs?

This year we have so far secured contracts with restaurants, caterers, all of our livestock customers are repeat (with the exception of the girls I sold many pigs to..), we have been in the Sunday post, local press and radio, got pigs into two independent school farms, been on Countryfile. And to look forward to we have a visit from agricultural undergraduates from Iowa State University (this will be an annual visit), an article in Scottish Field (a glossy country lifestyle publication), I will be attending various shows along with the RBST to talk and promote our breed, Open Farm Sunday, helping a newcomer to the breed set up his own breeding herd here in the Highlands and  a few other things I need to keep under wraps for now. Stay tuned to the Facebook page for announcements as and when I can.

Countryfile at the Croft

I aim to have the first proof of our recipe book with me at Oxfest on the 5th of May so you can have a sneak peek and critique. I am very excited to be travelling south, hoping for warm weather, some sunshine and very much looking forward to meeting you.

Today the sun is shining! Life is good on River Croft! I am off outside to enjoy!