Monday, 28 March 2011

Farmers for a Day

Last year we raised three Gloucester Old Spot pigs. These were for our own consumption in a Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall inspired self sufficiency drive. It was a great success - they were relatively easy to care for and produced excellent meat, which lasted us several months. We fed them on organic food and they were not medicated which makes them organic to us - although obviously they were not certified as such.

Our three pigs worth of organic-ish pork.

We were inundated by family and friends wanting to buy some, and decided this year we would up production slightly. In a bid to learn more about the pig business, we spent a day helping out at the wonderful  Marshfield Organic Farm near Bath, to try and pick up some practical skills.

Lesson 1 being how to load pigs into a trailer. Someone once said to me about pigs:

'Never wrestle a pig. You get muddy and besides, the pig likes it'

Slowly slowly catchee piggy...

So true. You just cannot force a 15 stone pig to do something it doesn't want to do. Hence we tempted 7 of the 8 pigs into a trailer with food. One just would not comply, so Oli did an excellent job of 'driving' it accross the field by cunningly laying a trail of pig nuts. Apart from one incident where it ran off to chase some sheep, it was a great success.

Mud up to armpits = happy pig.
Marshfield Farm is nestled in the rolling Bath countryside and just about as far as you can get from intensive production. Call me a wuss but  watching the pigs jumping gleefully into the deep mud brought a lump to my throat. This is how farm animals should be kept - outside, in small groups and under the watch of a farmer who cares about their welfare just as much as his profits. They sell their excellent meat through farmers markets. It seems simple to me - if you like the sight of pigs frolicking in  fields rather than crammed up in concrete sheds, buy your meat from a farmer, not a supermarket.

As it is lambing season, every 3 hours, the farmer scoots around on a quad bike, checking the lambs. This one is a triplet who was very skinny and weak. It's mother didn't have enough teats for all three, so decided to cut her losses and stop feeding this one. It will need to be bottle fed for two months at least - if it survives - and is currently living in the boiler room to keep it warm. We have offered our services if it picks up, so watch this space!

Days like today really restore my faith in British farming. Marshfield has sheep, cattle, chickens, laying hens and pigs all reared organically. Intensive farming is often cited as the only way to feed the growing world population. I disagree - Marshfield Farm is proof that small scale mixed farming can still work if we consumers are there to support farms by buying locally.

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