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Use Them or Lose Them!

Heal Farm's display at the Food Lovers FairOne of the pioneers of the “use it or lose it” approach was Anne Petch of Heal Farm. She describes some of the problems encountered in those early days. “ I had always been successful at shows with my pigs and selling breeding stock. Other pigs that were not good enough for breeding were finished. But the abattoir didn’t want them because they didn’t fit modern grading techniques and they had too many bristles. As a result, we were not covering our feed bill and I came to the conclusion that I would either carry on with the pigs as a hobby or do something about it.”

She was one of the first of many producers to begin marketing pork from their own Traditional Breed pigs directly to consumers. Mail order, Farmers Markets and Farm Shops were the fist and most obvious outlets but more recently the Internet has provided a new way to reach customers interested in buying direct from the producer.

The appeal of these producers is based on a number of factors. Left behind in the march of “progress” and the drive to produce a generic pig for least cost mass production they have retained all their original traits such as slower growth and meat quality. Whilst this means an inevitable penalty in cost of production and selling price there is a real benefit in terms of taste and flavour.

Viscount Cranborne gives his Large Blacks some personal attentionA growing number of consumers want to know more about how their food is produced. Breeder/Retailers as these new entrepreneurs might be called can explain every step from conception to kebab because they have done all the work themselves.

An increased awareness of animal welfare issues amongst consumers means that there are many prepared to pay that little bit more for a less intensively reared product. At Cranborne Farms in Dorset (right), groups of 30 pigs run over four-acre plots in Cranborne Woods. Some are from Lord Cranborne’s own Large Black sows and others are purchased from local breeders but all are traditional breeds. They are fed once a day on home produced rolled barley with minerals and vitamins whilst clearing up the woodland. From Cranborne Woods the finished pigs end up as Cranborne Meats sold through the estate shop and on the internet.

Lord Cranborne regularly urges BPA members to take control of their own markets, re-establish contact with their customers and shorten the food chain. One member who has taken this message to heart is Pru Rose from Old Castle Farm near Buckland St. Mary. As soon as Old Castle Farm pork from her Saddlebacks was established at Chard Farmers Market she went on to take butchery and meat hygiene courses. Not only can she now get part time outside the farm if she should wish to do so but she has greatly reduced the costs within the family pork business.

The Wheatley Hubbards have been breeding Tamworths in Wiltshire’s Wylye Valley since 1922. Caroline Wheatley Hubbard started selling Tamworth pork at farmers markets as a last resort during the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis. Now the farm has its own cutting room and her award winning Simple Simon sausages are available by mail order and via the internet.

Lord Cranborne and Viki Mills congratulate Antony Worral Thompson on his first success in the show ringAnother breeder who has enjoyed great success in London is Richard Vaughan (above) who has developed a market for his Middle White pigs with some of London’s top chefs. Pork from his pigs reared on the farm that has been in the family for many generations appear on some of the capitals finest menus. One chef who has been converted to the special qualities of traditional breeds and varietal pork is Antony Worrall Thompson. He is so enamoured with the Middle White breed that he has his own small herd and he is now starting to compete in the showring. Another who acknowledges the superior quality of traditional breeds is Michel Roux. His latest publication “Le Gavroche Cookbook“ (Cassel & Co. 2001) recommends the Middle White “to make the best crackling ever”.

Le Gavroche Cookbook

[RIGHT: Lord Cranborne and Viki Mills congratulate Antony Worral Thompson on his first success in the show ring.]

Not everyone can take the time to get involved in retailing. Sharon and Lewis Barnfield supply their local butcher in Gloucestershire with both Berkshires and Gloucestershire Old Spots. His customers love the taste and quality of the meat and the fact that it comes from a local source. The shop even displays some of Lewis’ many trophies won in the showring. 

There are also schemes such as the Traditional Breeds Meat Marketing Scheme run by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Breeders can send their pigs to specialist finishing units from where they are sold onto accredited butchers specialising in meat from traditional breeds of all species.

Agricultural shows remain an important shop window for traditional breeds. As these events continue to attract a wider town and country audience there is an opportunity to promote and educate the public about the need to eat meat from our traditional breeds if they are to have a sound commercial future. Many City Farms are starting to keep traditional breeds and again they provide a real chance to promote the use of these pigs and so secure a future that is not dependant on charity and sentiment alone.



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