We have pigs! This is a much bigger step than sheep and cattle. Sheep and cows can be left in a field to eat grass, but pigs you need to actively feed; everyday. The UK, a country that grows ample grass easily is one of the most sustainable places in the world to grow sheep and cattle. Pigs eat grains, and so require arable systems to support them; and so inherent in their production is some of the downfalls that can be found from arable systems. The benefits of pigs is that we can use them in an as low as possible input system which makes use of our woodland, where they will improve biodiversity.
To start with we have bought 4 gilts (girls) as 2 month old weaners. As we raise these up to breeding age we will be able to learn the basics of how to keep a pig. The breed we have chosen is the large black. They are docile and hardy so suitable for us novices. Peter, who worked on the farm for the past decade before we came here, has almost 70 years actively in the farming game and has been helping us since we moved here has always said our woods would suit a large black. It’s hard to ignore experience like that.
We are fortunate enough that we have been able to get Kyle from Forest Coal Pit as a mentor through Farming Connect who is providing us invaluable information on starting a pig enterprise.
As an outdoor production system, with a heritage breed, the growth rates will be slower than commercial breeds. This production system should produce a tastier meat than a commercial system. By rotating them through woodlands in the autumn we can use them to harvest nuts and seeds, and then bring them into the orchards after harvest to clear up the leftover fruit.
The act of rooting for food in the ground creates a disturbance which will improve biodiversity. We have to manage them in a way where they are disturbing an area, and moving on, before the amount of disturbance becomes damage.
To start with, so that we can get used to looking after them, we will be feeding them commercial pig food. In time we hope to be able to reduce the amount required through careful management of which land they are using. In time, it would be interesting to try and take control of the production of the feed that they have, but this requires getting into arable farming as well, which is a whole different ball game to livestock. A farmer who is using pigs within an arable system we recommend you check out is Fred Price at Gothelney Farm.