Our saddleback pigs are an important part of our mixed livestock farm in the Cotswolds. Near to Stow-on-the-Wold, our farm has a diverse landscape with permanent pasture, arable fields, woodland, orchards and the River Dikler all creating habitats for wildlife and a quality environment for rearing our animals.
We chose to keep Saddlebacks because they are a native breed and better suited to a more natural, extensive system like ours. We believe that the way you produce meat has a big impact on its quality and health benefits as well as on the health of the environment. This is why we try to farm in harmony with nature as much as possible.
At the moment we have three breeding sows and one boar, with a litter of pigs produced every two months, giving us delicious pork for our local customers and online shop. Our pigs are rotated around the farm and play an important role in preparing old fields for re-seeding or cropping. We put them on to our herbal leys and clover fields that have reached the end of their life. The pigs clear the ground and fertilise the soil, building organic matter and fertility without the need for artificial fertilisers that can be so environmentally damaging. Those fields are then ready for a new arable crop and the cycle begins again.
The pigs roam in the woodland too and when they’re housed they have large open barns with deep straw bedding. We grow all of our own organic feed on the farm and the pigs get fed a barley and pea mix, along with whey and waste cheese from a neighbouring organic farm. Forming these connections with other local farmers is a great way of reducing waste and lowering our overall carbon footprint and environmental impact.
The benefits of this type of system are clear – in eight years we have never had to worm a pig and we don’t use any antibiotics. Our pigs are friendly and happy with outstanding welfare standards. Our soils are healthy and increasing in natural fertility and we have a biodiverse, wildlife-friendly and beautiful landscape, benefitting the livestock, people and nature.
The meat that is produced from our pigs is of the highest quality because of the varied, natural and organic diet that we feed them. Meat from sustainably reared native breed pigs like Saddlebacks is high in protein and amino acids and is a rich source of vitamins and minerals such as zinc and selenium. Pork is a particularly good source of thiamine, one of the essential B vitamins which isn’t found so readily in other meats such as beef and lamb.
Allowing our pigs to roam freely, get lots of exercise and express their natural behaviour also benefits the meat. Pig meat from free-range and organic systems has a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids and a more favourable (lower) ratio of
omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids compared with pig meat from intensive systems. Free-range pig meat also contains more vitamin E and iron than intensively reared pig meat. This is why breeds such as Saddlebacks are so important – they are more hardy and traditional, meaning they can thrive outdoors on natural diets.
Buying right is important and the best way to shop is through local butchers or direct from the farmer. Cheap, intensively produced pork from pigs permanently housed and fed on grain is very damaging to the welfare of the pig, the nutritional quality of the meat and to the environment. Livestock feed like soya is one of the main drivers of deforestation in places like South America. And pigs kept intensively are often administered routine antibiotics, a problem that’s contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans.
So it’s great that native breeds and extensive farming systems are making a comeback following the shift away from traditional farming and towards intensive production that we saw in the 50s and 60s. We’re now seeing a rising number of people who want to know how their meat has been produced and who care about the welfare of the animals. This includes how and where they are slaughtered, and we feel it’s important to support small local abattoirs that mean animals only have to travel short distances to slaughter.
We will continue to champion the breed and produce delicious, nutritious meat. We also hope that people will continue to support systems like ours – as consumer choice has the power to encourage a more sustainable and healthy future for our food and farming systems.