The pigs at The Oak Tree Farm were a vital part of the cultivation process at the farm for many years. They worked as a ‘pig tractor’ ploughing up areas of the land as they rooted around, removing the roots of the perennial weeds such as couch grass as they do so. Meanwhile, very fertile pig poo is returned to the soil, completing the cycle. They were fantastic animals to have on the farm, and had an exceptional quality of life compared to any commercial pig farm. We used to offer shares of our pork to vegetable CSA members from time to time.
Pigs are excellent at clearing land infested with weeds, digging and manuring as they go. Where possible the pigs are fed on waste veg from the farm. We moved the pigs around in electric fenced enclosures to cultivate and prepare land for vegetable crops.
Pigs were the traditional animal used by smallholders through the centuries to clear ground and convert waste food into useful pork and bacon. So not only did we enjoy the best pork we had ever tasted, we also improved our vegetable harvests.
Pigs have a natural rooting instinct that can only be achieved through free range living conditions. ‘Home-fed’ or ‘farm-reared’ usually still means they are kept indoors in a pen or a sty and on a concrete floor – and even ‘free range’ pigs basically tend to live in mud with little opportunity to root or graze. As soon as our pig pen turned to mud (or before if we are in a hurry to get them rooting on a new patch!) they were moved to pastures new. They had a constant supply of fresh water. They were able to root around in the earth, wallow in the mud and on sunnier days they could either lay out in the sun or shelter in their cosy house built from waste plastic materials.
Our pigs were fed on pig nuts from Marriage’s feeds based in Essex, as well as leftovers such as reject veg & brewers mash from friendly local breweries which would otherwise go to landfill (no kitchen waste or meat products – it’s illegal), and of course whatever they could root out from the ground.
We did not use steroids, growth hormones or anti-biotics (unless required for veterinary reasons and so far this hasn’t happened at all). We had rare breed pigs rather than the fast growing commercial breeds which are naturally slower to fatten up, but this all helps impove the taste of the meat.
What about slaughter?
We used to take delivery of the pigs at around 8 weeks old, and when they were ready at around 6 months we took them to a local abattoir which was recommended for welfare and humane standards.