Based in Gower, The Welsh Farmyard are breeders and producers, not only of the largest Pedigree Welsh pig herd in the UK, but also the first Freedom Food certified pig herd in Wales. The company opened their first butchers shop in Swansea in 2011, and now supply high quality Pedigree Welsh pork to butchers, restaurants and hotels across the region.
The Welsh Menu visited the farm to find out more about the process.
What’s the ethos of The Welsh Farmyard?
It’s really important to us that we can guarantee that the pig is a Welsh breed, and that we uphold very high welfare standards. Traceability is vital as it can show that it’s been a good breed, and gives confidence that the meat is from a good line of pigs. The animals on the farm are happy and healthy – they have continuously fresh water as and when they choose to have it, and the feed is not restricted, they eat as much as they need when they want to.
We’re averaging around 10 piglets to each mother which is really good, and they stay with their mother in her individual pen – they don’t farrow (give birth) in cages, they are free pens – and once they get to a few weeks old, they are batched together with other piglets of the same age. At this point, they’re marked with the farm identifying code and unique number so we can identify them through the process. Then they move onto the Finishing Shed, where they come up to the age to go to the abattoir.
How many pigs do you have in one batch?
It can vary, but around twenty. We try and get them as close in age as possible – you’ll have the odd week when not many are born, and other weeks when eight sows are farrowing at the same time and we have to split the group. We have the largest breeding stock in Wales and one of the largest in the UK.
The Welsh breed itself until recently was on the endangered list, and that’s why we’ve gone back into it, to save the breed.
At about 20 weeks they’re ready for the abattoir, at that point the dead weight of an animal ranges from 50-70kg.
We take part in a number of shows across the country and the preparation is very time consuming and important. They’re cleaned out every day and the process takes all day.
At what point is the decision made that some would be good for breeding stock and others for the table?
Decisions are made based on the shape of the pig. Breeding pigs cannot be out of proportion, they need to have a good solid head, and basically if you look at the pig side on they need to be straight with a straight back from head to hind quarters.
Once they move into the Finishing Shed, farmer Ken Austin will look at them and decide which will be kept for breeding. They’re all Welsh breed, but with the females we have twenty five different family lines, and we have pretty much all twenty five which is almost unheard of. We’ve secured the families, and you will find that each family is slightly different – one for example is really narrow and over time you can identify this.
We have lots of large litters – one sow had a litter of fifteen recently and all were fine, but we average about 10.4 which is great – across the industry the average is around seven.
There’s a lot of interest in lambing with TV programmes devoted to it, but it’s a continuous process with pigs and they tend to farrow around twice a year, and are pregnant for 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days.
We have around 11 family lines for the boars and we’re pretty unique to have such complete lineage for the families. We’re going to try and breed to request, so if a farmer wants to breed a “Nina” sow with a “James” boar we can do that, and others can’t. This means that we can breed the best of each character into our pigs. It’s a very technical process. The different characteristics of each line don’t affect the meat production and have no impact on texture or flavour, but obviously it’s very important in breeding animals.
You’re Freedom Food Certified – what does that mean?
We’re RSPCA monitored, and they’re concerned with the higher welfare standards for animals. Even though this is what we’ve been doing all along, we’re the first pig producers in Wales to go down this route.
It’s basically things like the adlib feeds so the animals have constant water and food as and when they require it, free farrowing, and one of the things that does make us slightly different which isn’t required by RSPCA is to have indoor farrowing. We need to make sure that the welfare of the animals is paramount and better than most. It also includes common sense things like having emergency numbers available so that we can evidence that we know what we’re doing.
This follows through to the abattoir. Previously the closest Freedom Foods approved abattoir for pigs was in Gloucester, which was a two and half hour journey – not only was this extremely costly in terms of fuel and manpower, but it goes against everything Freedom Foods is about.
We spoke to the owners of HMD Butchers, the owners of the abattoir in Three Crosses, Swansea, and with some minor changes they were able to become the first Freedom Foods certified abattoir in Wales, something they were extremely happy to do. We’re now able to put a lot of business their way, and in terms of carbon footprint and animal stress, it’s only seven miles away from us, around a ten minute journey.
The RSPCA can visit us any time to conduct spot checks to ensure that everything is as it should be, and we make sure that we work really closely with them to keep on top of things, as we’re the only ones doing this, and they want more producers to follow in our footsteps.
We want people to know that we’re not just offering free range pork, it’s something very different, and this is particularly important when it comes to selling our pork to the public. We’ve had a lot of support from Freedom Foods, and they supported the launch of our retail outlet, and there are key people like Jamie Oliver and other chefs who are behind the initiative.
In order to become Freedom Food Certified, The Welsh Farmyard have to be able to identify and prove full traceability for every pig. To do this, each animal is marked on the ear with the farm code and unique number, enabling full traceability to ten generations.
You have a shop in Swansea, and also sell directly to local restaurants. Do you sell to the public through other means?
That’s the only place at the moment, but we do have links to a local farm shop who stock our produce. We’d like to sell online. We also sell to some Welsh butchers – there’s one in Cardiff and some in West Wales. A lot of the butchers are very keen on the product, but there are a few who want it for next to nothing.
Before we opened the shop we offered the product to some local butchers, but they wanted it from us as cheaply as they were buying pork from Slovakia. Our pork isn’t that expensive, but they’re buying in bulk at rock bottom prices from abroad. We do have a lot of overheads here – we must go through around a tonne and a half of feed every day.
Up to around four weeks old, the piglets just get milk and then we introduce a few feed pellets to get them growing. Then they move onto sow meal. Just feeding them takes the best part of around four hours each day. The boys arrive at 6am each day and they spend their time preparing the feed and cleaning out the pigs. In addition we’re trying to build more pens and keep full records of the breeding, so it can be quite hard and labour intensive.
When you buy pork in the supermarket, it’s pre-packed and often difficult to tell what it is and where it’s from. Do you sell some of the more unusual cuts?
The product is different and when the deliveries come into the shop, the public can see just how fresh it is. We do make our own sausages at the shop and have lots of different flavours available.
We have two butchers in the shop and they take a whole carcass with the head on, so we know it’s our pig thanks to the tattoo. Sausages and burgers are made on site, and we’re able to accommodate requests for particular cuts.
For example some of our hotel and restaurant customers want to receive their pork chops French trimmed and we can happily cater for things like that.
How would you encourage people to buy local?
In buying local produce, you’re supporting local farmers and businesses, and these are the people that have been hit really hard over the last few years. Also, you know where it’s coming from as it has full traceability, it is very good quality meat, and not only is it local, it’s our own native Welsh breed, and perhaps consumers should support that over other breeds.
We’ve had fantastic feedback from chefs, restaurants and hotels as they believe that the quality is excellent. We are offering the products at a competitive price.
Supermarkets are all about convenience for the consumer, but in buying a product like pork, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting, from the cut to the breed and sometimes the country of origin.
We’re able to control the price of our own product and as a result in like for like sales, we’re cheaper than many of the supermarkets, but we’re offering a top quality free range product.
Now I know how hard it is to get to the end point of production I’m certainly more inclined to opt for a Welsh or British product and avoid the temptation of multi buy packs of meat.
How important are awards and livestock shows to you?
The Royal Welsh Show is really important, especially on the breeding side. A lot of farmers come down to the show specifically to buy the animals as they know they’ve had great treatment from us and a high standard of welfare.
The food we feed them is expensive because it’s of a higher quality and that’s important to us. The animals have had an appropriate nutrition plan, have had all their vaccinations.
As well as selling animals there, our involvement and prizes gained through the Royal Welsh can be beneficial to butchers who sell our produce as they often list our Royal Welsh credentials on their point of sale.