Perfectly timed with the airing of Jamie Oliver’s programe – “Jamie Saves our Bacon” promoting free range pork production – is the birth of 9 healthy Gloucester Old Spot pigs at Fordhall Farm in Shropshire. Pictured above with mum in their ark near the farm shop, these little piglets are strong and healthy and as soon as their little legs can carry them, we are sure they will venture into the paddock to get their first glimpse of the outside world.
It is a fantastic feeling each time new life is brought on to the farm knowing that our animals are growing up in their most natural environment and that they are happy. Not only is this great for the pig, it also makes for a happy farmer and the meat tastes better too! That extra bit of fat on the free-range Gloucester Old Spot pork and bacon is a clear indication that they have been allowed to mature slower outdoors. The fat is also what gives the meat its fantastic flavour in cooking and provides unbeatable crackling to boot. If you want to see the piglets at Fordhall then please do come down to the farm shop on wednesdays, fridays, saturday-sunday to take a look.
Below is some information that may help you understand some of the different pig production systems out there.
Free-range pigs live outside and sleep in small metal huts filled with straw. Only 4% of our pigs have this sort of good life but half our breeding sows are free-range. Although there is no legal definition of ‘free-range pork’ the RSPCA believes that the term ‘free-range’ should only be used where the pig (and the sow that bred the pig) has been kept outside for its entire life, in paddocks with plenty of space to move around and soil to root in.
Outdoor-bred pigs are born outside and transported to a ‘finishing’ unit after approximately three or four weeks. This is usually an indoor barn that can have varying welfare levels.
The RSPCA believes that the term ‘outdoor-bred’ should only apply to pork when the animal has been transferred to a finishing system that provides plenty of straw and has a mostly solid floor. Pigs like straw because it allows them to behave naturally. They root in it and sows use it to build nests.
In the UK, indoor sows are kept in groups then moved to individual farrowing crates about a week before they are due to give birth. Farrowing crates are restrictive pens, which prevent the sow from turning around and which aim to reduce the risk of the sow lying on and crushing her piglets. They usually remain in these farrowing crates until their piglets are weaned at about 4 weeks old. Once weaned, the piglets are transferred to a variety of different indoor systems, which provide varying levels of welfare.
Fordhall Farm and the Fordhall Community Land Initiative are also supporting the programme soon to be shown on More 4 called ‘Pig Business’. This documentary tells the story of our imported pork, much of which comes from places like Poland, who have vastly different welfare standards to our own. For more information click here