As this is my first column for Pig World, I should explain what we do at Solitaire Farm.
As you would expect, being the chairman of the British Pig Association (BPA), we are an all pedigree herd. Large White dominates but we also have Hampshires, Gloucestershire Old Spots, British Lops and my daughter’s Middle Whites, totalling about 60 sows.
The Large White herd was founded by my grandfather in 1944 and is now the oldest in the country. We are on light sandy soils here, so the majority of the dry sows are outside, but all are farrowed indoors in a fully-slatted farrowing house.
This makes routine tasks, especially tattooing, so much easier. We primarily aim to sell breeding stock, both in the UK and overseas, so potential breeding animals are identified at weaning.
Any pigs not good enough for breeding are finished and either sold through our farm shop and hog roast business, or marketed through Anglia Quality Meats.
The best time of the year for any farm shop, and ours is no exception, are the four days before Christmas.
One way of helping breeds is through exports: there is still a demand for British pigs in overseas markets
As well as preparing mountains of sausages and chipolatas, we had the annual head-scratching exercise of trying to make sure all our turkey customers had a bird that was somewhere near the weight they had ordered.
The turkeys had grown well this year, so most people ended up with one slightly larger than ordered, but all seemed happy. One customer was so impressed she has ordered next year’s already.
One of our last hog roasts of the year was for the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution. It is great to be able to support a charity that does so much to help those who have been involved in agriculture and fallen on hard times.
At the time of writing, January was shaping up to be an expensive month. I have ordered a new bucket for the loader tractor; I hope it arrives before the bottom falls out of the old one.
We are also busy gathering quotes for a new building and investigating options for changing the combine. In January, the BPA publishes the results of its annual audit of Britain’s pedigree breeds, which is fed into Defra’s breeds at risk register.
The changes in recent years are quite revealing. The most popular pedigree breed is now the Gloucestershire Old Spot, closely followed by the British Saddleback and Oxford Sandy & Black. The Large White and British Landrace are now at the bottom of the pile, with many lines in danger of extinction.
One way of helping these breeds is through exports: there is still a demand for British pigs in many overseas markets. Melany and I are off to VIV Asia in March, promoting our pigs and hopefully bringing back some orders. This bi-annual trade show, held in Bangkok, is the biggest show of its kind in Asia, with visitors – and potential customers – attending from a large number of countries.