Friends Farm is run by Keith and Val Player. They decided to go in to pig production after moving to Alburgh from Essex in 2009. Between them they have a wealth of experience in livestock and equine husbandry, however the decision to go into pigs was a complete change in direction.
They bought twenty Landrace x Duroc gilts and a Large white boar. They soon had to learn the ropes including handling very excited young gilts and a boar that was a bit too keen and needed a helping hand, as well as the art of feeding for best results.
At Friends Farm we pride ourselves on the way we look after all of our animals, whether they are pigs, sheep, chickens, horses or the cats and dog. We are told that our welfare standards are generally higher than those of the recognised farm assurance schemes.
We cross our Large White boar with a Landrace x Duroc sow. We find this cross gives the meat an exceptional flavour and texture with sufficient fat to keep the meat moist during cooking, but not so much to be a health hazard.
The sows are kept in straw yards with the opportunity to go outside into paddocks to have a run around and root about in the soil (mud in winter) or laze around in their wallow when the weather is hot. When farrowing time comes (giving birth) the sows are moved to the farrowing shed where they are put into one of our own design freedom farrowing pens. Here they are mucked out every day and given fresh straw in which they root around and then build their nests. When they farrow they usually have about ten piglets which start to suckle from their mothers immediately.
They can then go into their own laying area away from their mums to keep them safe, and here they have clean straw and a heat lamp to keep them warm and cosy. At about five weeks old, much to the relief of their mothers, they are weaned. The sows then return to their straw yards and paddocks. The piglets (now known as weaners) move into small straw yards for a week or so to get used to being away from their mums, then they are turned out into small paddocks where they sleep in traditional arcs.
Our land gets very boggy in winter so when it gets too wet we let the pigs into straw yards where they continue to behave naturally but with more protection from the weather. It is our belief that pigs are just as happy in straw yards as they are in the proverbial poo (if not happier)!
We feed our pigs on a proprietary diet with the addition of hay or haylage, vegetables, lawn mowings and sometimes even hedge trimmings to provide roughage and something to keep them occupied. When they are big enough we take them to a local abattoir using our own transport to minimise upset and food miles.
As well as the pigs we also have a small flock of Zwartbles sheep that act as lawn mowers to tidy up behind our horses. They are a large naturally docile breed originally used as milking sheep in Holland. Their progeny make excellent pets and lawn mowers and their black fleeces are much sought after by spinning clubs. The Zwartbles’ meat is particularly tender and flavoursome.
Our chickens are mainly brown Goldline hens with a few older Speckled Marans and Sussex crosses thrown in for good measure. This gives a nice variety of different shades of brown or beige eggs which are appealing to our customers. They are fed on a proprietary brand of layers pellets but are allowed to roam completely free range. This enables them to graze in paddocks where they also get cabbage leaves etc. and hunt for bugs and worms.
By doing this they are really happy and lay plenty of eggs with beautiful yellow yokes that are full of flavour. Our customers regularly say they haven’t had eggs like these for years and always come back for more.
We also keep a few Buff Orpingtons and often have breeding stock for sale.