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Jamie saves our bacon!

[Jamie Saves Our Bacon]

In response to this recent TV programme, we thought we would share with you our views and what we do here at Mill Cottage.

I think the programme gave a fair description of how commercial pig herds are run. The general public have become so far removed from the farming process that it may have seemed shocking to some. That's not to say that we believe current methods are best practice...


Type of pigs

Commercially in the UK: Tend to be Large White / Landrace hybrid breed - a fast growing, huge pig, selected for its length (in order to maximise pork sales) and leaness.

The Mill Cottage Way: We breed Kune Kune pigs, a slow growing, grass eating pig.


Birth

Commercially in the UK: Sows are kept in groups, indoors and then a week before they are due to give birth they are moved into farrowing crates. 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 will stay in these until the piglets are weaned at 4 weeks. They produce 10-12 piglets each litter, with 2.3 litters a year.

The Mill Cottage Way: We allow the sows to wander at will indoors and outdoors throughout their lives. During birth, they will make a nest in the straw and produce up to 8 piglets. The mother is very gentle when she lies down to let the piglets suckle. To date, we have not lost any piglets through being squashed. The sow always leaves the nest if she needs to defecate. The piglets do this from birth too! For the first week or so, we keep the sow and piglets in a large straw area indoors so that the piglets are not at risk from predators or drowning in the mud! The piglets are weaned at 2-3 months, when they are fully able to eat adult food. We allow our sows to have piglets once every 8 months - certainly not any sooner.


Housing

Commercially in the UK: Though illegal in Britain, sow pens will not be banned in the EU until 2013, a situation Jamie believes leaves British farmers on an uneven playing field. In the UK, 65% of pigs spend their whole lives indoors. Some are given straw but none of these pigs get to go outside. 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.

The Mill Cottage Way: We allow the sows to wander at will indoors and outdoors throughout their lives. They keep their nests clean at all times. They are able to demonstrate natural behaviours - sleeping cuddled up together, rooting around for food, playing with a ball (if it has food inside it!)


Tail Docking

Commercially in the UK: This is done to prevent piglets biting each other's tails and damaging them.

The Mill Cottage Way: We would never do this. The piglets are in a stimulating environment and although they play fight with each other, it never turns that vicious and as long as the pigs are not bored, they will not need docking!


Breeding

Commercially in the UK: AI is regularly used in order for the "best" boar to be used on several hundred sows at the same time. It also saves moving a boar around the country and the added stress (for the boar) and paperwork (for the owners) that this entails.

The Mill Cottage Way: Never found the boar had a problem dealing with our sows! We keep our own boar.


Death

Commercially in the UK: Pigs go for slaughter at around 4 months. Each pig is stunned with electric tongs on its temples to knock it out. The slaughter men then have one minute to place the pig in shackles and kill it with one clean cut through the jugular. If they don't get it done within the minute then the pig will start to come round.

The Mill Cottage Way: We currently use the abattoir at Laverstock where we are 100% certain welfare and cleanliness comes first. The carcase is then taken to Joyce and Lukas Butchers in Alton to be cut up.


Cooking

Commercially in the UK: British shoppers go loony for pork loin. So much so British butchers are forced to import 14 million pigs' worth to meet the demand.

The Mill Cottage Way: We get the whole pig back so can have all cuts. We tend to get pork legs (lovely crackling) and sausages.


Pig 'Em Up

Commercially in the UK: Many places serve pig products that make it unclear for the consumer to establish where it was kept, bred and slaughtered. Even with the labelling in supermarkets, it is still very unclear. Restaurants, cafes and other food outlets are even less open about where the food comes from.

The Mill Cottage Way: We like to know that our pig products were born with us, have spent their whole life with us, and have been taken personally by us to the slaughterhouse. There's not much more local than that!


Read the Label!

Commercially in the UK: British farmers abiding by mandatory UK standards of animal welfare struggle to compete with their less constrained European cousins. "Nearly 70 per cent of what we import into this country would have come from pigs that would have been illegal to produce in this country", explains Barney Kaye from the National Pig Association.

The Mill Cottage Way: We would like to see clear labelling. Ask your butcher / supermarket where the meat comes from and how it has been reared. Even better, go to the farmers' markets and buy direct from the person who produced the product!


Castration

Commercially in the UK: Male piglets are castrated because the hormones they produce as they mature gives the meat a foul taste called "boar taint". Although all male piglets used to be castrated in the UK, these days commercial pigs grow so quickly that they are usually slaughtered within the first year of their lives before they mature and therefore there is no need for castration. Only 1% of UK pigs are castrated and this usually takes place on organic or rare-breed farms where pigs grow at a slower rate. While castration is sometimes a distressing experience for the piglets, once completed, these animals enjoy a longer life, often in the highest welfare environments. In Europe, 99% of pigs are castrated as they like to grow their pigs through maturity to a bigger size.

The Mill Cottage Way: Since 2013 we have not castrated our male piglets and have not noticed any change to the flavour of the pork.


So, what now....?

[Freedom Food - RSPCA Monitored] [Quality Pork Standards] [Assured Food Standards]
  1. Buy British pork.
    • Look for these logos when you're out buying your packs of meat. If British pork is not available where you shop, ask why not!
  2. Try cheaper cuts of meat like belly, shoulder and neck fillet steak.
    • If you've never cooked these cuts before don't worry, because Jamie Oliver has written some delicious recipes to get you started - look online!
  3. Demand clear labelling
    • At the moment it is not a legal requirement to state where your pork is from in the EU. As minimum welfare standards in the UK are higher than in Europe I think this should be changed so that you can see clearly where your pork was farmed.
  4. Farmers' Markets
    • Buy direct from the farmer so that you can ask the questions you need to about how the animal has been kept, bred and slaughtered.
  5. Local food outlets
    • Ask the manager of your local supermarket, cafe, restaurants, pubs etc. where their pork comes from. If they don't stock British pork, ask why not!
  6. Waste Food Products
    • Ask your supermarket Manager to look into ways of using their waste food products for pig feed. This is a complicated issue and there are many regulations around what can and can't be fed to farm animals. However, at present, all the major local supermarkets would rather send leftover / not for human consumption quality fruit, vegetables and bread to the landfill rather than giving it away as pig feed. They will only give it away if you have an official charity number! However, if enough customers asked for it we may see a change in their policies.