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Clash on the Coast
by Linda MacDonald-Brown
It's not often I can say I would like to change places with a pig, but after visiting the Clash herd of Saddlebacks in Port Logan, I would definitely change places any day. Not only are they living in the most stunning location, with the Irish Sea only yards away on one side, and the wild Scottish countryside on the other, but if their glossy coats and contented grunts are anything to go by, they lead a pretty stress free life as well.
Caron Stewart and her husband Robert are relatively new at keeping pigs, having started only a few years ago in 2005. Robert jokes they only ended up with Saddlebacks because he was given the choice by Caron, of either keeping spotty pigs or stripey pigs, and he chose stripey. In reality though, Saddlebacks were chosen because they are a hardy breed, therefore ideal for the windswept area around Port Logan, and they are renowned for their superb bacon and succulent pork.
Despite being relatively new to the pig world, they have already made quite an impact. Caron has not only established herself as a Saddleback breeder of quality stock but her reputation as a traditional breed pork producer, has led her to be voted onto the British Pig Association Pork Committee earlier this month.
Clash Farm currently has around 60 pigs on its 180 acres, made up of; 13 sows, 2 boars and 45 youngstock. Like any other pig breeder, costs have to be watched with an eagle eye. Caron and Robert reckon it costs approximately £5 a week to keep a pig. This covers food, bedding and incidentals; it doesn't however take into account the cost of labour, abattoir and butchery costs, nor does it take into account fuel. Unfortunately for Clash Farm, its isolated situation means fuel costs each month can be quite substantial, especially as their nearest abattoir at Lockerbie is 90 miles away, a trip Robert carries out 2 or 3 times a month. Even further away, is the butcher, Askerton Castle in Cumbria, who carries out the processing.
It costs £1 a kilo for the pig to be processed, but this does include vacuum packing, labelling and delivery back to the abattoir for Robert to lift.
Feed is however the largest spend. They are currently going through three tonne a month at a cost of £280 a tonne including delivery.
The sow and weaners nuts as well as the growers come from Hi-Peak. It has a high level of linseed added to it, which provides a natural source of Omega 3 and explains the shiny coats.
This level of cost in finishing a pig means it is vital that the finished product for sale is realistically priced both for Clash Farm and the customer. Caron's aim therefore is to achieve a profit margin over variable costs of at least a £100 per pig.
Both Robert and Caron strongly believe that many people resort to selling rare breed pork cheaply as it has not been finished off properly to achieve the correct ratio of fat to muscle.
Caron's interest in conservation led her to initially choose a Saddleback line, whose numbers needed improving. The Spot line on the female side is one of the rarest lines in the breed and this was therefore an obvious line to start with. Two more female lines, the Grand Duchess and Rosette have since been added, as have the Prefect and Grand Duke for the male side.
Although primarily, Caron keeps most of the pigs to finish herself, she sometimes has weaners for sale, and these start at £60 for an 8 week old destined for the freezer and £100 plus for breeding stock.
All males, unless they are of exceptional quality and therefore suitable for breeding, are castrated by the local vet at a cost of £4 per piglet.
All weaners whether for fattening or breeding are sold vaccinated against Parvo virus and Erysipelas and of course wormed. Vaccination was brought in, due to the many seagulls that abound in the area. As Erysipelas is a disease often caused by birds, it was felt prevention was better than cure and a vaccination programme was started.
Caron's acceptance onto the BPA pork committee is an exciting opportunity for her. She has long felt that not enough is done to market pork in Scotland and instead there tends to be a bias towards beef and lamb. A lot more has to be done she reckons, to move people away from the bland dry and poor quality pork found in supermarkets and introduce them to the succulent meat of a traditional breed.
As a director of Dumfries & Galloway Food Co-operative, Caron plans to share her knowledge of regional grant funding opportunities and assist in forging relationships with relevant bodies in Scotland to get pork out there amongst the Scottish people, an uphill struggle, but one that Caron is happy to take on