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Against All Odds – These Wiltshire Pigs are Still Bringing Home The Bacon
Take one Wiltshire pig farmer, with a long and impressive track record in rearing his animals to the highest possible welfare standards in a sustainable environment, then throw him into a perfect storm; labour shortages, covid, massive rises in costs of feed, energy and fertiliser.
The result? In the face of overwhelming odds, this Wiltshire pig farmer, Cameron Naughton, has fought and is still fighting hard for survival and throughout has incredibly managed to stick fast to the principles that underpin his approach to farming.
Since the start of his life in pig farming, Cameron - ably supported by his wife Muriel who Cameron describes as “the business brain of the team” - has been determined to rear his pigs differently. Twenty-eight years ago, he was one of the first farmers in the country to sign up to RSPCA Assured, the RSPCA’s higher welfare farm assurance and food labelling scheme.
His 400 breeding sows produce thousands of piglets during a typical 21-week cycle.
Cameron rotates his paddocks frequently, planting them with pollen-nectar mixes. This has led to an explosion of wildlife with deer, hares, buzzards and kites, all becoming regular visitors. As well as a carpet of wildflowers which attracts masses of bees.
To Cameron, higher welfare standards don’t just mean happier pigs but also better-quality meat. He is also a firm believer that the breed is just as important as the environment.
“We rear Hampshires here. It’s a breed that produces good fat marbling in the meat which melts during the cooking process, keeping it moist and imparting a full flavour. You don’t get flavourful, tender pork without fat.
“We make a real effort to host visits for our customers and their customers. This often includes chefs and restaurateurs. It’s important that they see our method of farming pigs in practice so they can appreciate the huge effort we put in.
“Being RSPCA Assured provides us with the ability to earn a meaningful premium for all the extra work we put in looking after our animals. It has also helped us to align ourselves to a loyal customer base who are prepared to take a longer-term viewpoint and have proved steadfast in honouring our contracts.”
Cameron is also educating the consumers of tomorrow, today.
“We’ve also been hosting GCSE food technology students, including girls from Malvern College. They are the customers of the future, so getting them to understand and appreciate the benefits of farming animals well is essential.”
As a result of this and many similar outreach activities, in 2021 Cameron, Muriel and their long-serving team of experienced staff won the RSPCA Assured award for Excellence in Education of Higher Farm Animal Welfare. They were also runner-up in Excellence in Sustainability and Higher Farm Animal Welfare category the same year. And now, in 2022 they are very excited to have reached the final three of ‘Outdoor Pig “Producer of the Year” in the National Pig Awards.
More recently, Cameron and Muriel have launched a farm shop; ‘The Piggery’. It showcases their own farm production of pork, naturally, but also their own lamb and free-range chicken. It also offers beef, milk, cheese, vegetables and rape seed oil from neighbouring farms.
Cameron says: “We hope The Piggery will become a valuable resource for our community, offering high-quality, locally sourced products at a reasonable price. I also hope it will enable us to continue to help people to understand more about where their food comes from and the importance of choosing higher welfare and eating seasonally.
“It’s certainly proving popular with the local community, with bacon, in particular, flying off the shelf! Muriel is only half joking when she says that we may have to start rationing the rashers”.
Looking to the future, Cameron knows that his higher welfare approach to livestock farming is not going to get any easier.
“Of course, there are many people out there who care passionately about where their food comes from and how it is reared. But the cost-of-living crisis is hitting everyone and I understand it’s hard to justify the extra money for quality products.
“But it might surprise you to learn that I advocate eating less meat but making sure it is of the best quality when we do. The meat we eat should be farmed to the highest possible welfare standards, in a sustainable environment.
So, in the face of all these challenges, does Cameron still enjoy farming?
“After all these years and in the face of these really difficult times, I still get so much pleasure from farming my animals well. Seeing them able to fully exhibit their natural behaviour, rooting around in grass and straw and wallowing happily in water always makes me smile.
“We’re also enjoying connecting with a whole new customer base since opening The Piggery and it’s been wonderful to get such positive feedback on the quality of the meat we produce. I’m also optimistic that continuing to be RSPCA Assured will enable us to keep bringing home the bacon for many years to come!”