North Norfolk

North Norfolk

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Andrew Summers1

“Nearly Norfolk” farmer recalls his first and rather terrifying start in the county.

Andrew Summers has been farming pigs in North Norfolk since 1989. The land he rented for his first herd from Cromer Hall was once visited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and served as inspiration for his best-known Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles

“I was 24 years old and had given up a secure, well-paid job at Easton College in Norwich to set up on my own,” said Andrew.

“To be near my animals, I rented a flat in the old servants’ quarters at Cromer Hall. I remember the cold February day I first arrived. The hall was looming eerily in the fog, like a scene from a Sherlock Holme’s story. 

I had a one-bar electric fire and almost no furniture. But what I did have was my dream of making a success of farming my outdoor pigs which, at the time, was relatively unheard of, as most pigs were farmed indoors.”

Raised in Leicestershire and from a long line of farming stock, Andrew was brought up amongst farm animals. In the school holidays, he helped out on his brothers’ and uncles’ farms gaining experience working with pigs, sheep, dairy and beef cattle. So naturally, the next step for Andrew was agricultural college.

“But my Mum didn’t want me to be a farmer. She reckoned it was too much hard work, with 

too little return. And she was right in many ways. On the small-scale farms that she and my father had been raised on in the years before, during and after the war, life was very tough.

But farming was in my blood, and I was determined to find a way to make a go of it.”

Then came the opportunity that would help Andrew realise his dream. 

“In 1986, I was offered a one-year contract at the renowned Easton College in Norfolk,

Andrew Summers4

working in their pig unit. It was in effect a work placement, designed to help leavers from agricultural college or university get into the workplace.

It was only meant to last for a year, but the head of the unit left suddenly and after only a month of being there, I took over running the unit. I was just 21, the same age as a lot of the students at the college. 

I loved working with the pigs – and particularly liked the breeding and nurturing of piglets. 

But it was the way in which the college was bucking the trend with pig rearing that really interested me. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was all about intensively rearing animals to produce food more cheaply. But Easton was trialling ground-breaking approaches and working with new breeds of pigs that would thrive outside and still produce good pork.

It seems extraordinary now that back then hardly anyone in the industry was talking about pig welfare. But it mattered to me, and I could now see a way for me to get into pig farming for myself and feel really good about what I was doing and how I was doing it.”

Supported initially by a pig breeding company and a feed supplier who were looking for young people to make a start in the industry, Andrew took the plunge and left Easton College after four years. 

“I started out on rented Cromer Hall land with 150 breeding sows – a lovely mixed breed who were very placid and friendly and thrived on being outside.

I had no income for nearly a year and because there was no real demand for the equipment needed to breed pigs outside, I had to make most of it myself.”

Andrew Summers

Soon after Andrew started farming he met Jane, a local vet. Jane and Andrew have now been married for 26 years and have twin girls.

Today, his herd of breeding sows has grown from 150 to 630 and they’re all cared for to higher welfare standards under the RSPCA Assured scheme.

“I have been a member of the RSPCA Assured scheme since it started, 25 years ago. 

The RSPCA standards help me to rear happy, healthy pigs and I firmly believe that if you look after pigs well, they will look after you. At the end of the day, you don’t work in this business to make big money – you have to enjoy it. And seeing my pigs happy and thriving brings me pleasure every day.”

I came to Norfolk because of the fantastic opportunity that Easton College gave me. After 33 years farming in the county, I now feel 

very rooted here. I love the county and its wonderful people and think I can class myself as “Nearly Norfolk!”

Date: 30 Oct 2019