We have raised rare breed pigs at Top Barn for five years, always three at a time and nearly always the same breed, the Oxford Sandy and Black. We do not breed pigs, we buy them after weaning from the Broccwood Herd by award winning local breeder David Cullington, at between eight to ten weeks. After enjoying a spring, summer and autumn of Top Barn hospitality the pigs repay us in late autumn with delicious pork, sausages, bacon and gammon. We sell some of the meat, eat much of it ourselves and hope that it enhances our guest breakfast menu.
But keeping pigs is not merely about the delicious meat they produce. We believe they also add character to our establishment and are wonderfully entertaining and sociable animals. It is surprising how many people who stay with us for bed and breakfast want to see the pigs! On a practical note they will also quickly clear any patch of rough ground, eat almost anything you care to offer them from the vegetable garden and they are relatively easy to care for.
The Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB) is in our view a particularly good breed for the average smallholder. It produces good pork and bacon and has a well natured temperament. This is how the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Society describe the breed’s history. “The Oxford Sandy & Black Pig, sometimes referred to as the “Plum Pudding or Oxford Forest Pig” is one of the oldest British pig breeds. It has existed for 200-300 years.” About the qualities of the breed they go on to say, “the breed is noted for its many qualities, particularly its excellent temperament and mothering abilities. Generally prolific, the Oxford will function well under most management systems, and produces meat of very high quality and flavour (the markings do not go through to the meat). It finishes quicker than many traditional breeds, and is also less inclined to run to fat.”
Breakfast at Top Barn is, given our business, an important meal and is almost entirely home produced. Not everyone wants a traditional cooked breakfast, we cater for all tastes, but most people do, and we are pleased when guests rave about our rare breed sausages and bacon – you really can taste the difference. Black pudding is also available but is sourced from a local farm as we have yet to have a go at making our own. Our pigs benefit from our interest in growing apples and cider making, eating the crushed apple pulp for a few days after cider making and the many fallers beforehand. We really believe that their meat develops a subtle apple flavour, which is a bit like eating roast pork with apple sauce already added! Our neighbour also keeps a few pigs and he undertakes his own butchery but for us butchery is one of the many things on our list of new skills to learn. In recent years we have used H G Graves butchers from Briston in North Norfolk, fine butchers and famous for their sausage recipe.
Well it’s now November and we have a break from pig keeping through the winter, it’s good to let the land recover. When outside it’s wet and miserable and the temperature is freezing it’s not so enjoyable for pigs or us. Yet it’s a strange feeling when they have gone as somehow the place does not feel complete without pigs.
Roll on spring!