Sarah’s visit to Scott Free Range
Nestled on the edge of the South Downs National Park in Storrington is Scott Free Range Pork Farm, where I recently got to spend a day mucking in and getting to know our suppliers.
I arrived early to be greeted by Richard, the owner, and Ellie the trusty farm dog who showed me the way down to the yard (only after I’d earned my passage in belly rubs).
Richard left me in the capable hands of Andy, who manages the day-to-day farm work for him and we headed straight up to the pig fields.
Situated on 50 acres of lush green pasture, you can tell right off the bat that this farm is the home of some very lucky pigs.
And true to the name, the pigs are about as free-range as you can get.
Many farms claiming ‘outdoor bred’ or ‘outdoor reared’ are very misleading and just mean the pigs mum got to spend time outside!* But not these pigs, they are the exception to the rule, enjoying the great outdoors 24/7, even throughout the winter. (Don’t worry, they have plenty of straw to keep them cosy in the cooler months.)
The result? Happy, healthy pigs, living their best life, with very low rates of illness. The farm’s use of antibiotics, for example, is only ever implemented as a last resort and is way below the industry standard.
Getting down to business
As Andy and I got to chatting, the first item on the agenda was artificially inseminating the sows that were in heat (AI). There’s nothing quite like diving straight in at the deep end, so to speak, and all this before 8 am! Having been raised on a smallholding and witnessed AI with cows, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily it was done. They were simply given a small tube with an IV-like drip, which they paid absolutely no mind – barely pausing from roaming around, munching away on greenery.
Nearly all of the farm’s breeding pigs are artificially inseminated as it’s much more efficient and reliable, however, a few weeks afterward, a boar does pay the sows a visit for the weekend – just to make sure nature has definitely taken its course! The pigs are 90% duroc, an ideal free-range pig that develops a red coat in the winter but moults in the summer. The duroc can be traced back to a West African wild boar, as seen in the stripes and spots of the piglets.
Feeding time at the zoo
Once that was done and dusted, we hopped aboard the tractor to start the breakfast rounds. Each pig gets around three kilos of food a day; mainly pellets made up of wheat, barley, and soya, although they’re also treated to the odd loaf of sourdough bread kindly donated by the local bakery. That’s all supplemented with the land’s lush green grass and wild chamomile, which can be found all around. (Perhaps that contributes to the pigs’ calm and relaxed demeanor!)
Feeding took up the rest of the morning, as there were hundreds of pigs to get to; a mixture of breeding (farrowing) pigs, and ‘growing pigs’ which go for food.
Births, deaths, and marriages
After a quick check on the newest members of the farm [photo(s)] to ensure they were settling in well, it was time to prepare for the impending births.
Andy and I filled clean huts with fresh bedding straw, ready for the mums-to-be. Then we took them on a leisurely walk across the field into their new pens, where, after a quick wallow in the mud, they began nesting in preparation for their piglets due the following week. [photo/vid]
Richard keeps 100 sows for breeding, which produces around 40 piglets a week. The sows have their first litter around the time they are a year old and go on to have 2-3 litters of piglets each year.
Once the pigs are grown to around 100kg, it’s time for them to leave the farm and fulfill their destiny. Those leaving are put in a new grassy pen for at least 24 hours so they can get to know the other pigs they’ll be travelling with, which puts them at ease.
Something that struck me throughout my visit was the way the pigs were so respected and cared for; from the patience Andy showed the slow, pregnant sows, which he referred to as ‘ladies’ when he spoke to them, right through to those on their way to the abattoir.
It’s left me feeling proud that this is where we source our produce, and with an even deeper respect for the nutritious food on my plate.
Pick up some Scott Free Range pork next time you’re in the shop. You can’t deny it’s delicious meat, and now you know how ethically and sustainably it’s raised, it will taste even better.
‘The pigs move onto new ground frequently; pigs destined for our dinner plates (growing pigs) move every 6 months to help them fatten up on fresh grass, whereas the sows dedicated to breeding (farrowing pigs) move to new land at least once a year, (as well as moving to fresh pens each time they’re expecting)’.
The difference between ‘free range’, ‘outdoor bred’ and ‘outdoor reared’ pork.
- ‘Free range’ is the highest welfare standard there is. It’s the only system to give the pig it’s entire life outdoors, with complete access to water, feed, wallows, sunshine, fresh air and space to run around or sleep outside whenever it wants. Every other system introduces the pigs to other environments or stresses for the purpose of saving time, money and effort.
- ‘Outdoor Bred’ on a label for pork doesn’t mean the pork you buy has been reared outdoors – only that it’s mother has been outside! Outdoor bred pigs have been born in huts (farrowing arcs) in a field, on straw – they stay safe inside the arc for around 4 weeks and are then weaned from the sows and moved inside for fattening up – with no access to outdoor paddocks or any of the free-range welfare benefits.
- ‘Outdoor Reared’ on a label doesn’t mean free range either – the minimum requirement to use this label is that they get another month of access to outdoor pens after weaning, before they are moved to live indoors.
- ‘Red tractor’, ‘UK standard’, ‘EU standard’ are all lower welfare products. There’s little difference between the minimum Red Tractor standards and the legal minimum UK requirements. ‘Red Tractor’ allows for intensive production and isn’t a guarantee of good welfare. Breeding sows can be confined to metal cages for up to 5 weeks in each pregnancy and piglets can be kept permanently indoors, often on bare concrete or slatted floors. Pigs can suffer antibiotic overuse, routinely docked tails etc. (NB – More than 80% of UK pig farms use the Red Tractor label. If it’s used in conjunction with any of the higher welfare labels above, then the minimum welfare requirements will be raised to those of the higher welfare label.)