Down on Downland Farm
David Wilkinson, who has a stall at Broadway Market opposite the Dove pub, has farmed pigs for 24 years at his Downland Farm just outside the picturesque village of Laycock close to the market town of Chippenham in Wiltshire. His stall offers a choice of all cuts of meat, offal, and a wide variety of sausages. I visited David in the Spring to see the source of his excellent produce and to learn about his farm and his method of rearing pigs.
His herd comprises 60 sows that each produce two litters a year, each of approximately 10 piglets. David’s main objectives are to give his herd the freedom of an outdoor life, with an emphasis on natural growth, and to produce meat of the highest quality. His sows, therefore, have to maintain a good fat cover to sustain them while living in the open all year round, but at the same produce lean pigs.
To achieve this, David has crossbred his sows, grand parents and mothers to the farm’s four resident boars and used the occasional outside influence of AI from other top breeds to create a combination of bloodlines that David has evolved over many years.
These methods inevitably involve greater costs than those associated with the intensive farming of pigs confined to indoor pens. Young pigs enjoying an outdoor life grow more slowly than those kept indoors. They use more of their body energy to keep them warm, and to replace the energy expended in a more physically active environment. Pigs farmed indoors are ready for slaughter at an average of 18 weeks, whereas David’s pigs take between 23 and 27 weeks to grow to the same size, depending on the time of year.
During my visit it was evident how much the animals enjoyed their outdoor environment. While the sows wandered around happily in one paddock the youngsters chased each other around in others. I was also shown the farrowing pens and introduced to one of the farm’s boars that turned out to be an extremely friendly fellow.
If you are travelling by train to Bath or Bristol from Paddington keep a look out to the left just after the train pulls out of Chippenham – you will see the residents of Downlands Farm enjoying themselves in the Wiltshire countryside.