Like anyone who's travelled up the A12 towards Southwold and Lowestoft, I've been familiar with the Jimmy and Alastair Butler's Blythburgh Freerange Pigs for a few years. They've almost become as much as landmark of this part of the north Suffolk coast, as the stunning Blythburgh church. So it was great to get meet one half of the team on a wet and stormy January morning.
The light sandy healthland soil around Blythburh has limited agricultural use but it is, apparently, the best land for outdoor pig-keeping in the whole of the UK. Unlike most free-range reared pigs, the Butler's spend all of their lives outside and have 80 times more space to run around in than conventionally reared pigs. This, they say, is reflected in the quality of the meat.
The pigs freedom to roam develops good muscle and tender meet. Being exposed to the sun and weather maintains the pig's skin in better condition leading to superior crackling on roasting joints. The breed of pig adds to the flavour, JSR Cotswold Gold sows are a blend of lines, including traditional breeds, specially bred to thrive under outdoor conditions. The Butlers run 1200 of these sows on 120 acres in addition to the 75 acres utilised by the growing pigs.
The pigs are fed a natural diet containing no antibiotics or growth promoters. They are grown about 20 per cent slower than normal pig production which makes the animals more mature at slaughter - which again contributes to the juiciness and flavour of the meat. The piglets remain with their Mothers (sows) in insulated arcs for nearly four weeks until they reach a healthy size and strength to be weaned off milk onto solid food. This means the sows can have a well earned rest allowing them to recover after having so many hungry mouths to feed and the piglets are moved into large straw filled tents and huts that become their new homes.
Alastair tells me that they are one of the only pig farmers that are happy to have people visit their site because they are confident in what they are doing and know that people will not see any of the shocking practices, like castration and tail docking, revealed by Jamie Oliver's recent programme, Jamie Saves Our Bacon. Those with beady eyes will have spotted Jimmy in the studio and some footage filmed on their farm.
Blythburgh Free Range Pork is a perfect partner for Food Safari, focussed on providing a high quality product with impressive animal welfare and a conviction that the future of British pig farming depends on the public wanting to know more about where their food comes from, rebuilding connections with farmers and demanding a responsible food chain.