Producer of the Month: Phil Hayward - Pork
You don’t really expect a pig to need ‘me time.’ But with up to 12 piglets per litter, Co-op pig farmer Phil Hayward understands a busy sow’s need for time to herself. ‘When she gives birth, each sow has her own outdoor pen, with a hut for her litter,’ Phil tells me. ‘We put a fender around the hut that’s too tall for the piglets to climb over until they’re older. It means the sow can wander off without being pestered when she needs a break.’
Admittedly the piglets — some of which are less than 24 hours old when I visit them at a farm in Oxfordshire where they’re bred for Co-op — are pretty lively. ‘The other day, a piglet went squealing along the pens to attract the attention of the nearby sows,’ Phil tells me. ‘Then he went by them one by one, stealing a mouthful of milk. They’re always playing, frolicking and doing… well, piggy things.’
Eventually, the piglets in each pen will grow big enough to clamber over the fender, and are then free to play with other litters. Meanwhile, the sows can mingle with each other, too, and keeping them in groups means they’re always in sight of a familiar snout. When it comes to farming, lots of Co-op producers have told me that happy animals make tasty meat — and, as Phil adds extra straw to the piglets’ huts, painted white so they don’t get too hot, I can see the pigs’ happiness is really important here, as well.
‘THE STRAW FOR THE PIGS AT THE BREEDING FARM IS SOURCED LOCALLY WHEREVER POSSIBLE, AND SO IS THE GRAIN THEY’RE FED ON.’
Going for gold
Phil is one of 46 farmers in Co-op’s Pork Farming Group who have been awarded a gold standard for their production of pork for Co-op. So his farm reaches the high standards set by Co-op in areas like animal welfare, ethics and sustainability.
To achieve gold, Phil works hard to reduce his farm’s carbon footprint. The straw for the pigs at the breeding farm is sourced locally wherever possible, and so is the grain they’re fed on. After 28 days, the piglets go to a ‘growing unit’, with drinking troughs designed to avoid water wastage, and energy-saving bulbs. ‘I’m proud to be gold standard,’ Phil says. ‘It really means a lot.’
A fourth generation farmer, Phil got into pig farming about three years ago. ‘Even as a kid, I was always helping around my dad’s farm at harvest time,’ he recalls. ‘I’ve learnt that a lot of it is about routine — you have to check, check and check again, making sure the pigs are healthy and happy.
‘It’s not so great when things go wrong, or when it’s freezing cold and raining, but when everything’s going smoothly, it is great. I guess it has highs and lows like any job, really — if you work in an office and can’t connect to the internet, it’s really annoying. And it’s no different on a farm — except for me, the problem will be a burst pipe…’
Room to grow
The breeding farm’s 750 sows are divided into seven groups. Every three weeks, a different group will give birth, before weaning their litter. Depending on where they are in the breeding cycle, the sows are fed a special diet and kept on an area of the farm tailored to their needs — always with access to the open air and plenty of space, straw, food, water and places to wallow.
At the growing unit, the pigs live in temperature-controlled, light barns. Each pig’s minimum space allowance exceeds the requirements of Freedom Food standards, and each pig has permanent access to food and water — so there’s no fighting over first dibs at the trough. Boredom’s also kept at bay, with barrels to kick around, wood to chew and straw to roll in, to mimic their natural environment. ‘You can never have too much straw,’ Phil says, seriously.