A day in the life of a Cheshire pig farmer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 March 2020
With no background in farming but a dream of owning pigs, Great Sankey couple Rebecca Scott and Liam Tickle set up Snoutwood Trotters, now a free-range pedigree pig farm, farm shop and butchery. Rebecca gives us a glimpse into their everyday life.
ON THE FARM
We live on the farm and everything, including the butchery and shop, is on-site, so after a coffee, we're out early. We have different age sections of pigs, so breeders are together, growers together and piglets, weaners and sows together. We'll feed them and once that's done, we'll check their general health. Pigs don't do well in the heat so in the summer, with ours being free range, we need to be vigilant. Oddly, pigs catch pneumonia quicker in the heat so we're always making sure there are shaded areas and wallowing pits. People think pigs are dirty, but they're actually really clean. When they wallow, they're using the wet mud as a rhino would in Africa to keep cool.
Having taught ourselves everything about farming and Gloucestershire Old Spot rare breeds from scratch, we've learnt to follow the lead of the pigs. They are escape artists - we learnt that quickly! While we were shopping for them, they managed to escape, so our first encounter with the animals was chasing them down a main road! Mostly we've learned that each day differs and whatever needs to be done with the pigs comes first - we fit everything else around it. You can't plan when a sow is going to give birth. The duration of their pregnancy is three months, three weeks and three days but on that day, if she farrows in the morning, we could be sat with her giving birth all day, so plans go out the window! We need to maintain that because the day we don't is the day we become another commercial farm - we want to keep the pigs our priority. The breeding stock are like pets as they'll be with us for life, so we've got names for them like Pamela Hamderson and Bobby Valentino. It sounds daft, but it's nice or they become just another number.
We start with the butchery early and it takes most of the day. This was the biggest cost at the beginning, because we were subbing out the butchering. The cost was crippling us, so we decided to take the plunge and build our own on the farm. We taught ourselves through YouTube - the sausages weren't perfect at the start, but now we've really sussed it out!
We tend to have different jobs on different days to ensure we're ready to open the shop on a weekend. Thursday is always sausages, Wednesday is bacon day, and Friday is all hands on-deck. On a Monday and Tuesday we break down the carcasses into different cuts, decide what's going where and refine the cuts of meat. We also smoke everything ourselves too and make sausage rolls on a Thursday, so the butchery turns into a bakery! It's just the two of us and our friends find it crazy that we farm, butcher and go out together - but we enjoy it!
PEN TO PAPER
I used to do admin on an evening, but I'm trying to factor it into the day so we can have a life too. I'll go through emails, from orders, general enquiries and catering requests, and if there are accounts that need doing, I'll do those. The main job is tackling social media, as I'll always have messages to answer. I'll make sure the posts are current and that everyone is aware of what's going on behind-the-scenes.
I think people have bought into me and Liam as a couple, and the fact we haven't got farming backgrounds and are a rural business in a built-up area. They like that it's not the kind of thing that's done around here. They've bought into our journey and like to see us grow - we've become a local focus point. As we grow, we don't want to move away from this. We enjoy being small-scale and creating a community hub.
If I'm managing to get some time in the office, Liam will go into his workshop and see if any equipment needs repairing. He makes a lot of things, such as signage, the pig pens or smoking sheds - he made the shop from scratch! It's only when people ask us for the story behind what we do that we step back and think, how have we done all this?
After cleaning down the butchery, we'll be back on the farm mucking out, refilling water and doing the beds. If we see that a sow is about to give birth, one of us will be sat with her into the early hours of the morning! We'll get Netflix on the iPad, settle into the straw and watch while she gives birth. We need to get the piglets under the heat lamp and out of the way of the sow while she's pushing. We'll get some colostrum into them too, as it's amazing how quickly it can help a weak piglet. We do have some pigs who are better than others at birthing, so with some of them we can leave them and just keep checking in.
The key to working together as a couple is to try and switch off for evening. If we've been busy on the farm, we'll try not to discuss it. When we started this, we gained each other for an extra 45 hours a week and we didn't know how it would work, but it has!