In this week’s Farmer Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Alastair Crown of Corndale Farm in Northern Ireland. We discuss his background, rare breed pigs, and his life in agriculture to date.
Alastair Crown (34) is a rare breed pig farmer in Limavady in Northern Ireland. Unlike many current producers, He does not come from a traditional family farm.
At 24 years of age, Alastair decided to venture into the pork production industry.
“I had a desire to produce a few pigs for the freezer. I had an interest in good food and wanted to produce free-range high welfare pork,” he told That’s Farming.
To acquire the current holding he has in place today, Alastair rented land from a neighbouring farm. Following this, he applied to DAERA for a farm business ID as well as holding codes and a herd number.
Corndale Farm is on Seacoast Road, Limavady. Alastair, alongside his father, Eric, run the farm. Corndale Farm also employs two staff members, Sean and Kevin.
The farm comprises Saddlebacks, Oxford Sandy and Blacks, Middle Whites and Berkshire.
“They are all traditional breeds that are well-suited for our outdoor system. They are hardy breeds and well suited to our climate. Sows have excellent mothering skills.
These breeds have a higher fat content as well, which is well suited for our products.”
Corndale Farm has been built up over time through their own breeding programme as well as buying in new replacement breeding stock and bloodlines.
“There are over 200 pigs on the ground at any time, including 20 breeding sows.”
Farrowing is a big element of the pork production system. Corndale Farm has taken a more distributed approach to their farrowing.
“We stage our farrowing throughout the year to ensure we have a constant supply of pigs finishing throughout the year at different times.”
The gestational period of the sow is three months, three weeks and three days approximately.
“We allow the piglets to stay on the sow for eight weeks after farrowing to ensure they get the best start.”
For Corndale Farm, farrowing takes place outdoors during the summer months and indoors during the winter period.
Following birth, sows and piglets return to the paddocks 7-10 days later.
He incorporates the use of cameras in the farrowing sheds to assist with the farrowing season.
Corndale Farm is scanning “well” for pregnancy when assessing in terms of an outdoor system.
“We have a farrowing average of between 12-14 pigs per litter, with a very low mortality rate.”
The production system
Following the farrowing period, the pedigree herd may retain suitable gilts as replacements.
“The rest of the pigs are all fattened for our charcuterie business. We take our pigs to a live weight gain of 90-100kg.”
When producing pigs for Corndale Farm, Alastair has set some criteria for their business.
“We look for a well-rounded pig, good strong shoulders, a nice flat back and good round legs and back end.
For our pedigree lines, we look for specific markings and a nice head with ears positioned correctly.”
Furthermore, the pigs at Corndale Farm have a fantastic temperament across all breeds. This is a reflection of the dedicated team on the farm.
“We work closely with the pigs to ensure they are of nice temperament and are easy to work with.”
A passion for animal welfare
When asked, “what area of agriculture are you most passionate about?” Alastair had a prompt reply.
“Welfare. I feel it is important to practice high standards of animal husbandry. It is important to me that our pigs have the best possible life. Happy pigs make fantastic pork!”
Alastair, a member of the British Pig Association, has a range of responsibilities on the farm to ensure this standard is kept to a high potential.
The pork-producer is responsible for “everything from managing the breeding of the pigs to the everyday feeding and husbandry, as well as general maintenance.”
“We do have staff, but ultimately, the responsibility falls to me.”
Like many farmers across the nation, the weather is a major uncontrollable challenging factor.
“The weather is probably our most challenging thing. We have quite a bit of rainfall here in the northwest.”
The unpredictable and wet weather conditions pose obvious problems when running an outdoor farrowing system.
Another challenge is one that is not uncommon across the agricultural community. In terms of land availability, Alastair does not own the farm he operates on.
“If I was a third or fourth-generation farmer, I feel it would be a lot easier as the farm infrastructure would be already there.”
“I had to build everything from the ground up. This has been very stressful, time-consuming and expensive.”
Reflecting on the past, Alastair commented how he would have studied a course in agriculture. All the knowledge he has obtained in his farming career has been passed on from his father, Eric.
On the road to success
Alastair believes there is certain eligibility required to become successful in pork production.
“Hard work ethic, patience and ensuring you are getting the most out of your stock are required for success. If you are good to your pigs, they will be good to you.”
Luckily, Corndale Farm has been highlighted for its success thus far in business.
“We have featured on local and national press, including TV, radio and magazines. Corndale Farm has been shortlisted for Pig Farmer of the Year in farmer awards.”
“I have also won a string of awards for the cured meat products we produce from our pigs.”
Rare breed pork
The rare breeds at Corndale Farm are going nowhere. The farmers plan to introduce another two breeds of pigs in the coming years.
In terms of viability, the Northern Ireland-based farmer believes it is a “very viable” market, as long as you have a market for the end product.
“Rare breed pork is totally different from commercial pork produced today.”
“I feel consumers are starting to shift towards not only the smaller producer but are more aware of the welfare and provenance of the pork they are eating.”
The future at Corndale Farm
Alastair plans to grow the farm in line with their charcuterie business.
“We have just invested in a new production facility and demand for our products is growing. Therefore we need to increase our pig numbers to keep up with demand.”
“As we process all our own pigs, we need to ensure we have a constant supply to keep up with demand.”
Subsequently, as a reflection on his life in agriculture thus far, Alastair describes the journey “like a roller coaster”.
“Lots of ups and downs, and a few bits that turn you upside down. It has been fun, scary and stressful, but ultimately, very rewarding.”
To conclude, the ultimate goal of Corndale Farm is “to build a thriving and sustainable farm and meat business that can support the Crown family, and something for my kids to take on later in life.”
If you are a rare breed farmer who would like to share your story, contact email@example.com
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