Unit 18 Project: Animal Husbandry in Biodynamic Practice

Unit Overview -This unit introduces the learners to the concepts of planning and managing an animal enterprise. This enterprise must include farm based animals within the context of an educational and therapeutic holding e.g. cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, goats etc. The learner is expected to choose at least one species for the project with a focus on planning, husbandry and market strategy for the product. This project can be considered as a ‘digestion’ of what they learned over the first year.

The learner will have the opportunity to develop their own research interests within the context of the project.

 

1.1 Design an animal husbandry plan for one species of livestock

Genius Loci

Pigs had been kept on the site previously so there was a precedent. We have slightly elevated levels of lead on the site so I chose the area least affected.  It has shade provided by large overhanging trees.  This is very important as shade is essential for the health and welfare of the animals in hot weather. I installed a water supply.  Pigs must have access to plenty of fresh water at all times. I built accommodation using locally milled Larch.  In fact it was milled on site. The pig is an unusual animal to see in the locality, but the chosen breed 'Old Spot' mixed with Duroc are extremely hardy and can be kept outside all year around.  Pigs are a valuable animal on the farm and they have been a hit with the students.  They help out with the cleaning and maintenance when they visit.

 

Production schedule for animal feeding

To cut a long story short it would be difficult for me to grow sufficient food for the pigs all year around.  However I have previously benefited from Biodynamic produce from High Riggs and I have explored getting stuff grown at Clervaux where there is more land and more facilities.  I have grown turnips over the winter at Eyam which was very successful.

 

So I have to buy in organic cubes which the pigs usually consume at the rate of 10kg a day depending on how much stock I have on site.  This is expensive, far more expensive than non organic. I try to provide as many fresh vegetables as possible all year around.

 

Animal Housing

 

I built the accommodation based on the following principles:

 

  • Internal housing is warm and dry and closed on three sides
  • The open side is important for airflow and the open side should face away from the prevailing winds.
  • Ideally a fenced off yard sits in front of the house, allowing penning on occasions and this is also strewn with fresh straw regularly.
  • It should be aesthetically pleasing and built with local materials
  • It should be safe and secure
  • It should be regularly cleaned and filled with fresh straw.
  • A permanent cistern automatic filled water trough is available at all times.

 

 

 

 

 

Later refinements to the housing included concreting the yards to ensure that we could keep the pigs dry in wet weather.  Late 2019 was a particularly wet year and it was a Godsend to be able to keep the pigs dry and off the mud.

 

The other advantage of this yard system is when the time comes for the animals to leave, there are ways and means of separating off animals and keeping them penned ready for transport.  This may seem obvious, but when you are developing a system from scratch the designs and plans are all started from nothing, and the conditions at Eyam are not ideal.  I got there in the end.

 

 

Also note the secondary accommodation down at the far end.  This was built to separate off the boar from the female pigs.

 

Stocking Rates

We were never going to be able to support large numbers, given the limitations on space and the conditions being severe in the winter. For this reason, the normal plan would be to keep a mature male and female to serve as a breeding pair.  These animals will remain on the farm for the duration.  The usual plan would be to allow one litter per year, separating the male and female for all periods other than making and gestation.  As mentioned below, separation is recommended at the time of the births.  In industrial pig farming, the sow would be expected to produce two litters a year.  She would then be slaughtered in the third year, exhausted and spent.  This type of practice is unacceptable on organic or Biodynamic holdings. Based on 9 months of growth the piglets may reach 85kgs each which is the ideal slaughter weight.  The meat is sold to the colleges as RMT food and nutrition policy states that no student can consume the meat of an animal they have cared for.

 

Fencing

Fencing of pig areas is notoriously difficult.  Pigs are strong creatures with an exploratory nature and will readily break out of areas that are not appropriately designed.  They also root down into the earth with their indestructible noses. Going down a couple of feet is not unusual, particularly if they are following roots down into the ground.  I started with electric fencing.  It was adequate but not particularly effective.  Because I lack mains electricity the batteries were frequently going dead.  Once the pigs experience this they know to 'test' the fence and often escape.  For this reason I moved to strong post and rail fencing with wire securely fastened at every point.  Allowing for digging under it is often worth reinforcing the bottom rail with addition timber.  Piglets in particular can get through very small spaces.

 

Breeding

Below the pregnant sow on 21st July 2020.  She is now moved to a separate area and provided with two bales of straw to make her nest in advance of the births.  She was introduced to the boar on April 1st, timed to ensure the births occur in good weather.  Gestation lasts 114 days which means she will likely give birth on July 24th.  There could be as many as 12 piglets and this is the second time she has given birth.  The boar is separated off to ensure that he doesn't accidentally squash any.

 

 

Animal Health

Animals, pigs in particular are robust creatures.  Taking care of the basics is paramount.  Good organic feed, plenty of clean fresh water on tap, clean housing and warm dry beds is basic but it really helps the animals to thrive.  As much fresh vegetables and fruit as possible can't do any harm.  No meat of any kind is served and it is illegal to feed pigs leftovers.

 

In the 3.5 years I have been running the farm I have never had a vet to the pigs but there have been issues of concern that I list here:

 

  • Escaping pigs! Yes many times - including once, when they were freaked out by Bonfire Night fireworks and ended up down in the village a mile away.  I will not go into further detail, but they ended up marching through thick fog on the main road early one Sunday morning.
  • Occasional bites from other pigs, usually in a fight over food.  This can be nasty, a pig can bite your hand clean off it it so wants.
  • Sunburn - particularly young pigs in hot weather.
  • Sows losing condition when feeding their piglets. They can lose weight and condition when being depleted by a big litter.
  • Worms.  Can deplete a pig and leave it listless.
  • Freezing temperatures. In 2018 we had a very cold spell.  Providing water was almost impossible as it froze almost straightaway.

 

1.2 Create a revenue/capital budget

 

  • A weaned piglet costs £50 to buy.
  • A bag of organic cubes costs £20. The usual consumption is 10kg a day
  • A tub of wormer lasting over a year is £64
  • Straw is £6 bale.  They are cleaned twice a week with two bales being used on each occasion
  • Pig oil £8 lasts a year
  • Fruit and vegetables (hopefully free)
  • Fencing of an area such as ours £1000 including wire, posts, gates, rails, staples, nails, hardware
  • Accommodation costs.  Not much as hand built.  Maybe £300 all in.
  • Water supply - usually free but in my case I had to dig trenches and install pipes £500
  • Other infrastructure £500

 

Income out of production

 

  • Organic meat is sold at £10 per kg. 85kg slaughter weight = £850 per pig
  • Factor in food costs which are significant
  • Slaughter costs and butchery costs are £100 per pig
  • Salting / curing charged extra at £3 per kilogram
  • Disposal of bones etc.
  • Making of sausage / bacon / gammon

 

As an example the last time I sold two pigs to Freeman College I profited £500 for both.  There is more work to do on the ways in which we can reap higher values.

 

  • Regulatory requirements:
  • Demeter Standards

 

The following extracts taken from the Demeter Production Standards

 

The housing design and other management conditions must be organised such that the animals can express normal behavioural characteristics and movement; e.g. they must be able to stand and lie down unhindered, and have a dry, warm resting place. Housing in which the animals have freedom of movement are therefore preferred.

Eyam Edge fully complies

 

Care must be taken to provide in livestock housing and open air areas a good environment with sufficient light, plentiful natural ventilation, and protection from wind, rain, sun, and extreme temperatures. Open air areas may be partially covered.

Fully comply

The stocking density in buildings should provide for the comfort and well- being of the animals which, in particular, shall depend on the species, the breed and the age of the animals. It shall also take account of the behavioural needs of the animals, which depend in particular on the size of the group and the animals’ sex.

Eyam Edge fully complies

 

Sleeping stalls are to be spread with straw (or other organic litter). Fully slatted floors (more than 50%) and management where animals are tied up are not permitted. Access to the open air where rooting is possible must be offered where ever possible. (see Appendix 7)

Sows may be contained for farrowing for the shortest time (only for 14 days at the latest). They may not be tied up in housing. Sows must have access to the open-air and free range wherever local conditions allow. Open sows, gilts and young sows are to be kept in groups.

Confining pens with narrow slatted floors or cages are not allowed for weaned piglets.

Tooth cutting or other preventative tooth filing of piglets is not allowed and neither is tail or ear docking. Nose rings or hog rings, which prevent the pigs from rooting, are forbidden.

Eyam Edge fully complies

 

  • Tagging: Tags are used, usually applied before the animal leaves the site.
  • Record Keeping: Records are kept, including movement forms, slaughter requirements etc.
  • Fertility building: Pigs were responsible for clearing and manuring the new horticulture area.

 

  • Forage crops:  Where possible suitable forage crops are used.
  • Work force: That would be me, accompanied by students when they are one site
  • Spatial design of the site:  I think I have covered this elsewhere in the portfolio.
  • Resources, energy, water, tools, equipment: We have no requirement for energy.  I dug new water pipes in as stated elsewhere.  I use the usual garden tools for cleaning out, insulated wellies, plenty of changes of clothes, pig oil, tags, etc etc.

 

1.3 Discuss your choice for market strategies

 

All of the pork produced on the farm is sold to Freeman College.  I charge £10 per kilo for all of the meat at present and this can bring in substantial revenue.  The average pig is 85kg upon slaughter, but there are obviously costs as well.  These are mentioned in 1.2. I have also been approached by locals who are interested in purchasing meat.  As yet I have not explored this avenue, but I am certain that I could charge equal if not more than £10 per kg.  Meat processing into gammon, bacon, sausage, black pudding and such is where the money is.  This is something I'm actively exploring.

 

Further market strategies could include:

 

  • Greater profit can be derived by processing the meat.  Products that are cured such as bacon and sausages could be sold locally to people in the village and staff
  • Greater sales could be generated by producing cooked products such as pork pies sausage rolls, sliced ham, pies and pasties which would be of interest to the local community
  • Another idea would be to charge people who might be interested to participate in a butchery course held at the local butcher.  Such courses exist 'Pig in a Day' taking participants through all aspects of butchery and processing.
  • Selling to local cafes / restaurants would also be possible.

 

2.1 Demonstrate an ability  to manage the day to day care for one species of livestock

 

Grooming and oiling the sow a couple of days before she is due to give birth.  Bedded on fresh straw so she can 'nest' Looking after pigs is about making sure they have the ability to practice their natural behaviours with a few enhancements thrown in.  It would be impossible to provide this level of care on a large scale system, but I like to think that paying attention to detail improves the lives of the animals and keeps them healthy. At the point of birth, piglets are safest in a confined space with the sow only.  Careful monitoring is essential.  Any defective piglets must be removed and dealt with. Confinement for safety would normally be for 10 - 12 days.

 

 

2.2 Demonstrate an ability  to care for your work environment

 

Animal Housing and Enclosures

 

  • Cleaning accommodation at least twice weekly.
  • Building and maintaining physical and electric fencing.
  • Composting bedding materials for efficiency and fertility building.
  • Ensuring the health of the animals through checks, veterinary visits and appropriate feed.
  • Taking care of the physical buildings and water resistance of roofing etc,
  • Carrying out routine animal tasks such as hoof trimming, worming, grooming, birthing etc.
  • Locking housing as appropriate to weather and keeping the chickens safe.
  • Protecting the animals from the elements during inclement weather.
  • Etc. Etc.

 

2.3 Demonstrate an ability  to care for the quality of product from the given species of animal

 

I am particularly interested - and have been for many years - in the full and complete use of the pig carcass.  This is a subject that I could write about for hours, transforming the animal through expert butchery and processing into a complete range of delicious products for the market.  In the case of Eyam Edge Pork, I have used a number of local people to help me prepare the meat for consumption.

 

Abbatoir: The most local slaughterhouse is Redferns in Buxton.  They also butcher the meat, but I have not always used them for this purpose. Redferns is 10 miles away.  The day before the slaughter movement forms need to be filled out online.

 

On the day of the slaughter, which must be booked in advance, the pigs need to be tagged, put in the trailer and then delivered to the abbatoir.  This is not an easy process, but the design of the yards and gates at Eyam makes it easier. It is a difficult time, because sending animals to their end is a sobering and difficult process. Once delivered, the next stage is to make out a cutting list for the butcher.

 

Butchering: is something that I have done before, but to be completely honest it's not something I can do when students are around and its not something that students of a young age should be exposed to.  Therefore I get local butchers to deal with the meat and I make sure that they understand that the meat is of the highest quality.

 

There is a whole world of possibilities that exist when it comes to the butchering, processing and curing of pork.  I have about twenty books on the subject.  The quality of the butcher is important and the procedures they follow are too.  For example some butchers use smoke flavourings to produce the taste, instead of actual smoking the meat.  Sausages are another artform.  They can be terrible, or they can be of the highest quality with the correct blend of fat, meat and flavourings.

 

Rest assured, without being boring, I take utmost care in the preparation of the product.

 

2.4 Demonstrate to be able to implement basic recording

 

This website and the numerous sections within it are my record of the development of the Eyam Site.  The projects section shows a photographic record of the various parts of the site, including the overall vision document that I am working to implement. In addition I keep a weekly record of the activities that take place each week. These are available separately as Word documents dating back to 2017.

 

3.1 Demonstrate how to engage the RMT student with animal husbandry

 

I have found it to be endlessly fascinating as to how different students relate to different animals.  There are students who are completely focused on the chickens, students who are obsessed with the goats; and yet others who have an affinity for pigs. Firstly the students were involved in the building of the accommodation and in the building of the fencing.  Second they are involved in the cleaning routine and the feeding. Third they get involved in the husbandry and care in terms of the various tasks that are required for their welfare.  This can be as simple as ensuring fresh water on a daily basis - and as complicated as measuring out the correct quantity of wormer.  They are constantly involved in the welfare of the animals on the farm.

 

4.1 Reflect on your own learning

 

I kept pigs before I got this job.  In fact it was keeping pigs that led me to want to get involved in a farm school.  The first question at my interview was 'What experience do you have of looking after animals?' I was able to talk enthusiastically about my experiences, fresh in my mind and still exciting.

 

It is impossible to know everything there is to know about an animal, but I know a lot about pigs.  I know about breeds, breeding, accommodation, fencing, escaping, feeding, extreme weather conditions (we had 600mm of rain last autumn, which turned the pig field into a sea of mud) I know about sunburn, sun creaming pig ears, grooming, oiling, students getting stuck in the mud and more.  What I know is that you never stop learning and you never fully win with pigs, because when they get to full size they are a formidable creature to deal with.

 

There is a story about an American pig farmer who tripped over in his pig pen and was devoured.  Completely.  The pig is powerful and good natured but it must be respected.  It must be looked after and it must be cared for throughout its life.  There is nothing so powerful as the desire of a male pig to mate, and I have known male pigs to tunnel under floors, break down walls and more to get to what they want.  It is the job of the farmer to manage this behaviour with all the knowledge and skills they can muster.  It's not easy.

 

4.2 Reflect on a research theme that emerged for you during the project

 

If I could I would look into the fascinating curriculum that emerges from the pig. There is a whole world of learning that can stem from this creature.  It is good natured, accessible for students, funny, voracious, hungry, eats anything (except chillis)

 

The magic of processing and curing meat is a huge interest of mine, and although the Nutrition and Food Policy now states that students cannot eat animals they have cared for  I know from experiences with my own children that there is a learning process to go through and it is rewarding and important. Its about where meat comes from and its about the life the animal has led beforehand. A high quality life.

 

A key question:  Should children eat industrially produced pork, with poor welfare kept in 1ms crates? Possibly sourced from other countries with food production standards that are unknown to us.  Or should they eat incredibly high welfare meat with excellent flavour, provenance, high standards in every respect?

 

I know the answer because it is obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTACT US

© Brantwood Specialist School

Created by Jim Hildyard