As all pig producers have started to prepare for the festive season, Lydia Johnston originally from Holland and her partner of Tyn y Ddol Cownwy Valley, Llanwddyn are very excited, and have been preparing for their show stopping festive pork box for months.
With no agricultural background or experience Lydia and her partner moved to Tyn Y Ddol smallholding with three acres of land in 2017 with the wild idea of keeping pigs. As a cook for the local council in Lancashire Lydia had no experience of pig keeping, only cooking pork!
“Before we moved here to Wales we had sat around the table and talked and talked about the prospect of keeping pigs and five months after arriving here in Tyn y Ddol our first batch of Oxford Sandy Black pigs arrived. It was so exciting!” Since then they have gone into breeding and currently have a breeding Boar called “Boris” and 4 breeding sows.
“We had some work on our hands after arriving here, we had to build 12 pens from scratch and a maternity unit. We were doing everything ourselves, but the hard work has paid off,” she added.
Today Lydia is in her element with the pigs.
“We believe pigs are meant to be outdoors! We send them out when they are 3 – 4 weeks old and they start rooting almost immediately. It is a genetic, distinctive feature of theirs! I feel that they grow slower and produce better meat when they are outside. The Oxford Sandy Black are a native breed and they do produce a bit of fat, but you do need some fat to ensure that the meat is tender and moist.”
With 44 pigs on the holding at present, Lydia has her own personal routine, and she goes from pen to pen feeding the pigs and they greet her loudly with their disgruntled snorts and squeals.
“My day begins at the pens at 7am when I check that they have enough clean water and feed, and then mid-morning they have fruit and vegetables before cleaning them out. They are fed again at 2.30, thus ensuring that they have time to move around after their feed to digest their food before sleeping.”
“Some pigs are nicer than others and you do get attached to some of the pigs, but at the end of the day the pigs are a business, but when I close the trailer door and they are off to the abattoir, it does get you every time.”
As their business developed Lydia started to supply local butchers, restaurants and supplying locals with small orders, pork boxes and weekend bags from the farm gate.
“We used to send one pig all the way to a restaurant in London, I don’t think it was really worth it, but we were in love with the idea that a restaurant in London had one of our pigs on the menu and the feedback we got from them was “keep them coming”.”
During the Covid pandemic, things changed for Lydia as she prepared for a quiet time on the home front with her pigs, but their business changed overnight.
“Our business literally flipped, before the pandemic we were supplying 5% of the pork locally and 95% whole pigs to the restaurants. Since then, we supply more meat locally which is great.”
Following the lockdown, Lydia had an open weekend at Tyn y Ddol in July, with the idea of showcasing their business and to give locals and visitors an insight into the process of farm to fork.
“It was a fantastic day. I’m very happy to show people around our business and you do realise that people don’t have a notion of farm life and the farm to fork process. People were very interested and of course it is an excellent way of drumming up new business.”
Lydia is always thinking of new ideas to boost her pork sales and one idea over the summer was a weekend bag.
“As there are camping and caravanning sites down the road, I started offering weekend bags that included eggs, bacon, sausage and 2 chops or pork burgers and visitors and locals were loving it, so hopefully it will be a hit once again next year.”
Orders have been rolling in over the last few weeks for their new festive box which is a hit with the locals.
“Things have changed, people are more inquisitive about what they eat and where their food comes from. People are keen today to eat local produce which is great.”
“The feedback has been amazing! It’s great to have positive feedback and it makes all the hard work worthwhile, and I wouldn’t change my pig keeping life for the world.”