Adding value to one of their three core farming enterprises has helped ensure the Baugh family will survive competition against the bigger units. Marie Claire Kidd finds out more.
The Baugh family are well known in Nottinghamshire, especially since dad Andrew became NFU county chairman this February.
And they are growing a reputation for their Woodside Farm outdoor-reared pigs, an enterprise which has made the most of their location and added value to their mixed farm business.
As the name suggests, the farm sits among woodland at Wellow, north of Newark, and covers about 61 hectares (150 acres), it has been in the Baugh family since the 1950s.
As well as running Woodside Farm, the Baughs rent a further 36ha (90 acres) of mainly pasture from five local landlords. The sites are not all adjacent, but are within five miles of each other.
The family have always kept pigs on the sand-land, which comprises part of their farm.
Many of their neighbours irrigate these soils to grow root vegetables, but for the Baughs, producing high-quality pork is the best way to take advantage of their situation.
Richard Baugh, 31, has now taken over management of the farm from his father, although Andrew remains involved three days a week and is responsible for the books.
Since returning from university in 2009, Richard has developed a hog roast business to promote the pork, closed the herd and grown it to 120 breeding sows.
He has also switched to batch farrowing and 100 per cent artificial insemination, breeding from Land Rocks crossed with Large Whites, which are then crossed with Land Races to produce a large animal with good flavour and succulence.
Richard says: “On our farm we have everything from heavy clay to blow away sand. We are right on the Nottinghamshire vegetable belt, which is about five miles wide and goes down the main road from Doncaster to Nottingham.
“The sand-land is the best possible land for outdoor pigs. The heavy clay is better for the grass and combinable crops.”
The farm is about half grass, half arable, and the Baughs grow wheat, second wheat, spring oats, spring barley, winter barley and temporary grass on their arable fields, on a six-year rotation.
They grow corn for the pigs too, supplying half of the pigs’ corn directly and sourcing the rest from local farms.
The pig feed is milled and mixed on-site from corn, SugaRich, pellets, soya, oils and supplements using a tractor-powered combined mill and mixer – one of many investments in recent years.
Richard has also ploughed some £33,000 in new drinkers and housing for the pigs. Good housing does not come cheap, and the pig arcs cost £4,500 each.
He bought three of these last year and three this year, along with 35 standalone drinkers at £172 each.
The piglets are taken at eight weeks old to finishing pens in the farmyard where 300 pigs are weighed weekly.
A grant from the Rural Development Programme paid for new scales and electronic tagging equipment for the Baughs’ sheep.
They keep 550 Mule ewes on the farm’s heavier pastures, and sell them as finished lambs. The largest and best quality animals go to local butchers at a set price and the average-sized lambs go to Dunbia Farmers, Preston, for sale in Asda stores, and achieve a market price.
Many of the sheep are grazed on small patches of grassland, which have become available in recent years from non-farming landowners.
“Controlling worms and coccidiosis is a constant battle but the sheep help complete this thriving business.”
Each of the three elements of the farm – pigs, sheep and arable – complement the others and helps make the best of the available land. Take the pigs’ straw, for example, which is produced on-farm, the pig manure is then spread back on to the fields and into the system, creating a balanced business system which is cost-efficient.
Richard sells between 50 and 60 pigs per week, 40 per cent of which go directly to local butchers, to pie manufacturer Hartland Pies or through Bofs Hogs. The animals are carefully selected according to these orders.
Although this means extra paperwork and chasing of payments, and a more difficult loading process for slaughter, it ensures the Baughs receive a premium for their meat where possible, and that their Woodside Farm and Bofs Hogs brands grow in strength and value.
The market for good quality pork is growing locally, Richard says, as new farm shops spring up and the business’ reputation grows.
The remaining 60 per cent of the pigs are processed and sold by slaughterhouse, R.B. Elliott and Son at Calow, Derbyshire.
Richard says: “All of the hogs are reared by us on our farm, we’re there for every stage of the process. The pigs are reared by myself, my father and Jamie Savill. Between us we have nearly 100 years experience with pig farming.
“Because we weigh them every week, we’re able to keep a close eye on them and make sure the pigs are happy, healthy and well looked after.”
The family believes their pig business would not be viable without supportive partners. Their abattoir, in particular, offers them a flexible arrangement whereby they can supply pigs for special orders, and for processing, marketing and distribution by R.B. Elliot themselves.
Richard markets the pigs through his own hog roast business, Bofs Hogs, and some of the animals are butchered and sold locally in conjunction with local butchers.
Richard and his staff work closely with two such butchers – S. Allwood and Son, New Ollerton, and Johnny Pusztai, of J.T. Beedham and Sons, Sherwood, winner of the Observer Food Monthly best producer award 2011. Together both butchers buy their pigs and the best of their lambs directly at a fixed price allowing both sides to maintain consistency and quality.
As well as producing everything from smoked meats and Polish sausage to traditional bangers, Jonny runs a catering business, and he shares orders for hog roasts with Bofs Hogs, depending on where in the county they are.
Working closely with Hartland pies, in Cotgrave, has also proved fruitful. Hartland is close enough to Melton Mowbray to name their pies so, and are promoting Woodside Farm as one of its top suppliers.
Richard says building trusting relationships with a few choice manufacturers and retailers has helped balance the books.
“It’s the only way we can survive as a small farm,” he says. “We are trying to get a stable price so both sides are doing well out if it.
“We have gone from one pay check from the slaughterhouse to many invoices. The risk has now come onto us, and when it comes to loading pigs it takes an extra 15 to 20 minutes because we need to make sure special orders have been met. We sell them at anything from 40 to 140 kilogrammes live.”
Andrew, who has been involved in the farm all his life, remembers when it was even more diverse, and included cattle and vegetable production.
“There were about 40 pigs when I took over in 1978,” he says. “We used to have cattle. We had a house cow which produced milk for our own use and about three others. It is old fashioned now but we used to do multiple sucked calves.
“Potatoes were our break crops but we couldn’t compete with the market. In 1990 we went from potatoes to rape and in 2010 we moved over to our current rotation.”
In the future, Richard would like to expand the sheep business and close the herd. “I am heading to a closed unit for sheep,” he says. “I want to increase the sheep a bit more and be a bit more self-sufficient in the farm. The challenge is securing decent winter grazing.”
Limited availability of arable and sand-land means the arable and pig businesses will likely stay the same size. “We can’t expand the pigs because there is a lot of competition for the land round here, and we don’t trust the pig industry enough,” Richard says.
But he is satisfied with the business as it stands, and having recently moved into the farmhouse with his wife Jennifer and welcomed his first child, Henry, to the farm in February, he is settling in for the long-term.
“By going for quality and adding value the pig business has become the thing which sets this farm apart.”