Pigs in blankets are an important aspect of the Christmas dinner plate and the owners of Puff Pigs believe the use of rare breeds gives their prize winning chipolatas that added extra when it comes to taste.
The Christmas chipolatas from Wayne and Rachel Hayward’s Puff Pigs enterprise are made from a traditional recipe.
But, as with all the ranges offered by the Haywards, the recipe was devised in the family kitchen at Pentwyn Uchaf Farm, near Cardiff. Mr Hayward says they are passionate about their product, which centres on taste, sustainability and provenance.
The couple only sell within a 10-mile radius and the pigs are slaughtered at a nearby abattoir, Maddock Kembery Meats, which caters for specialist, small-scale produce.
However, the sausage enterprise started as a secondary endeavour and the Puff Pigs business in fact started out as a desire to breed some pigs for the couple’s eight-year-old twins – Arthur and Harri.
Mr and Mrs Hayward’s farming business began with sheep, chickens and pigs in 2010 when as ‘complete townies’ living in Southampton, the couple moved to their small farm 305 metres (1,000ft) above sea level in the South Wales Valleys.
Mr Hayward is originally from Llanelli and Mrs Hayward, a neonatal consultant, needed to be able to travel easily to hospitals in Cardiff, Llantrisant and Newport.
He says they wanted a rare breed and settled on the British Saddleback as they wanted to contribute to the survival of the breed as there is currently only 300 sows over 28 breeding lines.
Mr Hayward adds they have been enthusiastically working with the British Saddleback Society to map the locations of the rarest lines in the country. They are proud to have produced from one of the rarest lines, increasing the number of registered sows with birth notified litters from two to five.
He says: “I think the society is doing a brilliant job, the British Pig Association as well, to ensure their survival. But just three or four breeders dropping out can end a whole line.”
The pigs, with their distinctive floppy ears, white belt and friendly nature, quickly became part of family life and Mr Hayward admits the sausage business was ‘secondary’ to begin with.
“We were looking to sell pedigree offspring, but then the sausage business particularly has had a lot of success.”
So successful in fact their garlic and chilli sausage was named best in Wales at Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) ‘put your best sausage forward’ at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.
Mr Hayward says: “We were delighted and humbled to win the competition. As a small-scale producer we did not consider entering initially, but were encouraged to do so by the feedback we received from customers, friends and family.
“We hope the award will highlight the benefits of the traditional pig breeds and specifically, in our case, the British Saddleback.”
However, he does admit the British Saddleback is a ‘rare breed for a reason’. He says: “They are very slow growing and that gives you the tastiest meat, but it is not really commercially viable on a big scale. You will not see a traditional breed in the supermarket.”
However, he says there is no other taste like it.
"It is completely different from the commercially grown pigs. But there is also the history and once the breed is gone, it is gone.”
A business consultant by profession, Mr Hayward says the ‘tricky bit’ is that the pigs have to pay their way and help the family make their living. He is confident, however, that there is a market for rare breed pork and imminent decisions involve just how big they can afford to grow without affecting their day jobs.
There are plans to upgrade the marketing and packaging and to eventually have a butchery onsite.
Prints and gift items based on photographs of the pigs may also follow.
Farrowing in January and July means there is a steady supply of sausages and pork throughout the year.
The dates are also geared to preparation for the show season and the family is steadily building its championship profile in the British Saddleback world, with a flurry of red rosettes at the Royal Welsh Show, the spring festival and Usk Show.
Mr Hayward adds: “We wanted the children to be involved in showing the pigs and as they have got older they have really embraced the whole experience and now have quite a few ‘pig’ friends on the show circuit.”
The pigs are kept outdoors, but are brought in to farrow and the piglets stay indoors until weaning at six to eight weeks. The porkers are sent off at about six months of age, liveweight at 60-70kg, and boxed and sold as a half or quarter pig locally, with demand growing by word of mouth.
Boned and rolled half shoulders weigh about 1.5kg, boned and rolled half legs 2kg, belly pork comes in 1kg packs and pork chops are sold in pairs.
The pigs produced for sausage-making are kept until they are 10 months old, weighing 100-120kg. It is an expensive way of producing sausages, but the couple feel it is important to use the better quality cuts, convinced it makes a ‘massive difference’ to the taste.
Careful management of the pigs is also critical, financially and in terms of growth rate. Mr Hayward concedes there is a conflict – his day job tackles big business efficiencies, while small-scale rearing of rare breed meat is ‘not the most efficient way to farm pigs’.
A concern is that they can easily get too fat. But the couple feels attitudes are changing and that a limited amount of fat improves the flavour.
It is a labour of love, but Mr Hayward’s business background means it is sharply focused. Branding, marketing, packaging, logos and of course winning competitions are all part of the family discussions at meal time.
And the couple are confident that, increasingly, people are prepared to ‘buy in’ to the story behind the produce. Especially, when they can be sourced locally – and especially at Christmas.