William and Elinor Morton have lived in Napton for 30 years, rearing a flock of 600 sheep on the beautiful historic pasture land at Manor Farm, Napton and at Draycote Village. The flock was converted to organic status in 2010. Lambing takes place in early spring, when the new grass is starting to grow in order to give the ewes and their lambs the best possible start. The feed that they are given through the winter comes from the farm, hay and silage that are cut during the summer, and food milled our own grain. This means that we can be assured that the meat that we sell through our catering business is fully traceable.
Back in 2009, William went to visit a neighbouring farmer. While he was waiting, he leant on a gate and watched a sow and her piglets enjoying the sunshine. He mentioned casually that he'd always liked the idea of a pig or two around the farm, conducted his business and thought no more about it.
Fast-forward a couple of months..."Hello there. Remember you said you'd be interested in buying a pig? Well, I know someone who's looking to sell a pregnant sow, due to give birth in a couple of months. Would you be interested?"
And so it began. Alice the very pregnant Tamworth sow arrived and we had to learn very quickly an awful lot about pigs. I went on a pig-keeping course, which would hopefully help me in our new venture. I came away feeling somewhat under prepared. Yes, I could inject a docile pig that was used to being handled by a bunch of amateur pig keepers, but as I read more about the beautiful Tamworth breed, I realised that my single day of whimsy would not be of much help if I were to get ahead of the game. Tamworth pigs have been described as the racehorse of the pig world - they certainly can shift; not an ideal pig for the inexperienced - headstrong and stubborn and fearsomely protective of their young. But for all that they are beautiful, communicative, charming and intelligent and we were thrilled with her.
Alice produced 9 healthy piglets as predicted that grew at an alarming rate. As the time came to select the best to take to the butcher, we were very proud of how they looked. We found a small butcher deep in the Cotswolds not too far away who were experienced with dealing with rare breeds and were happy to take only a couple at a time. It was very important to us that the whole process was handled with as little stress to the animals as possible.
We returned to collect more sausages than I have ever seen in one place, and one taste told us that we had something rather special. They were delicious.
The next step to consider was: how would we sell all of this wonderful meat? We hit on the idea of finding an old Citroen H Van. We wanted something iconic and different, and this certainly fitted the bill. We took collection of a wonderful 1965 bright red ex-pompier's ambulance, which had been used until only a few years ago. Once it had been converted into a catering van we were ready to go.
We started in a very small way in 2012, and work has steadily built since then. Our van has travelled as far as Suffolk, and we can happily go as far as needed (we do have to resort to a trailer, or we'd be talking weeks instead of hours to arrive!)
And so to now ....
We have extended our herd to 3 sows, who each have one litter of piglets a year. We believe that our pigs should be happy and comfortable, and for that reason, they come in to the barns during the winter as the ground on our farm becomes very waterlogged. Pigs love a good level of comfort so we make sure that they have plenty of fresh straw both to sleep in at night and to laze around on in the sunshine. We wean the piglets at about 2 months and then take the sows to a friend who has organic pigs to meet a boar. We did have one for a while, but with only 3 sows, he soon got bored and took to wandering around the village, which was a little alarming for our neighbours!
We have 2 purebred Tamworth sows from our first ever litter and a second-generation sow that is from a Tamworth sow crossed with a Duroc boar. We have found that the combination of Tamworth and Duroc produces meat that has all the flavour of Tamworth meat with less fat.
We keep the female piglets until they are about 15 - 18 months old - we let them grow very slowly, which means the meat is tender and full of flavour and produces the most delicious bacon.
The pigs are fed exclusively from feed that we make from our organic crops and bedded on straw from our farm.
We have a flock of 750 ewes that we raise organically. These are grazed here at Napton and on our other farm just below Draycote Water on our organically managed historic ridge and furrow pasture. They are kept outdoors until they are ready to lamb, when we bring them into the barns. This means that we can make sure that both mothers and lambs are given the best possible opportunity for a healthy birthing. Once the lambs are born, they are taken out to the fields with their mothers within 48 hours as long as they are healthy. Otherwise, they may spend an extra day or two on the maternity wing!
Our lambs are born in the spring, when the grass is beginning to grow again, and they can eat the new grass and clover as soon as they are able.