Do you often find that when you are least expecting to find something, the most incredible things happen… ?! This is a bit like the discovery of Sue and Jim Alger’s pig farm in North Wales -Ynysgyffylog Barn.
If you walk past their farm gate you would be forgiven for thinking it was just a few old caravans and a muddy field – how wrong can you be! Then you are greeted by the friendly farm dogs at the gate, the chickens and ducks start scuttling and you are highly likely to see a sow sniffing around while her piglets are playing games with a few other dogs. It is the most incredibly humbling example of co-habitation, passion and hard work. It is quite simply magical.
Sue kindly showed me around and gave me 5 minutes of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
When did you establish your farm?
It was January 2005 – we actually planned to grow natural fruit, vegetables and flowers but the land wasn’t conducive to that so we bought a litter of pigs to clear it up. Locals started asking for our meat and before long we had a market stall. It just continued from there. In 2010 we won the Cambrian news local food heros for our produce.
Please can you tell our readers what animals you have here on your farm?
It varies but at the moment we have 9 sows, 2 bores and 60 piglets running around. We also have a herd of Welsh mountain ponies that are used to regenerate some land for the RSPB. 40 Hens, half a dozen ducks, 4 dogs, 6 working cats – these are used for vermin control and means we don’t need nasty pesticides. So there is never a dull moment!
Tell me about your farming principles?
We are all about raising good quality, naturally produced meat that is affordable. We don’t use sprays, fertilizers or anti-biotics. However we are not classified as organic, Sue has done her research and reals off statistic after statistic as to how organic does permit the use of certain chemicals, and anti-biotics in certain circumstances but is quick to point out it doesn’t necasarily fit her farming principles of sustainability, tracability, animal welfare and natural rearing – aside from the additional cost. Our animals are ‘realistically’ raised.
We have one customer who travels some distance, specifically to us as her daughter is allergic to aniti-biotics.
What do your animals eat?
We are not allowed to feed our animals scraps, it has to be specific, approved pig food – we ensure we select non-medicated feed. Our pigs forage naturally on the land and may enjoy the odd windfall apple in the Autumn.
It is clear you have a wonderful relationship and understanding of animals – did you grow up around animals?
My grandfather was a farmer but it has only been the last 15 years with Jim that I have run a farm.
In your opinion, how important is it for children to be around animals?
Extremely – the life cycle of animals is the closest thing to life and death. Understanding how animals live is everything. If everyone one on the planet was a vegetarian there would be no animals. Animals are such an important link in the chain of life.
It must be a 24 hour job looking after all these animals. Do you have time for any other hobbies?
I love to sew. We haven’t had a TV for the last 10 years – we haven’t had a holiday either! Although ocassionally we go out for dinner. I sell my vintage style products at our market stall alongside the meat at the Dolgellau farmers market, as well as through my Face Book page – you can check it out here it’s called Sabina’s Sewing room.
Do you have any top tips for being a working Mum and Granny when the kids are staying?
Do most of your cooking in the oven and use a steamer. Its quick and easy and retains most of the goodness. Get the kids to work too – when the grandchildren are here there is no need for computer games and i-pads. Everyone mucks in, we play board games, run around on the beach, play with the animals and eat together. It’s really special family time. In the winter it gets pretty cold so we play around the muck heap for warmth!
What advice would you have for our readers who are thinking of starting their own food business?
Don’t go into it blindly. Talk to your environmental health standards agency and they will have good advice how to best go about it. Test your market and be prepared to work hard and for long hours! But I would definitely encourage it!
What advice would you give our readers who are looking to find good quality pork?
Find a local farm, speak to local butchers. It’s more economical to feed your family with good quality meat as there is much more meat when it’s cooked. In highly commercial pork they pump it with water which just comes out during cooking. Definitely look for outdoor reared meat.
Where is your produce available?
Here at the farm – we have an honesty box and you can pop into the farm. Also at local farmers markets. Check out Face book page for updates – click here.
If you are passing do drop in and pick up some of the best pork I have ever tasted. Details are below. Once again thank you Sue, you have such a beautiful farm, I’ll be back to buy some more pork soon!
Sue and Jim Alger
Ynysgyffylog Barn, Arthog, Gwynedd LL39 1BQ
Tel: 01341 250165
Face Book: Ynysgyffylog-Barn-Farm