• Andrew Freemantle
  • Clyst St Mary, Exeter

The collapse of pig prices in the late 1990s and the interuption of foot-and-mouth disease restrictions have both been instrumental in developing pork sales at Andrew Freemantle’s Kenniford Farm, near Exeter.

With just 28ha (70 acres), the former mixed arable and dairy unit had limited scope for changes in enterprise, but Andrew’s desire to enter pig production was unstoppable.

“I want to ensure pigs are reared in as welfare-friendly a manner as is practically possible and that’s been a principle I’ve stuck to since 1994,” he says.

Originally setting up in a converted dairy building, he began with 60 sows supplying weaners on a BOCM contract.

Numbers were increased steadily as profits allowed, eventually reaching 240 sows by late 1998. “At that point, we applied to put up a finishing unit nearby at my cousin’s farm and as the first pigs went over, pig prices began to plummet,” says Andrew.

By mid-1999, covering bills had become a battle, as it was with many units. “The producer price crashed, but the consumer was still paying the same,” he says.

“I made a decision to open a farm shop on a shoestring in a 10ft x 20ft calf shed – and that’s where retailing began.”

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Harnessing the south-west’s strong support for regional produce, marketing of the farm’s pork began. By summer 2000 the shop was handling three farm-reared pigs a week – a small but vital step.

In 2001, F&M closed the shop temporarily but created greater support from consumers once restrictions were eased. “It’s quite ironic really,” reflects Andrew.

Opportunities have been seized to increase sales. Working with processors has been the unit’s bread and butter for many years and interest from butchers and retailers is seen as valuable value-added margin.

Other outlets include three on-site catering trailers at local Countrywide stores – an opportunity that came about by Andrew’s involvement, now as director, with the Taste of the West initiative.

Also, 250 Kenniford hog roasts – ideal for taking out over-spec pigs penalised by processors – have been commissioned over the past year, helping spread the Kenniford Farm name further.

The unit retains its welfare and environmental credentials, having RSPCA Freedom Foods and LEAF certification, the latter backed up by participation in the Entry Level Stewardship scheme.

With numbers currently at 280 head, in-pig sows have access to outside paddocks using a novel pig bridge that divides the main farmyard from a storage area at the back of Kenniford’s buildings. Fodder beet is also strip-grazed by sows as a seasonal feed, adding to the farm’s green credentials by further reducing reliance on bought-in feed.

But managing the business is not without its headaches. A number of part-time staff are required seasonally and Andrew is fortunate to have good support from the local community, which shows a willingness to help out. The farm has also taken on a full-time butcher to keep preparation costs in-house.

“We have diversified to survive but still remain focused on the core business and high welfare standards,” he says