• Mark and Paul Hayward
  • Campsea Ash, Suffolk

Location, location, location. It may be a slogan not normally synonymous with pig farming, but brothers Mark and Paul Hayward know that when it comes to retailing pork, it is a mantra that matters.

“Being in front of the consumer can have a massive impact on sales,” says Mark. “We know from retail data that when we did some in-store cookery demonstrations, sales climbed 200-300% on the day and could be up 20% over the year.”

It has been a long and hard journey for the brothers, who established the Dingley Dell brand after buying into high-welfare outdoor production ahead of the market and just before pig prices plummeted in the late 1990s.

“We’d invested heavily,” says Mark. “The only way to cope with low returns was to develop a brand and keep as much of that post-farmgate margin as possible.”

Starting with 400 outdoor sows and slowly building up to the current 650-sow unit has been tough. It forms part of the 182ha (450-acre) arable business making use of the area’s light, free-draining soils for both breeding and finishing operations.

It has good environmental credentials. An estimated 2000t of pig muck is put back on arable ground at 35t/ha (14t/acre), supplying about £173/ha (£70/acre) in N, P and K. “Sows are useful for clearing volunteers and getting on top of persistent weeds,” says Paul.

Sow paddocks have wide grass margins, allowing easy access for machinery and visitors but also attracting wildlife. “It’s noticeable when we bring buyers down, particularly to the new paddocks, how clean and fresh it is,” says Mark.

The unit is almost a closed herd – good for biosecurity – running 40 grandparent Landrace sows producing F1 gilts at a saving of £50 a replacement. All mating is done indoors, allowing greater attention at this crucial time.

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Weaning is done at 35 days – later than indoor herds – but compensation comes in higher weaning weights of 9.5-10kg and the positive impact on days to finishing, they suggest.

Most grower pigs move into outdoor fattening tents in groups of 100 and will remain in the same group through to slaughter at an average of 70kg deadweight.

Feed is brought forward using the brothers’ involvement in a local buying group, which they helped establish. A feed compounder is paid a margin over raw material costs to manufacture feed and deliver to site.

“About 75% of pigs sold are marketed as Dingley Dell Pork in some form or another,” says Mark.

“Through Suffolk Meat Traders, 25 butchers take our product and we supply point-of-sale material. Two catering butchers supply Dingley Dell Pork to outlets across East Anglia.

“We also have pre-pack sausage and fresh meat going into numerous retail stores. This includes Dingley Dell Old English Sausage, available in 16 Tesco stores regionally and marketed by food service company Brakes nationally.”

He adds: “The aim is to increase sales so the remaining 20-25% of production not carrying the Dingley Dell brand is marketed more effectively. This must attract a premium over commodity pork prices to reflect the investment and commitment to developing the brand.”