Notes from an ex-apprentice...
Emma Heseltine - 02 June 2014
Well here I am again; you might remember me from my two year blog about what life was like as a Soil Association apprentice… The Future Growers scheme has asked me for an update on how life has been treating me since I finished last July, so here we go!
Since finishing the apprenticeship I have been working on expanding my pig business, The Rooted Pig. My pigs are now on the land at Armathwaite owned by my partner's family. We have been buying various breeds of weaners and fattening them, taking them to an abattoir at Grange over Sands and getting them butchered by Deer & Dexter outside Penrith.
There are a number of private customers who buy pork and bacon from us on a regular basis. We are also supplying Fair Food Carlisle which is a buying group in Carlisle which aims to reconnect people with the farmers that produce their food, a B&B are buying our bacon through the buying group. We have a pub buying from us regularly too, The Crown and Thistle in Rockcliffe.
I kept one of my organic Tamworth pigs (Brownie) for breeding and almost two months ago she produced 8 piglets. She was a little earlier than my calculations had put her farrowing at and we were caught a little unprepared. Though being a stoic and sensible creature she sailed through giving birth and has proved an excellent mother (we still have all 8). This means we will be self sufficient in fattening pigs for a while, removing the need to buy in weaners. We will try breeding with her again, possibly to an Old-spot to try a cross breed, as Tamworth does seem well suited to the land here and climate...
A pregnant Brownie spent the winter happily roaming one of the stubble fields making friends with the cattle and annoying the lambing ewes. Our herd currently stands at 5 fattening gilts, 1 sow and 8 extremely unruly piglets. And yes I do name them all still, anyone got piglet suggestions?
By the summer I intend my pig enterprise will fund buying two heifers, which I have chosen from a local breeder whom I helped show at the Great Yorkshire show the other year. They should be coming in July/August, in calf and due next February. Longhorns of course!
In other farm business I have been continuing to work as a tractor driver for hire, doing all the usual jobs and finding my niche in making small bale hay, although I'm coming along at ploughing. I’ve also helped lambing again this season and done an awful lot of fencing with a tractor post knocker and hedge tidying/attacking.
Outside farming I take photos of holiday homes for Holiday Lettings (part of Trip Adviser) and recruit members for the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Both jobs get me out and about and keep the wolf from the door.
The things I enjoyed most about the apprenticeship was seeing different places and seeing how different people approach different problems. There were some fantastic and knowledgeable people and it was great to pick their brains. I miss getting together with all different apprentices and sharing our experiences and stories.
Going to Eastbrook and talking pigs with Helen Browning was something that I will always remember; it was very inspirational and helpful, (look at me and my small pig business!) They definitely spurred me on that you can do it if you believe in your animals, your product and the way you produce it. It doesn't matter if you make all the mistakes as long as you learn and keep going at it.
So that's me, anyone need any sausages?
Emma completed a degree in Creative Imaging at Huddersfield University before working for a photography studio as an editor. Taking a break from the office world she worked in outdoor education for several years, climbing, abseiling, shooting, trampolining and even life-guarding with children of all ages. When Emma found out about the apprenticeship scheme with the Soil Association it seemed the perfect chance to do something worthwhile and fulfilling. After much searching and badgering farms in the North of England she found a position with Hadrian Organics from 2011 to 2013.