When you look at Helen Browning’s British Saddleback pigs rooting for worms and grubs in the organic fields and wallowing on hot days in cool muddy pools you see why they are happy and healthy and hardly ever need antibiotics. This is a world away from the barren concrete pens in factory farms where pigs have to be given antibiotics routinely just to keep them alive. This abuse of antibiotics to prop up an inhumane and unhealthy system has already led to antibiotic resistant diseases such as Campylobacter, E.coli and MRSA emerging in pigs and passing to humans.
On Helen’s farm pigs hardly ever need antibiotics because they don’t get sick. The sows are grazing and rooting on fields that have not had pigs on them for at least five years, which means the soil is free from worms and bugs that cause problems when pigs stay on the same ground year after year. They make nests with straw in the huts, and within two days of birth the piglets are snuffling in the soil, which is really good for their guts, and stops them getting ill. The piglets are weaned at eight weeks, unlike factory farms where the piglets are removed from their mothers at only three weeks, and because their immune systems are not yet properly developed they are given antibiotics to prevent diseases breaking out in the overcrowded pens.
Helen Browning with her pigs
Helen’s sows and their piglets are free to walk and feed over wide expanses of fresh grass, or to keep out of the sun in their own hut where they lie on fresh dry straw while they suckle their piglets or sleep. It’s hard to imagine a better life for a pig. It’s not just a natural, healthy and enjoyable life for the pigs and piglets, but because they graze and root over old grassland, fertilising the soil with their manure before the fields are ploughed, they are a vital part of the crop cycle on the farm.
After weaning the piglets go into fresh fields in their family groups and stay outside all the way through to finishing. Helen never has to cut their teeth and tails because they live such a low stress life, and they have plenty of room to get away from each other if one of them is deciding to be a bit of a bully.
This is why Amelia Freer, who we filmed cooking a slow-cooked pork belly dish with pumpkin and gingered kale, is using Helen Browning’s pork. She wants people to know that healthy eating doesn’t have to be hard, ‘people always think that healthy eating is about deprivation and misery and my passion is to get people to understand that you really are able to still enjoy good food and good taste, so again, that comes back to the quality of the foods that you are eating and for me it’s organic all the way.’
As Helen says, more and more people are starting to make better choices by buying high welfare, thus supporting the farmers who raise animals in a sustainable and humane way. ‘I think if you care about animal welfare and about the overuse of antibiotics and the risk that’s posing to human health, if you’re caring about our countryside even, and you really want to eat the most flavoursome pork you can get, then I really do recommend that you eat organic.’
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