March 1st, 2024 Wise Farmers

Wise Farmers: Amy Chapple

Amy, now in her early twenties, has been raising animals since she was 13, beginning with young calves and then keeping free range laying hens. Now she raises pigs, feeding them on locally sourced fodder and grazing them in rotation. The pigs fertilise and dig in the seeds that she scatters on the pasture, growing into nourishing crops for the pigs to forage.

Post Retweet

Coming from a farming family, my passion for agriculture started from an early age and working on the family farm alongside my schooling, meant I was outdoors at every opportunity. On completing my A-levels, it was natural to continue my education in farming and I started an internship to learn more about carbon negative farming and regenerative agriculture, such as no-till cropping and holistic planned grazing.

At her school there was a project for everyone in the class to start a business with £10, so hers was to buy a few retired laying hens and sell the eggs to her neighbours and classmates. She kept the flock all through her school years, and as she got older she started buying weaner calves to rear and sell on. Then when she reached sixth-form she asked her parents if she could get a pig. “I started with a single sow and her litter, putting them in a barn as that’s how I thought it was done,” Amy says, “but the mum pig seemed a bit depressed having nothing to do and no outside space to root and forage. Pigs have such active minds and they needed something to do.” So she moved them outdoors, rotating them around the pasture to allow the plants to recover and re-seed. “I wanted them to roam on the grass without ruining the fields – if they’re on a patch of ground for too long, it gets compacted, which isn’t good for the soil.”

I never really wanted to go to Uni but it was sort of looking into options…what do I do with my life? So there was no Uni course out there for what I wanted to do, so I went to Groundswell to work on the farm for six months, did a sort of internship and then went back home due to Covid and was stuck at home. So then I thought I’ll go for it and just give it a go with pigs and whatever and sort of build out from there.

Amy’s parents Mark and Pauline have been farming sheep, cattle and poultry at Redwoods Farm for over 20 years, and for the past 6 years have been practising a circular, intergrated system which was partly inspired by Joel Salatin, an American farmer who uses livestock rotations to nourish soils and enhance pasture. Amy’s method is to ‘mob graze’ pigs quite intensively on sections of a field for a short time, scattering seeds for the pigs to fertilise and dig into the soil so that when they come back to that section after a period of a few months, the seeds have grown into 20 varieties of grasses, clovers, plantain, chicory and cereals, the sort of diversity that pigs, who are natural foragers, thrive on.

Our traditional breed pigs are our cleverest farm animal and are very active creatures, always foraging for food. The majority of the year they are kept outside on pasture or in woodland and are moved regularly to provide them with fresh food.

This helps to keep their brain engaged and allows the pasture to regrow behind them. We also use our pigs to sow seed which they bury under a thin layer of soil using their snouts, reducing the need for machinery.

I’m aiming to finish about 150 pigs a year. We’ve got mostly Gloucester Old Spots, but crossed with Large Blacks with a few Saddlebacks mixed in. They are all nice traditional breeds.

The most widely-used pig feed in the UK is imported soya, grown from genetically modified seed in South America with heavy inputs of toxic chemicals, much of it on destroyed rainforest. Amy’s bought-in pigfeed is soya-free and grown locally. Some meat retailers, such as Primal Meats that Amy supplies, have come to realise that their customers are looking for pork with a good back-story, fed with locally produced feed and raised outdoors where they can forage naturally for food.

I put a load of seed down and they’ve buried it in and so the seed will grow. So with the feed, I’m basically trying to be as local as possible and so its mostly a mix of barley and wheat and then I’ve got some which has grown about 7 miles away and beans which are grown about 5 miles away and then some peas and rapeseed meal which also UK grown. And with that comes from being soya-free. I’m trying to avoid soya because it’s obviously not grown in the best way most of the time. It contributes to a lot of rainforest destruction.

All of their food comes from within the UK. And I’m not sure that a lot of people could say that all of their food comes from 100% within the UK.

The pigs are fed waste apples and potatoes, as well as foraging for acorns and beech nuts in the woodland, and their diverse natural diet, full of nutrients from soil nourished by the fertility system, means the pork is deeply flavoured. This contrasts starkly with the bland white pork from factory farms where the piglets are weaned at only three weeks and then kept in cramped sheds on bare concrete slats without fresh air or exercise and fed on cheap imported soya. On Redwood Farm the pigs are weaned at eight weeks and then kept until they are 10-12 months old, in contrast to 5-6 months for a factory pig, and the slower-grown, outdoor pigs produce pork with far better taste and texture.

So the original kind of thing of why people buy meat from me is because they like the whole story behind it. But then if you taste it, then that’s what makes people come back, isn’t it? So it’s it’s the story that brings people in the first place and the taste that brings them back.

The foraging pigs and the fertility they provide are central themes of agro-ecological farming where animals and crops are symbiotically connected as was common in the times before monocultural, chemical-dependent, industrialised agriculture began to creep across the country. The seeds she has scattered on the grazing pasture germinate and grow, and by the time the pigs return the plants are a waist-high mix of herbs, grasses, legumes and wild flowers.

As well as providing a varied diet for the pigs when they return, the diversity of species, with their different root lengths, helps to prevent soil erosion and boosts the soil’s capacity to absorb water and sequester carbon. The different heights of the plants across the field and the wild flowers in the sward provide a patchwork of wildlife habitats. “When I walk across the field, I see birds flying out of the grass, mice scuttling around and dung beetles doing their thing.”

Last summer Amy and her family launched Fresh Friday, a chance for people to buy soya-free, pasture raised produce direct from their local farm.

“We’re giving you the chance to collect your fresh produce direct from the farm each month on a Friday evening to help you shop locally for your regenerative produce.

“We’ll have a few animals for you to meet and also we’ll be around to chat with you about our farming methods. We’re passionate about what we do and love to share it!”

Share This Article

Related ArticlesView All

May 2nd, 2024
Wise Farmers: Little Donkey Farm, China

In March, while UK farmers were protesting at Westminster, demanding that they receive a fair price for their food, I… Read More

November 1st, 2023
Wise Farmers: Richard Young

Richard Young was an organic farmer and brilliant ecologist. Born into a farming family in the Cotswolds. Richard divided his… Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *