This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home... and these little piggies could be destined for a home-cooked Sunday roast or for one of 35 Michelin star restaurants.

The ginger-haired rare breed Tamworth pigs are among 600 owned by Nick and Jon Francis at south Warwickshire’s Paddock Farm.

With 65 breeding sows the brothers, age 31 and 29, now have the largest herd of Tamworths in the country.

But they’ve come a long way, starting out seven years ago as have-a-go farmers rearing just two pigs in a little paddock at the end of their parents’ garden.

“We just fancied having a go at rearing a bit of pork to eat ourselves,” says Nick.

“We both love food and we just wanted to see what it would take to rear our own.”

The brothers each stumped up £40 and came home with a pair of pigs named Rebecca and Amy.

The pigs were given a home at the bottom of the garden at Nick and Jon’s parents house in Fulready, south of Stratford, and after just a few months of being fed and cared for they were taken to an abattoir in Long Compton, before being butchered.

“The abattoir wasn’t a problem for us,” says Nick, “It was actually really exciting.

“If you have an animal with the intention of eating it you know its destiny from the beginning so you don’t get attached.

“We butchered it on mum’s table to make sausages, and the pork was really delicious.

“We had this great pork and the pigs had been really fun to have around so we thought we’d take the next step to try and breed some.”

But the lads, aged 22 and 24, found themselves on a steep learning curve.

Younger brother Jon says: “Those first two pigs weren’t really difficult. But having a sow to farrow is quite a different thing.

“We built a pen in our parents’ drive but the pigs farrowed when we weren’t expecting it and we ended up with a litter of pigs all over the road.”

Nick adds: “From two sows we got 16 piglets – far more than we could eat ourselves.

“So I contacted a couple of butchers and a friend who was a chef and we sold some pork to our friends, to the butchers and to restaurants.

“People loved it, especially the chefs. They were saying ‘We can’t get pork this good’.

“So we did it again and we found ourselves at a point where we realised we could try and make something of this.

“We thought we’d give it a go and we wrote up a business plan.”

Paddock Farm was born and seven years on, the brothers now have hundreds of pigs on two sites in south Warwickshire, and are supplying 35 Michelin star restaurants (as well as Birmingham restaurants Opus and Carters of Moseley, recently named the Good Food Guide’s Midlands restaurant of the year).

Even Raymond Blanc gives their pork his seal of approval serving Paddock Farm sausages for breakfast at his two Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons hotel and restaurant in Oxfordshire.

“Le Manoir had the same sausage supplier for 21 years,” says Nick, “but they changed to us and they’ve been using our sausages ever since.”

The brothers chose to rear rare breed Tamworth pigs, one of the oldest breeds, originating in the Midlands.

Nick says: “It says something for the Tamworth breed that the pork from the first pigs that we raised was so good.

“That wasn’t down to us knowing what we were doing because we didn’t!

“Our parents aren’t farmers – my dad’s got a garage!”

These first generation farmers went to their local school in Kineton before Jon did a degree and a masters in drama and Nick took a degree in marketing followed by a masters in international rural development, studying the sustainability of the food system in far flung countries.

Jon says: “We had no end of older farmers telling us what we were doing would never work.

“People were saying ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree’, saying the Tamworth pigs wouldn’t grow fast enough, they’d eat too much food, the ground we were on wasn’t suited to pig rearing and they wouldn’t be suited to the modern marketplace.

“But people like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson at St John (in London) have had a massive impact on the market and while so much modern farming is about producing a commodity, what we’re doing is producing a quality food.”

The pig farming hasn’t always felt like a walk in the park and the brothers still have to remind themselves of how far they’ve come.

“It’s not always been easy,” says Jon.

“We’ve had hard times in the middle of winter when you’ve got mud up to your knees and 500 pigs to feed.

“We were running an old tractor which broke down and the ground froze and we were pulling sledges with the food on to get it to the pigs.

“It took four of us all day to do the feed. That was a pretty dark day.
“But the welfare of the animals is the biggest motivation at times like that.

“We all really care about our animals and they don’t care if your tractor’s broken down.”

Nick adds: “We both really care about the ethics of food production. That’s why we bought the two pigs in the first place.
“We want a quality pork which we know has been fed properly and had a good life.

“We want somewhere local where we can shop and know where the food has come from.”

Now, they have teamed up with south Warwickshire farmer Mark Holberton at Talton Mill Farm just off the Fosse Way near Newbold-on-Stour.

Pooling their resources they’ve opened a new farm shop, selling their Tamworth pork as well as Mark’s Angus and Herefordshire Cattle, free range chickens and fruit and veg.

They sell bread from Shipston’s Boulangerie Valentin and locally reared lamb.

And they’re now turning their attention to charcuterie, producing the only salami in the UK made from Tamworth pork, and turning Mark’s beef into carpaccio with rocket and lemon.

Jon says: “We’ve gone back to producing food for an end customer.

“One of our pork chops could just as easily be on the dinner table at St John or on the dinner table of an 85-year-old lady who has bought it from the farm shop and taken it home to cook it in the way she’s been cooking for years.

“This meat might be going to Michelin star restaurants but it’s not unobtainable.

“We sold 12 pork chops today at £2.64 per chop.”

Nick adds: “Our farm works by cutting out the middle man and selling direct to the customer.

“The cost of raising a really good pig or chicken is really high. There are corners you can cut but we try and do it the right way.

“We didn’t get into this thinking we wanted to get a huge market so to find ourselves in the position where we have Michelin star restaurants wanting our pork is amazing.

“We just wanted to create something that was honestly good.

“What makes a really good sausage is really good pork and the secret to good pork is happy pigs.”

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