LOCALLY-sourced food waste is allowing a Tivyside heritage pig farm to produce pork sustainably and to a standard much prized by leading chefs.

Hugh and Katharine Brookes finish their Mangalitza pigs at around 18 months – at a much later stage than the industry average. Manufactured feeds high in protein are too costly and an unsuitable diet for their system of rearing.

With support from Farming Connect, the couple had access to nutritional advice from a leading pig nutritionist who formulated a diet that matched their system at Penlan Farm, near Cenarth.

That diet included waste products they could source locally – whey from Caws Cenarth, brewers’ grains from the Mantle Brewery and locally-grown potatoes that don’t quite make the grade for the food market.

Mr Brookes had also visited a leading breeder of Mangalitzas in Austria thanks to the Farming Connect management exchange programme to learn more about maximising value from this breed.

“We are not a hobby farm, the business has got to make money,’’ said Mr Brookes, whose herd currently numbers 140 after starting out with a breeding herd of 17 pedigree Mangalitza pigs in early 2016

Wales’s Cabinet Secretary for energy, planning and rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths, recently visited the Farming Connect Focus Farm to learn more about the business and how other small-scale pig farms might learn from this model.

She was given a tour of the farm where the pigs are run in outdoor paddocks and was introduced to Ruby, a Mangalitza sow, and her piglets.

As well as visiting the outdoor breeding paddock system and the feed barn, the minister saw the farm’s latest development - a newly fenced 5.5 acres field and woodland where the pigs can roam together, living out their lives in as natural an environment as possible

Hugh, who previously worked in the information technology sector, told the cabinet secretary that the support of Farming Connect had been invaluable.

“Farming Connect has almost acted as a benefactor to us. We have had more than half a dozen visits to Farming Connect events which are very informative and almost like tutorials,” he said

“Beyond that we have one to one advice on nutrition and other aspects of pig keeping. Wales is getting behind the pig industry; we are in a sector that the government really wants to help.’’

When Penlan Heritage Breeds was established there was no template for feeding pigs in slow rearing systems where the quality and flavour of the meat was the major selling point.

“All credit to Farming Connect, pretty quickly they said ‘yes we hear what you say’’ and we have felt very supported,” said Hugh.

“With their involvement, we have got a project working with an international expert on pig nutrition with a focus on rare breeds which will be shared with others in the New Year.’’

Penlan Heritage Breeds supplies pork to leading restaurants throughout the country.

Hugh added: “Top chefs choose mangalitza pork because of its amazing rich flavour and high quality fat. The drawback is that mangalitzas take at least 18 months to mature, so they get through a lot of food!

“By teaming up with a local artisan cheese-maker and craft brewery we have been able to create a diet based on grains and whey which reduces our costs and cuts out GM and soya. It’s a win-win - we act as a local waste-disposal service and our pigs enjoy a high quality, natural diet.”

Hugh and Katharine have been supplying Mangalitza pork to Shaun Searley, head chef at the Quality Chop House in Clerkenwell, London for over a year.

In a tweet earlier this year, Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlan described her meal cooked by Shaun as "mangalitza of joy”!

In spring 2018, Penlan Heritage Breeds are looking forward to supplying recent Young British Foodies "Chef of the Year" Tomos Parry, when he opens his new restaurant ‘Brat’ in Shoreditch.

Mangalitza pigs come from Eastern Europe and were originally bred for the tables of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Royal family.

The breed faced extinction in the 1990s when just 200 mangalitzas remained. Now, the Mangalitza is enjoying an international renaissance and Hugh and Katharine’s farm is unique in the UK, having pure pedigree bloodlines in all three Mangalitza breeds – Blonde, Red and Swallow-bellied.

“The key for us is welfare – we want our pigs to have as good lives as they can,” added Hugh.