Farming as it was done 60 years ago

…the rare breeds at Lancing Estates

And the peregrine falcons who have made the College their home

It’s not a secret that Lancing College sits amid 500 acres of gorgeous chalky Downs countryside, much of it arable farmland owned by Lancing College Estates. It boasts glorious views of the sea to the south, into which the River Adur has flowed for centuries.

Peregrine falcons nest in the famous chapel, and if you go at the right time of year you’ll hear woodpeckers and nightingales, see 39 species of butterfly, spot badgers, stoats and roe deer.

But perhaps less well known are some of the residents of Lancing College grounds – the rare-breed pigs that snuffle freely in its woods, and the rare-breed sheep that calmly graze its pastures.

The pigs are woodland reared and roam over eight acres, with shelters in the woods, lots of mud, and as many beetles, worms, insects, bugs, berries and fruit as they can scoff.

The sheep, dotted around the gentles slopes, only have to worry about keeping the grass down, which means you won’t hear any petrol lawnmowers up there; instead, you might catch the rhythmic grinding of molars.

“Our pigs burn off more energy so they use more muscles, which means their pork is actually red meat,” says farmer Jon Hutcheon, who has been farming by the college for seven years. “The texture is different and there’s a wilder flavour. They also live much longer. Indoor pigs are usually eaten at about 22 weeks, outdoor pigs, maybe 24 weeks. Ours aren’t eaten until they are at least 40 weeks.”

The animals are farmed for specialist and high-end butchers, and an increasing number of care homes are recognising the value of buying whole carcasses for their kitchens. Now, Jon is introducing a new way of buying meat that he calls ‘community meat’ – where individuals can get together and buy a whole prepared carcass and share it between them. It means the price per joint compares with that of a supermarket.

For a whole lamb, prices range from £70 to £120. For a pig, between £225 and £300. And these are not your ordinary joints: you can pick from pigs with names like Saddleback, Gloucester Old Spot and Oxford Sandy and Black, or sheep breeds such as Jacob, Soay, Dorset Down and Wiltshire Horn.

“We aren’t interested in making lots of profits,” says Jon. “We have charitable status, and we want to build up the community side of it – with schools and scout groups coming in to see us and many of our activities are free of charge. Any profits from the meat will go back into running the farm.”

Jon says his method of farming is the hardest way to do it. His rare breeds are often smaller than the more common ones, and ordinary butchers judge an order by weight, where he emphasises taste.

“Farmers often want to sell in bulk,” he says. “That’s not what we do. We aim for flavour and not size.”

I had to ask – what about our separation from the EU – how are farmers going to cope?

“If farming is going to flourish in the US we need the backing of retailers to buy British,” he says. Indeed, some supermarkets, like Morrisons and the Co-op, are already pledging to only sell British fresh meat. Lidl also stocks a good range of British meat.

“It’s the way it needs to go, unless we get a good trade deal with the EU,” says Jon.

We had to jump in Jon’s 4×4 to get round the animals, such is the extent of their land. And just as I leave, a final treat for the eyes hovering directly overhead – a peregrine falcon.

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