The Penrith pig farmer who was also a vegetarian
PUBLISHED: 17:04 12 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:21 20 February 2013
This is a farm where you'll find some exotic creatures – and then there are the animals. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Lydia Burns is as rare as the animals on her farm. She is probably one of few women who as well as being a pig farmer is also vegetarian. It was in her early teens that Lydia gave up meat. But when she met Delia and Primrose everything changed. As the two little Tamworth piglets came trundling along she knew, after encouragement from partner Richard Nettleton, that more than 30 years of meat-free living would come to an end.
Id always wanted to keep pigs, said Lydia. Id kept goats for years but I was no farmer. Richard was, though, and I knew he could help. When we got the pigs he said if we were going to keep them we would need to breed them and if we were going to breed them we were going to sell them. He said he wanted to rear them for pork.
Id been vegetarian for pretty much my whole life. I couldnt think about the pigs being slaughtered. Its been a very steep learning curve and its certainly not been easy. But it was keeping the pigs that made me realise that to retain these old, rare varieties we needed to breed them.
I cant bear the thought of an animal dying and being wasted. I find that traumatic. Richard does laugh at me though because I can just about manage a full bacon sandwich now.
Lydia, who runs New Rent Farm in Hutton-in-the-Forest near Penrith with Richard, has not all of a sudden started eating meat for breakfast, dinner and tea. In fact, the only meat that passes her lips comes from the animals she keeps - it is something she does out of respect for them.
The 45-year-old may also keep her distance from the pigs as they reach maturity but she takes a more hands-on approach than you might expect.
She said: We use a small slaughterhouse in Newby Bridge which is excellent. I always go with the pigs and they are always very content and happy and the process is very quick and humane.
The meat is very tasty too, which probably sounds weird coming from a vegetarian of more than 30 years. Its a very subtle taste, a lot leaner than commercial breeds because they are slow maturing and just fed on grass. They live happy lives at our farm and Im very proud of that.
The couple, who run Brackenfell Rare Breeds, rear several types of unusual farm animals. They have the Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs and sell the meat from the farm as well as at a handful of farmers markets. John Mayhew, owner of The Lartington Estate in the High Pennines, is also currently in talks with them regarding supplying pork to his London restaurant, Rules.
They breed quails to sell fresh and pickled eggs, supply hatching eggs of rare breed hens and they have recently started milking their new Golden Guernsey goats. Lydia is also hoping to start creating knitwear pieces from the high quality wool produced by the Castlemilk Moorit sheep they keep.
Most of their days are spent tending their seven acres, with help from Richards son Joe. They are all dedicated to providing the best conditions for their animals and passionately discourage commercial breeding. They are hoping that their rearing processes are helping to sustain the old, traditional and increasingly rare breeds.
Richard said: If we lose our rare breeds then we lose everything, it is our heritage. Farming is becoming very clinical and animals are bred for certain parts of them. Were hoping that by keeping things small and specialising in unusual breeds that we are helping to regenerate stocks and to sustain them. Its becoming more and more critical to keep the rare breeds going because thats where the strength of our industry lies.
It is hard work running the farm but the animals make it all worth it. They are real characters with their own markings and personalities, just as they should be. We love what we do.