Farmer Rob McGregor makes sure his outdoor-bred sows and their piglets enjoy the highest standards of animal welfare

Photography: Jake Eastham/ Martin Poole

"I want our pigs to have had a good life"

“I first got interested in breeding pigs outdoors when I was studying at agricultural college in the mid-1980s,” says farmer Rob McGregor. “It’s a way of rearing pigs where the sows live all of their lives outside and their piglets live with them until they’re weaned. Back then, people said it was just a fad and it wouldn’t last. Well, they’ve been proved wrong.

“The two farms I manage have 1,600 sows, and they live in large grassy paddocks, in groups of 16-20 that are around the same age and at the same stage of pregnancy.

“The pigs have straw-bedded shelters to keep them warm in winter and cool in summer. When it gets hot, we make mud wallows for them, where they can relax and cool down.

“A week before they’re due to give birth, we’ll move the sows into individual farrowing paddocks, where they get a patch of ground on their own, their own feeder and drinkers and a farrowing hut bedded with straw.

“That’s not standard with outdoor-bred pork – often sows are housed in small groups for farrowing – but it’s standard for Waitrose pigs. It means more work for our team, but it’s worth it to give the sows a bit of privacy, which helps them feel secure. It also means we can feed each sow individually and give her exactly what she needs at each stage, which is better for her and the piglets.

“The sows stay in the farrowing paddock for four weeks, but once the piglets get a bit bigger, they’re able to get out and mix with all the other newcomers, forage around and enjoy their environment, and then come back to their mothers to feed and sleep. Once they reach four weeks, it’s time for them to go off to the farms that will look after them for the next stage, where they’ll live in light, airy straw-bedded sheds.

“When they leave, I want to be sure that for the time they’ve been with us, they’ve had a good life – so that’s the focus of our attention – every day.”

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