background and history.
When Sue joined husband Charles Bennett at Sandy Lane Farm 18 years ago it was the fulfilment of a dream: ‘I was so excited to be here. I had wanted to be a farmer since I was at school and I have always been an animal lover’. While George Bennett heads up the organic veg side of the business at Sandy Lane Farm it is Charles and Sue who take care of the sheep and pigs and they are, quite simply, Sue’s passion. Her dedication and devotion to these animals is whole-hearted and absolute: ‘You have to build a relationship with the animals, get to know them and they need to get to know you’. This is particularly true of the pigs that Sue keeps at the farm which she cares for with an intuitive sensitivity, taking the time to really understand and connect with them: ‘I love pigs. They are sentient beings and really very, very clever.’
Sandy Lane farm’s 100 hectares in South Oxfordshire has been certified as Organic for nearly 30 years after Charles took over from his godfather in 1985 and felt it was ‘only natural to go organic’. Sue is also a passionate advocate of ethical and sustainable farming methods with strongly held views that started way back in the 1960’s, long before the much of the world realised the importance of the soil beneath our feet. When it comes to animals, Sue is aware that grass fed herbivores are always the healthiest and she points out that the meat from intensively reared animals lacks the balance of Omega fats found in those that are grass fed: ‘We grow some of the best grass in the world in this country and we should really only be eating pasture fed meat’. Certainly the sheep at Sandy Lane make the most of the variety of grasses in the pasture and the organic clover haylage, with a concentrated sheep feed only added to their diet during the 4-6 weeks of lambing in March/April time. Sue’s approach to the sheep, as with the pigs, is calm and empathetic: ‘They are gentle animals and if you handle them gently they don’t run all over the place on adrenaline. When they see an open gate it’s like pouring milk….you just need to give them time to see where you want them to go, a leader appears and the others follow (most of the time!)’
The pigs at Sandy Lane Farm are a mix of Tamworth, Gloucester Old Spot and Oxford Sandy and Black, all different colours, shapes and sizes and Sue knows them so well she could write their family tree (and will, one day!). There are 5 sows in the new generation of pigs at the farm and one pedigree Tamworth boar and they enjoy a finely milled mix of grains in their diet as well as plenty of leftover organic veg from the fields. Sue dismisses the theory that they enjoy wallowing in mud (they prefer rooting around in fields and under trees) and it turns out even pigs can be picky: ‘On the whole they don’t like onions, mushrooms, peppers or citrus. But each pig has their own tastes, likes and dislikes that are individual to them!’ Sue finds so many joys in rearing animals, for instance the first time they go into the field as piglets: ‘they run out of their trailer, take mouthfuls of grass and are nose to the ground, digging. They have about 6 months very happy life here, sometimes longer.’ Spending time with Sue leaves you with the feeling these animals are not just looked after, they are loved. And she sums up our chat with this statement: ‘I strongly believe that meat should be grown in the most natural way possible with the best welfare and, in the end, it shouldn’t be for every day, it should be a treat.’ We couldn’t agree with that more.
There are five sows and one boar at Sandy Lane Farm at the moment. The boar, Bilbo, is a pedigree Tamworth while the old boar, Billy, is currently enjoying his retirement in the field! The sows are a mix of Oxford Sandy and Black, Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot each with their own characters. Each sow has two litters a year in the big straw filled yards and the piglets are weaned at 6-8 weeks (or until the sow has had enough!). The pigs are then transferred to the fields where they are totally free range and are slow grown naturally and with care.
It is mainly Charles who looks after the sheep at Sandy Lane Farm. They currently have around 65 sheep who produce about 130 lambs a year (since they usually come out in pairs!). They are totally free range and predominantly grass fed from the permanent pasture and with a home made organic clover haylage (with additional feed at lambing time in March/April).
You can view this week's boxes by clicking here.