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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 11:37 GMT
As happy as pigs in muck
Tom herding his pig
Tom (right) was previously a PhD psychology student in Cambridge
Last week, the Magazine looked at vegetarians who decide to eat meat again because of ethical farming. In our Reader's Column, former veggie Tom Welch tells why he now farms and eats his "happy" pigs.

I didn't start farming in order to abandon vegetarianism after the best part of 18 years, but now the occasional pork sausage or chop from my own pigs is a happy by-product of a farming adventure begun nine months ago.

Pigs have helped to make our farm viable in the short-term, but why eat them myself?

My reasons for becoming vegetarian were two-fold. Firstly, a hatred of intensive farming practices such as the use of gestation crates - two by 0.5 metre metal cages - used to house individual sows. These were banned in the UK in 1999 but are still widely used in the United States.

Secondly, a strong dislike of the way we no longer connect the roasting joint or pre-packaged, supermarket meats with the animal it came from.

I wanted no part in what I saw as unethical animal rearing or consumption.

When my fellow farmer, Ian Steele, and I first began to consider pig-rearing, we received much advice along the lines of "keep them lying down" and "the only way you'll make money from pigs is to get 300 of the buggers in the shed".

Free-range pigs

I knew that beginning to farm in north Shropshire would present me with a dilemma - would I be happy to eat the pork meat that I would be selling to others for their consumption?

Some sausages are more equal than others

I decided, according to the principles held throughout my vegetarianism, that I could do so, without sleepless nights or fooling myself.

As part of a project in small-scale, sustainable, but ultimately viable, farming, Treflach Farm now has 30 free-range pigs with ample room to roam.

They show their happiness in several ways. Their tails are tightly curled, whereas unhappy pigs have limp, straight ones. They bound up to us as we approach, imploring us to give them a good scratch. They chase each other, and Nelly the sheep-dog. Instead of distressed squeals, they give contented barks and snuffles.

To unfamiliar visitors they show a healthy mistrust and deep curiosity. Our pigs are neither too timid nor too aggressive. In short, they display a full range of normal pig behaviours.

Open plan living

In the spring, summer and early autumn they were orchard-reared and given a covered feeding area and a straw bale sty, of our own design, providing both ventilation and insulation.

Treflach Farm
Pigs in muck at Treflach Farm
When the ground became too boggy, we moved the pigs into a former cattle shed, where a large area of outdoor hard standing and a less boggy paddock are never closed to them.

So proud are we of the conditions in which we rear our pigs that our market stalls are strewn with photos of our "pigs in muck", and we encourage all those who buy our meat to visit the farm to see how they are reared.

These visits, along with the educational facility we are currently planning, are our way of reinstating the link between the animal and the meat that is consumed - a link that reminds us that farm animals are living creatures, not industrial commodities, and should be treated as such.

I eat only my own pigs because I am certain that they are happy and well looked after until the last. I still don't believe that meat should be a major part of my diet, but nor do I believe that to use an animal for food is wrong in itself.

We strive to keep our pigs in circumstances that allow them to live a happy life.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Hallelujah. I am utterly delighted to see someone approaching farming and meat consumption in such a reasonable manner. I have been stunned in the past (as someone who has been a veggie, but now eats a very small amount of the happiest, most locally-reared flesh) to have my peers believe cows are three feet tall, or that chickens naturally live for a year. It's not possible to care about something you are totally detached from, nor do we need huge amounts of force-reared, poor quality meat. Our health, compassion, the costs to the NHS of the problems associated with too fatty a diet, and the cost to planet in terms of the energy required to produce meat all point in the direction of this style of farming.
Pippa Johnson, London

Why has the BBC website printed two recent articles about how it's OK keep other creatures captive for the purpose of killing them and eating their bodies, as long as they live 'happy lives'? Will there be two balancing articles by people who believe that animals are complex, thinking, feeling individuals who are denied choices and fundamental freedoms just to feed the greed of human beings? Or the environmental consequences of consuming animals? Or the conditions in the slaughter houses where all these creatures end their unnaturally short lives?
Kevin Hunter, London

I have often found the concept of vegetarianism (and veganism) to be ironic. How so? A lot of vegetables have been covered with pesticides beforehand to destroy the insects that threaten them. This often results in the killing of wildlife and destroying the environment around the crops. So what's worse? Animals bred for the slaughter being killed quickly but unhappily living for a short time, or animals dying slowly by poison?
Joshua Flynn, Essex

I had some of Tom's Gloucester Old Spot on Friday at a new restaurant in Llangollen. It was superb.
Patrick Stevens, Llangollen

Lovely to see happy pigs. I don't eat meat and I'm happy not to - better for me, better for the environment, and I don't see why something should die just because I feel peckish. However, farming like this is incredibly responsible and heart-warming, and I hope those who do eat meat feel inspired to seek out food that comes from happy, well-kept animals.
Jane, London

Glad to read this. I once worked on a small organic farm where the pig would come out dancing as I approached with a food bucket - side steps, forward, shuffle and turn, leap to the fence and away and back. Some days I danced with her, though I wasn't so graceful in my wellies in the mud. It's pretty obvious if an animal is happy or not. You don't need to see footage of employees playing baseball with live turkeys to know that the animals' lives are hell. No one can kid themselves that factory farming is harmless, or that we can't afford anything better. It's a false economy anyway. What we don't pay over the counter, we pay in the huge cost of diseases - BSE alone cost billions. Organic works out better value for all concerned.
Janet Wright, London

How heartening! I too am a vegetarian and became one for the exact reasons as Tom. I cannot bear the seeming disassociation of the average consumer between supermarket tidily packaged meat and the animal. I have always said that if I could rear my own animals and look after them properly, I would eat the meat from them without hesitation.
Carolyn Morton, Dubai

The fact that they will be killed for their meat is to me, unethical. Whether they are housed in small creates, which are disgusting conditions and inhumane, the fact that their throats will be slit and they will be killed at some point is just as bad - they are denied their right to live and are reared for their flesh - surely there is some hypocrisy here...
Bill, London

It's OK for those people who get in excess of 20,000 to get ethical - but for us MILLIONS who get, say 12,000 a year, we depend on supermarkets to supply us with meat that we can afford to buy. Otherwise, it's back to medieval times, when only the rich could eat meat and the peasants ate only vegetables (and the occasional poached rabbit). Long live the supermarkets, I say!
Peter Keen, Chichester England

My parents have started farming pigs on the Isle of Man, still only on small scale, but they very much believe in compassionate farming. My dad talks to the pigs, strokes them like dogs and I believe they are truly happy. It does make it sadder when they go to slaughter, but at least they are happy during their lifespan.
Lee C, Berks

Tom Welch has clearly never been a true vegetarian. His reasons for being so were out of concern for animal welfare during farming. But the true reason for being vegetarian is that you believe it is morally and logically wrong to kill other creatures in order to eat their flesh when it is possible to live off grains, pulses, fruit, vegetables, and nuts.
Neil, County Antrim

If everyone treated meat as a luxury item to be enjoyed occasionally, say twice a week instead of at every meal, we could produce all Britain's meat humanely. Tom & Ian are to be congratulated on their pig husbandry methods at Treflach Farm.
Helen Davies, Bristol, UK

Vegetarianism is an issue of personal preference and conscience. It's as simple as that - what to one person seems fine is not fine to another - no rights or wrongs. It's only when people try to enforce their opinions on others that problems arise.
Peter Maguire, London

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