As a first impression of Donna Lucking you are immediately struck by her immense passion and dedication. Her workload, most of which she carries out single-handedly, is quite simply astonishing! Highly skilled, enthusiastic and energetic, Donna works with absolute integrity and total commitment to do the best by the land, her pigs and her customers. On a recent visit to Ellises Farm, Donna shared her farming journey, daily challenges and an insight into her free-range pigs.
Here is Donna’s story …
ABOUT BEING A FARMER
Tell us how your journey started with the farm and what inspired you to become a pig farmer?
I have sort of fallen into being a farmer. I wanted to eat proper food that had not been tampered with and had been reared in a respectful way and it seemed the only way to get it was to grow it yourself. My grandparents had a dairy farm and I spent a lot of time there. Going back 4 generations my great, great, great grandmother was born in my village of Hemyock; they were all farmers. It’s in the blood I think wanting to farm and it has to be; its hard work and I do it for the love of it. Spending time on the farm taught me how to look after animals; you need to have empathy and to understand them.
What’s it like being a woman in the farming world? Do you have a lot of support?
For me being a woman in farming seems normal. We know we are capable. There are lots of women out there that are doing it. It’s not something new. Land Girls in the war and milk maids before them. People do think I’m the farmer’s wife and can’t quite believe I am the farmer! There is a lot of support; everyone is very helpful and offer advice when you need it.
What do you feel has been your biggest personal accomplishment?
Sometimes it’s difficult and I think I must be mad doing this but I stop and look what I have built up and think yeah I’ve done this and I can do it. I think that is my biggest accomplishment starting this from scratch and seeing it grow, to developing a wider product base to include the salamis and charcuterie.
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of shopping locally and supporting your local farmers?
My theory on local food is there should be a small producer like me in every village so everyone can buy locally produced pork reared on a small scale, free-range and full of flavour. That goes for everything, dairy, eggs, cheese and vegetables keeping on the small family farm scale where we know the provenance of our food.
ALL ABOUT THE FARM
Tell us a little bit about Ellises Farm…
There has been a farm at Ellises Farm since 1568 started by a Mr Ellis. Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty on a hill overlooking the village of Hemyock. At one time, it was a lot bigger with the fields across the road as well. But as things go it’s got smaller and smaller and parts sold off. They stopped milking here in the 80’s some of the equipment is still here and part of the cow barn is now the butchery.
Besides pigs, what other animals do you rear?
As well as the pigs we have other rare breeds including traditional Hereford cattle, Dartmoor Greyface sheep and a few hens for our own eggs..
As you look at what you have achieved on the farm and how it’s grown over the last few years, what has been some of the challenges you’ve encountered raising these animals – physical or managerial challenges, time management, space etc.?
There have been ups and downs, some devastating; you have to go with the flow to get the best out of a situation. The foot and mouth outbreak meant that we had a lot more pigs on the farm to feed and rear. It struck the day I had sold a lot of young weaners and they were going to a new home. The disease did not directly affect our farm but the restriction on movement of animals meant we could not sell them so we had to keep, house and feed them. This probably led to me taking on farmers markets to sell the meat and look at me today.
The physical challenges are tough and being a ‘Jack of all trades’ when it comes to running a business, can be daunting, along with the guilt of most mum’s questioning if I am still spending enough time with the children as they get taken on trips to the abattoir and told to stand in gateways as we chase escaped cows!
ABOUT THE PIGS
Why did you choose the Gloucester Old Spot rare breed?
I chose the Gloucester Old Spot breed because I wanted to keep a rare breed and help preserve it. I am a bit of a traditionalist and like the older types and of course they taste outstanding and have a flavour all of their own.
Your pigs are raised free-range. Can you explain what this means?
Free-range means to me the only way pigs should be reared. With access to the outdoors from when they are born and the whole of their life. Whoever thought to keep them all shut away inside anyway? They are healthier and happier outdoors, the dung fertilises the soil and you don’t get the environmental problems as with intensive farming practises. Pigs have a natural instinct and behaviour pattern to root around in the earth for food and nutrients this is what makes the meat taste so good too.
What are some of the things you want people to know about the meat they buy from you? What should we all know about the meat we eat?
My meat is reared for flavour; some consumers seem to forget what good pork should taste like. The breed has been chosen and passion has gone into rearing with respect to do the best for the animals and have on sale the best flavour and quality pork available. We don’t use preservatives, additives or nitrates of any kind. I stand by my slogan “probably the best pork you’ll ever taste”!
What pork products do you make?
Gloucester Old Spot pork, sausages, dry cured bacon and gammon, artisan salamis, chorizo, air-dried hams and cured meats.
Describe some of the ways you sell your products locally…
We sell at local farmers markets and also direct from the farm butchery so customers from the village can walk up and get some pork, beef and lamb from animals grown in the fields that they can see. Regulars know they can help themselves and leave the money on the counter if I am not there. Others have my mobile number to make sure I have what they want when they are passing. I also sell online and offer free local delivery. Sometimes it’s not so local and we send by next day courier to Scotland, London and even Yorkshire. Sometimes you have to go a long way to find specialist products like the nitrate free bacon we cure. There’s not one of me in every village yet….
What is your favourite pork recipe?
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ELLISES FARM