Winner of the small farm category in the RBST Scotland’s Food & Farming Sustainability Awards Bob Pratley moved with his wife Carol
from Cambridgeshire to Tullich Muir near Invergordon 14 years ago. Carol fell in love with a house, they bought it and found
themselves owners of the 15-acre croft that came with it.

Bob says: “We bought the house, I looked at the land and thought ‘gosh, what a big garden’! At first I thought I would just rent
it out but then we realised that we really needed to bring the croft back to life. “There were areas of the land that were covered with gorse and rushes, some of it waterlogged, and I was struggling with how to work it. The croft had previously been grazed so I realised we needed some livestock.

After having a disastrous encounter with sheep – I just couldn’t get onto their wavelength – I was recommended to try pigs and was put in touch with a couple of Oxford Sandy & Black breeders who were giving up to go and be flying doctors in

Initially, Bob took on some OSBs to work on his land clearance and for meat for home consumption. He didn’t know they were a rare breed – in fact, he didn’t really know what a rare breed was. He says: “I started off with weaners and suddenly found myself being very hands on. Unlike the sheep, I just gelled with the pigs; I like their characters and everything about them so started to do some research. I became aware of other breeds and how rare they are, and the more I learned, the more interested I became. I had the land, I had the enthusiasm and so I got more pigs.”

Bob breeds OSBs and Large Blacks and has recently got into British Lops. Learning not just about the rarity of these breeds, but also
the importance of preserving bloodlines, he got in touch with breeders who had breeding stock with good bloodlines, travelling up
and down the UK to get the pigs he wanted. He bought his first Large Black in-pig sow Nonnie and then a boar Billie (or to use what
Bob calls his ‘Kennel Club name’, Valhalla Majestic Eagle) who is now 10. He started his British Lop herd with four sows from the Lulu and Actress lines.

Bob and Carol do meat sales on a small-scale farm gate basis but Bob is more interested in breed conservation. He says: “Primarily our
focus is to increase the breeds and because of their rarity, we feel it is important to uphold breed standards. If we have some that don’t conform, we sell them to other crofters to rear for meat. Those that are good, we register and hopefully they will go on to people who want to breed with them.” Bob is now up to around 30 pigs and as well as helping to maintain the bloodlines, they still fulfil their land-clearance job on the croft. With some wild areas still remaining, they are cycled around the land, so that the ground
remains unpoached.

Bob has been very encouraged recently by approaches from two hospitality businesses, one a five star resort, who were looking to
keep pigs for their own restaurants. He has persuaded them to take on rare breeds and furnished them with weaners and the
arks and equipment necessary. He says: “They will be putting the meat through their restaurants and helping get rare breed pork
out into the market.”

He continues: “Rare breed pork is a premium product and we need customers to understand everything that goes into it – and everything that doesn’t. I firmly believe that people are becoming more and more aware of issues such as welfare and the additives
that go into mass food production, such as antibiotics and growth promoters and we really honestly don’t know the long-term effects these could have on us. We have been very fortunate in only having once had to administer veterinary medication, and that was for the good of the pig, to treat mastitis. Other than that our pigs live a good, natural life. We have one customer who is a vegetarian who picks up meat for his brother. Having seen for himself the way our pigs are kept, he’s told me that while he still doesn’t eat meat himself, he’s happy to come here but wouldn’t buy meat anywhere else.”

Having tackled the pig-keeping learning curve (or ‘plummeted into the abyss’ as Bob puts it), he is now keen to pass on knowledge to other would-be breeders. His own knowledge has developed from connections with established pedigree breeders, and he has found that community extremely helpful and willing to pass on their expertise. Although on hold for the past two years, later this year Bob will be running his pig keeping courses for those new to keeping pigs, but outside of formal courses he operates an
open-book policy.

He says: “If someone wants to buy pigs, I would encourage them to come and see what it’s all about, talk to us and find out everything that is involved, which is incredibly important. Whilst I don’t regard myself as an expert and I am learning every day, I am keen to pass on information and things I have learned. It’s not unusual to have families who are would-be pig keepers trundle up at the weekend, and I know exactly how the conversation will go. Mum will look at the piglets and say ‘not sure I could eat them – maybe as pets?’ and I say ‘hold that thought!’. Then I introduce them to the mums and dads and when they see the size, they realise that we are not talking about pets.”

Before During After

Although Bob describes the pigs as “an 8-day per week job”, they are not his main source of income. He moved to Scotland to work as
a train driver instructor in Inverness, which he still does. He says: “I’ve got a good shift pattern which lets me deal with the pigs –
they aren’t work, they are fun.”

He concludes: “You won’t make a fast buck out of rare breed pigs because they are not a mass production type of animal, but unless
we are very careful we will lose all of our rare breeds and we can’t afford to do that – it would be horrendous.”