What do you get when you introduce Rufus the randy boar to a promiscuous pig called Penny? Answer: a happy farmer and a highly successful food supply business. The rest, as they say, is history! Glen King visits Lovaton Farm to meet the owner.
Lovaton Farm is set in 193 acres of rich pasture at South Tawton, near Okehampton in West Devon. When Jane Barber took over the farm from her father in 1999, it was her intention to renovate the farmhouse to start a B&B business. Jane’s first purchase was a Gloucester Old Spot named Penny to clear the paddock of brambles and weeds. However, Penny caught the roving eye of Rufus the boar and in less than 12 months they produced no fewer than 42 piglets. Jane saw the business opportunity and completed an NVQ in butchery, initially carrying out all the processing herself. Since that time, Penny has been kept busy and has produced hundreds of piglets. “We’ve lost count,” reflects Jane. Penny’s last litter of eight were born on 10th November this year. “We are now going to allow her to retire gracefully.”
The farm today is absolutely delightful and the cleared paddock is now a beautiful lawned garden. B&B guests enjoy a hearty breakfast of home produced sausages and bacon, and families are actively encouraged to help out with the animals. Jane’s two children Callum and Ella, aged 9 and 6 respectively, ensure that each of the breeding stock is given a name such as Blackberry the cow, who produced a calf on the day of my visit, and Pickles the piglet (one of Penny’s many, many daughters). Doreen, Penny’s grandchild, is especially popular with children as her favourite pastime is having her tummy tickled.
The visitor’s book is filled with appreciative comments from guests, including one from travel writer David Wickers when he stayed with his young daughter, then aged 8: ‘We have had a smashing time and I am sure we will be back.’ With plenty of open space for children to play in and woods to explore together with a tree house, visitors cannot fail but to have a memorable holiday, whatever the season. Jane is also deservedly proud of her naturally reared quality meats business. Gloucester Old Spots are a traditional rare-breed, known as the original ‘orchard pig’. Allowed to roam freely in paddocks during the summer and transferred to straw bedded sheds in the winter, the result is a succulent, mouth watering pork with ‘proper’ crackling.
The farm’s homebred Dexter cattle are the smallest of the British breeds. “They are really dinky” Jane informs me. They graze throughout the summer months on land which has been registered under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, a system set up to promote wildlife friendly farming. In the winter, homegrown feeds are added to their diet to ensure the beef provides a superior taste. The meat is hung for at least 3 – 4 weeks to enhance its flavour and tenderness.
Jane offered me a large fillet steak to take home which, of course, I accepted with good grace. Well, it would be rude not to. Deciding to keep the dish simple and let the meat ‘speak for itself ’, I cooked it rare. Cutting through it was like slicing through butter, with the meat literally melting on the tongue – the taste absolutely sublime. I noted that it would be a hard act to follow and now think twice before heading for the supermarket meat counter. More and more nowadays, discerning consumers seek to purchase meat which is fully traceable from farm to fork. Lovaton Farm prints full details of its products on every pack, and ordering couldn’t be simpler. Check out local shops in the Okehampton area, collect personally from the farm, or telephone Jane direct and she will arrange delivery. “We even do mail order which is very popular with our London clients” says Jane. “We guarantee next day delivery, so the meat arrives as fresh as when it leaves us.”
So if you are stuffed up to the eyeballs with turkey and are looking for something wonderfully tasty and different this Christmas and New Year, then look no further than Lovaton Farm. You can choose from a range of great products (including stir-fry options) available as joints, chops, bacon, gammon, sausages, burgers and half pig. Lovaton Farm’s lamb is worth seeking out too. It is clover fed and therefore has a unique and distinctive flavour. I can guarantee that a succulent joint, whether it’s lamb, beef or pork, will turn a family get-together into a memorable experience and be talked about long after the Christmas decorations have been taken down.