My family have been commoners for generations now, turning cattle, pigs, ponies and sheep out onto the Forest.
During the 1980’s pig prices, fluctuated wildly and still do to a certain extent, cheaper imports flood our market and the price can crash overnight. Keeping pigs wasn’t profitable then, so a very small number of pigs where turned out at this time, if at all.
Commoners, and a few locals, eat this amazing Pannage Pork and the taste of this unique food was almost kept a secret in the Forest community.
The public are becoming ever more aware of good quality, regional foods. This has increased demand and subsequently more pigs are starting to be turned out each year. We are increasing our numbers to try and meet this demand.
We sell our Pannage Pork through small local butchers, even crossing the border into Wimborne, Dorset
In our area of the Forest, Bramshaw Commons, about 60 pigs were released last year. Sows and piglets are turned out but generally, they are what’s termed, weaners or middleweight stores. These hoover up the acorns and pile on the weight ready to become delicious pork by Christmas.
Each pig turned out has to be to "ringed", rings are put into the pig's noses to prevent what is called, "hooking", a term given to how pigs turn over the turf looking for roots etc. The Forest would be a complete mess in a short time if this was not done. The pigs quickly get used to the rings and it doesn’t impede or hurt them whilst they forage for acorns or beech mast.
The pigs generally stay local to where they are turned out providing there is a good supply of acorns, obviously the pigs preferring the wooded areas.
Normally a rattle of a bucket full of feed is enough to have them trotting home with you once the Pannage season is over.
Commoners do help each other when an odd stray pig wanders in with your own.
The Pannage season is a tradition going back centuries but it was done then for a reason that is as equally important now. The acorns are deadly to ponies and cattle, unfortunately, they like to eat them but their digestive systems can't cope and they die.
The pigs have no such worries, gorging themselves on as many acorns as they can, subsequently clearing up this deadly crop, making it safer for other stock to graze the Forest in the autumn.
The spin-off is an absolutely first-class Sunday roast, but it does sell quickly!