INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
When you get the chance to visit Willibald Farm Distillery & Brewery in Ayr sometime in the near future (because, really, you’ve gotta get there) and you’re sitting on the front patio or at the outdoor Biergarten, you’re likely to see a herd of cattle grazing contentedly in the field that abuts the place. Those Galloway cattle are on the Willibald menu – in the restaurant’s burgers and charcuterie, for example. And if you were able to see just beyond the cattle, did you know that there are pigs enjoying their own day-to-day lives in the forest nearby? They’re the same pigs that are on the menu – in the porchetta and ham sandwiches, for starters. Farm to fork, indeed. But what’s the deal with these animals? A few weeks back, Chris from TOQUE traveled to Ayr so he could chat with Chris Knight, cattle and pig farmer of Ayrsyde Farms, to learn something about where our food comes from. Here’s what Chris (Knight) had to say:
What sorts of animals do you raise at Ayrsyde Farms?
We raise Galloway cattle, as well as a few heritage breed hogs. Galloways are an ancient breed that originates from Scotland, and they’re perfectly suited to be kept outside year-round. They are exclusively grass-fed and, because we intensely rotate their pastures, they always have the best grass.
In your mind, what makes your operation special?
Ayrsyde Farms puts animal welfare first. We’re extremely patient when raising our cattle and pigs: we don’t rush them, but instead let them develop at their own pace.
Would we be familiar with any of your clients?
For sure. We have a wide range of clients – from individuals to local butchers to restaurants and restaurant groups. We supply our next door neighbour, Willibald, with cattle and pigs, for example. And Pearle Group [Bread Bar, Elora Mill, Cambridge Mill, and more] is also a client of ours.
You started with Galloway cattle – why add pigs?
Pigs really started out of curiosity. We thought they’d be fun to raise, so we tried our hand at raising heritage breed hogs. It’s been a meaningful learning experience. You can find our hogs out in our bush – digging and rooting all day.
Who would be a dream client for you?
Our ideal client is someone who understands the benefits of buying meat that’s been raised to produce the healthiest product in the best setting for the animal.
When you’re not busy farming, where do you go for local eats and entertainment?
Truthfully, farming doesn’t really leave a lot of time for playing, but we do enjoy sampling some of the fine products from our neighbours at Willibald and playing golf at Whistlebear.