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Farmers learn how to cut it in butchery

farmers are going back to college to learn traditional butchery skills so they can bypass supermarkets and sell their meat direct to the public.

Duchy College in Cornwall runs short courses in pork, lamb and beef butchery. Most of its students are farmers eager to improve their income by getting carcasses back from the abattoir and doing their own butchering.

The college says the popular courses reflect a growing demand for good quality food in rural areas, as the public increasingly prefers to buy meat direct from the farm gate and at farmers' markets.

"The harder things become in farming, the more people are looking to add value to what they are producing," said Kath Strang, co-ordinator of the courses at the college.

"People are thinking more about what they eat. They are making an effort to find out where food is coming from and thinking more about food miles. So if they can buy it locally, they do."

The butchery training was started by Peter Coombe, who runs a 350-acre farm near Callington in Cornwall.

He began selling his beef and lamb direct to the public when prices plummeted following the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001.

"We were getting just pound;25 for each of our lambs going off the farm," he said. "Then we went into the supermarket to check and they were getting Pounds 100 for this lamb. So we thought, `Right, we'll sell our own.'"

Unable to find anywhere to train in butchery, Mr Coombe set up his own facility on his farm. Today, Duchy College hires it to run subsidised short courses and NVQs.

Last week, the farm ran a pork butchery course followed by a day of sausage making. The hands-on course gets students mixing minced pork with chilled water, breadcrumbs and flavourings before transferring it into a sausage stuffer and filling intestines with the mixture. Butcher Lester Crocker then demonstrates how to tie the resulting chipolatas into a bundle.

"This is a bit like The Generation Game," says one student as she gives it a go.

These short courses have attracted people from as far away as London. Apart from farmers, they range from people running a smallholding as a hobby to those with a general interest in food.

Fionagh Harding started farming after escaping from a career as a fund manager in the City. "Farming is incredibly isolating and unless you make an effort to get out and meet people, you don't know what other people are doing," she said. "I have been farming for a year now and this is how I learned virtually everything by going on courses like this."

Hefin and Nic Llwyd, tenant farmers from Okehampton in Devon, came on the course because they want to start a box home- delivery scheme to sell their own meat. "The course is extremely useful because it's practical," said Mr Llwyd. "There's no point just watching someone else make sausages. You've got to do it hands-on."

Alastair Johnstone, livestock adviser with the National Farmers' Union, said courses such as those at Duchy College are helping to revive declining butchery skills.

"It's a dying art there aren't that many skilled butchers around any more," he said. "There isn't the supply of animals there used to be. They are butchered more on an industrial scale.

"But as consumers become more and more aware of where their products are coming from, and they want to be able to talk to the high street butcher about the animal they are purchasing, so these skills are coming back in."

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