Pig Farmer

Indomitable Tracy Mackness started “farm to fork” The Giggly Pig  Company four years ago. She rears her pigs on leased acres in Essex and hand produces their bacon, sausages and meat, selling most of it herself through farmers’ markets and hog roasts. She lives on-site in a mobile home with her boyfriend and three Jack Russels


Tracy is the sort of woman who throws herself at life, she is warm and tough.   She is endearingly upfront about the mess she has made of things in the past

“I am no angel, I always liked money,  I got champagne tastes on a lemonade income. My dad was in fruit and veg, we had a farm and horses , my brother and I didn’t have much education but we worked for him and I aways had what I wanted. Then when I was 14 he went to prison and my mum left him, he met another woman and sold everything. I am not the type who can work for someone else, so I had no job, loads of failed relationships, divorced twice and had mental breakdowns and made two suicide attempts I ended up in prison.”

Tracy spent three months on remand in High Point. She didn’t expect to go to prison but her fellow accused  arranged it so that she took the brunt so she went down for ten years for conspiracy to handle cannabis with a street value of £4 million pounds. Her boyfriend left her, she suffered huge weight loss and mental illness. “I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up” Miraculously prison was good for Tracy, she was a trusted prisoner  and picked up on her missing education, doing 52 courses. After three and a half years she was moved to an open prison and got involved in the prison pig farm and learnt everything she could about the business  which sold its sausages in the local market. That was the model for The  Giggly Pig Company.

"Failure is the Mulch of Success"

The quote is from the founder of  The Big Issue John Bird and for Tracy that was how it worked. Prison gave her the chance to start again, it literally taught her the skills she needed for a new life. In fact it did it twice, originally she qualified as a gym instructor, then fell for the pigs and the idea of her own pig farm. It gave her training and hands on experience, she provided the hardiness and determination.

When she came out in 2007 she was lent an acre of land; bought 30 saddleback pigs which she had bred in the prison farm and rented space in the local butcher’s shop.

In the same year she won The Barclays Trading Places Award which gave her £5000 in cash and another £2000 of  Thomson Directories advertising. It also attracted some pretty naf headlines like “Pig Woman of Alcatraz” from The Sun and “Prison Saved My Bacon” from The Meat Trade Journal.

Everybody likes a Rags to Riches story, so Tracy’s past worked for her and her what -you- see- is- what -you- get quality works brilliantly as a sales pitch. It might be a problem if she was selling diamond necklaces but for sausages at the farmers’ market, its magic dust.

Harsh Reality

“People imagine I’m some Pig Baron but I live on the farm in a rabbit hutch of a mobile home. I need to be on site because  there are dramas everyday. If I want a bath I have to go round to my mum’s, it takes real bravery in the cold to take a shower, sometimes you can’t even do that ,as the cess pit is full. Even if I cook a roast dinner it takes twice as long on the caravan cooker.

I spend my whole life being cold, we spent £100 a week on bottled gas this winter and we were still cold. I’ve done a day’s work before I even get to work and every thing is cold: cold farm: cold van: cold market  then when we get back we have to unload the vans and feed the pigs. On market days we start at 4am and finish at 10pm. Some days I could cry I am so tired”


On the face of it Tracy has done extraordinarily well. She has constantly expanded. She now has her own leased land, 600 pigs in good newly built accommodation. She has a fleet of vans and does about twenty farmer’s markets a week and now leases the entire butcher’s shop in Romford.  She has  twelve staff  and all that was achieved in the space of four years.

She expanded to make the figures work . For example she found she had to sell hot food at the farmers’ markets alongside the packed meat so that she took enough to cover the costs, but that means she needs two staff, one to handle the cooked and one to handle the raw meat.

Then she needs vans to get the produce and staff to the markets which are not close enough together to make drop offs workable so she has a monthly £800 van insurance bill  and tries to kill two vans and replace them with newer ones each year.

Then, this year, the outdoor pens were so wet that she needed extra shedding, she built to last and that was £15,000 out of the kitty.

Feed costs have rocketed, so in order to get the cost down she invested in  a feed silo so she could buy it unbagged at a better rate.

The Dangers of Problem Solving

Tracy is a problem solver and she is monkey baring her way to a better business. She sees the problem, she pushes to the solution. But the solution always takes time and money.

When I visited her, her boyfriend was off to Warwickshire to pick up a strong box that Tracy had bought on Ebay. The strong box was needed because fire extinguishers, sat navs and safety logs were going awol and Tracy saw that if she numbered them and formally issued them and took them back in after events she could sort the problem. Makes perfect sense, but it was a worker off the farm for most of the day and more money outlaid albeit at a better cost than buying new.

What ever the problem she unstoppably drives to the solution. She spends her days firefighting  the problems. She is not choosing her battles she just fights what comes up, effectively and with loads of common sense and ingenuity.

She even takes on her workers’ problems. She can see them going wrong and can’t stop herself getting them sorted, on the basis that if you have a personal crisis it stops you from working effectively. But this is energy and time she can ill afford but she can’t stop herself. She has had rough times herself, sees she can help, so does.

The trouble is that this spirit of attack means you are always reacting, rather than being proactive. The money comes in and has to rush out on the next problem. There is not enough  stopping and looking round and saying this is my priority. Choosing your battles,  and making some things wait even though the solution is sitting there in your mind.

Risking Your Main Asset

While Tracy goes full tilt she misses the blindingly obvious. The business has one key asset which she is shamelessly abusing . It is an asset which, if it cracks, could effectively kill the business and that’s herself.

She is living in punishing conditions not helped by the activities of her beloved Jack Russells , Sausage, Mash and Gravy who have a fantastic time whopping it up in the open plan mobile home.  She is working every hour of the day mostly in  the cold and wet. When I met her she told me they had just endured the worst five weeks so far , cold wet weekends so takings down, with a £1000 bill for the re-modeling of her website and the taxman wanting his £3200 not to mention the money for the strong box.

She had a catalogue of mobile homes, there was one circled that she really wanted, but pushed it away as not to do now. I think I managed to persuade her that it was a crucial investment that she could not put off. She promised she would drive down and see it with her partner. I  hope she does. I can only show you a picture taken when we talked about it. Look at her face, she is beginning to believe that her life is going to be better

It is a really crucial bit of the jigsaw if you are going to succeed in a handmade business, you have to look after its main asset. It’s too easy to sacrifice all to its success and knock yourself on the head, so there is no longer a business.

Look up at the Horizon

There are goals and there are dreams Tracey has dreams of a villa in Spain, of being able to travel, with her brother running the business day-to-day. Her instinct is to always “keep it close, I don’t trust many people”

Her goals are rather more changeable, she thinks she sees an opportunity and charges for it and sometimes finds its not going to work that way, and brings in new directions.

She is not a toe in the water woman, more of a tombstoner.  She races ahead with infectious energy, the overall direction is very positive, she has achieved an enormous amount in four short un capitalised years, but she needs to slow as her business grows, as there is more at stake.

Fairy Tale Pigs

Squeaky Clean

Faintly Amused Duo

How Could You?

The Giggly Pigs are very well looked after, they are well fed on the best food and treats and have fresh dry straw at night,  space and company and don’t want for anything – but when they are a year old they are for the chop. If you leave it any later the testerone  changes the taste of the pork.

That has to be the hard bit. So exactly three months three weeks and three days in the sow and out they pop. One year’s life and then its sausages.

“The first time, I went to the abattoir with them, it was so quick, so humane, they really didn’t know about it.  Its only three miles down the road and the movement settles them.

In the last two years since my miscarriage I don’t load them up, as I feel differently about it. But the difficult ones I simply can’t wait to get rid of, you need real man force to get them  on the trailer”

Hard Graft

Monday to Wednesday Tracy works 8am to 8pm, on market days Thursday to Sunday she works 4am to 10pm.

— Works  108 hours a week — Pays herself £400 a week—

 Giggly Pig website

Dress designer

Dress designer Tessa is  just into her fifties and lives in a pretty terraced house in a Camberwell backwater with her daughter and partner.


“No one tells me what to wear!”

Tessa  built up her huge know-how from her mother who was a fashion student in the fifties at the Royal College.

She used to make my clothes,  I didn’t want her to dress me so I learnt how to make things for myself.  My mother is very confident about tacking any practical task. I remember her deciding to drop down the kitchen floor with a  Kanga hammer then barrowing  the clay down the garden to make a pool. I still call her if I have a technical problem .

Tessa did an anthropology degree at UCL and worked on various vintage stalls on the Portobello market then in her final university year a friend asked her to make her wedding dress and  she took her own stall on the market.

I was youthful, optimistic and energetic. I had to sell a lot to make it worthwhile and because it was the market, it had to be cheap. Then I shared a huge studio in Swiss Cottage with Jenny who was a Goldsmiths textile graduate. I was enthralled with her work, it  was far more consciously arty than mine, I was far more bish, bosh, bash it out. We had contrasting interests and we learnt  a lot from each other.

Rolling in Cash

We took a stall in Camden Market in the early eighties and designed a pair of share cropper jeans – they were huge and belted in at the waist, black with white stitching. We called them Dog on the Rocks, asked £30  pair and they really sold.

We had 200 pairs made up by a factory near  Brick Lane run by a Moroccan guy. But later we found he had cheated us; he told us it took 2.5m of material to make them up and actually it was 1.3m and he would make up the extras to our pattern and sell them himself.

In London fashion week the Japanese buyers came down to see us and placed big orders , so we got an Iraqi man to handle the production for us and paid him £1 a pair. The Americans bought and the Germans and we had people working for us on our Camden Market and Petticoat Lane stalls.

It lasted about five years and there are photos of us rolling in the cash takings from the stalls. I loved the moment of making money but Jenny didn’t like the sharp end of the rag trade,  I bought her out and I ran it into the ground. It was a one trick pony, other people copied the jeans and we didn’t have a way to defend it.  We didn’t really know what we were doing but success was a real laugh.

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Vintage Button Seller


Vintage button seller Dixie is in her fifties and lives in a Georgian Square in London’s Camberwell, she is married with a teenage  daughter.

Ten years ago I was ready for a change from journalism

I used to write features about  houses. Much of it I enjoyed.  I was working for myself which suited me, but after ten years  I was in danger of re-treading known turf and wanted to do something new.

I changed direction overnight with absolutely no planning

In fact the decision took me by surprise. Years before I had inherited a vast quantity of handmade vintage glass buttons. It was the stock  left when my father finally closed his button making business. He had handmade each one and even in their day they were exceptional and were used by the top London couture houses such as Hartnell, Amies, Cavanagh, Paterson, and Mattli.

The buttons  followed me round – a decade in the cellar of a Lincolnshire  rectory  and another in a Surrey stable, I couldn’t throw them away but nor did I open the rotting boxes. Now I needed a business it was obvious that these could be it.

The problem was there were very few quantities of the same button and I couldn’t replenish the stock. But I realised that that’s what made them magical, they could be  like the Nanking Cargo. People would want some because they were unique, their strength was that they were  recognisable, with a romantic story and very finite.

All this activity was pretty much a waste of time.

For the first few years  I thought I should make things with them so I ran though all kinds of cottage industry projects: there were  drawer handles; embellished candles; greeting  cards, display plates, beaded jewellery. I wrote, or got magazine articles written, about them and took a stall on Greenwich market every week.

Essentially the buttons were utterly unique so it was stupid to make them into something with a limited sale price. Also to make anything I had to invest in other materials with money I had not yet earnt. The breakthrough came through editorial in Interiors magazine all sorts of interesting options emerged including Pringle who became a major customer. What people wanted was the buttons as buttons I had been trying to be too clever.

Do what you can’t

As a journalist I had been forced into using computers, technical stuff is not me, but I gradually got edged towards building a website. It was the most difficult and frustrating thing I have ever tried to do, hours of going down into the dark and coming up with a tiny glimmer of advance, it drove me mad; but it also gave me a business.

Now I have a decent enough website nicholsbuttons.co.uk I put five collections of buttons from my stock onto it each year and that generates a steady income.

Do what you hate

To keep the website supplied with visitors and to allow  customers to see  the buttons in the flesh I do a couple of specialist fairs. These I find a complete roller coaster. They don’t seem to obey any logic.  Sometimes you make good money, sometimes you scarcely cover costs. They are completely exhausting. You say the same thing  all day, that with  the early starts, finding the venue and lugging the stuff makes them pretty much  a misery but I fear also a necessity.

Balance Sheet

It has given me freedom.  The buttons are an excellent base, I have learnt not to hurry them, now they will comfortably make their money year after year.  They will also take a little neglect without harm.

I love my absolute control; what I have never settled to is that awful social question “And what do you do?” It takes so much explanation and wreaks of housewife with a hobby, or so it seems to me. Being a journalist carried status, I am not sure this does, but maybe that is still the child in me who was embarrassed by a father who wasn’t a doctor or an accountant.

I also have a sneaking feeling my friends are more grown up than me, they are out there working long hours earning serious amounts of money. I work when I want or need to. I do all the household chores myself, it’s a choice and its a valid one,  but as I get older a tiny bit of me feels marginalised, the rest feels pleased with what I have managed to wrangle


Try, at least to start with, to do everything yourself

Don’t spend money until you are forced to. That means no playing at setting up office or workspace; do that when things are selling and you can’t work at the kitchen table anymore

Talk to the tax office before you start, they will give you sensible guidance about what your tax position will be

Don’t  advertise. You are new so you are a legitimate news story, exploit editorial mentions

Understand your goal. A handmade life doesn’t make you rich, you are doing well if you can make a modest living from it.

Making mistakes really doesn’t matter, what is important is to learn from them quickly.

Don’t under price. There is no sense in selling twice as many at half the price, you are simply working harder for the same money

There is a lot to be said for life in the slow lane

– Works 10 hours a week – Income £9,000 a year –