Another low point

After disappointing results with the litters from Dora in January and Beryl in February, I was keeping my fingers crossed for Betty with our final litter of Spring 2024

Initially everything seemed to be positive and I was able to monitor Betty via our camera so that I could leap into action when she started to farrow.

Betty on Pig Cam 2024
Betty on Pig Cam 2024

It was fairly clear that she was building up to something and she eventually started to farrow around 3am on Mon 25 March. We don’t get too many farrowings that happen at a reasonable hour but I’m used to the situation now

Over the course of the next few hours Betty delivered a litter of 8 piglets – 4 boars and 4 gilts. The heat lamp did it’s job with keeping the new born piglets warm for the first period and I restrict them to that area initially.

Once they’d all perked up and dried off plus Betty had finished moving around so much while farrowing then I was able to encourage the litter to suckle.

Some were a smaller than others but that’s not too unusual. All seemed well and I was able to leave them at that point so I could get on with my day job

However over the following week a combination of problems meant that we lost nearly all of this litter. Partly due to Betty lying on a few (perhaps they were not nimble enough) and also it soon became clear that Betty didn’t have a lot of milk.

Sadly she now has just a single piglet with her but hopefully her limited amount of milk will all be taken by this little one.

Just in case the milk from Betty isn’t enough or gets any worse, I am also bottle feeding this remaining piglet at intervals through the day. I will eventually try to get it drinking from a tray or bowl but the first priority is to make sure it gets some nutrition

Definitely not the outcome I’d hoped for or expected but all eventualities are possible and it’s a timely reminder that sometimes we don’t get what we wanted despite all our efforts!

Preparing the raised veg beds

As always, the arrival of spring here in the North Pennines is a little later than the areas further south of us. Of course, that also means we’re slightly ahead of those areas that are even further north of us but it’s hard to imagine an even shorter growing season than we get here.

The area that I set aside for raised veg beds back in 2014 has had a chequered time over the years with a constant running battle with our local rabbit population.

At the last count, I now have 3 layers of protection ranging from some old wire garden fencing with some added chicken wire and finally some leftover weld mesh from when we assembled our chicken run.

Raised veg beds in fenced enclosure
Raised Beds 2024

I don’t want to get ahead of myself just yet but I think I may just have got those pesky rabbits beaten at last

Although we have 4 compost bins and they are pretty much ready to be spread, there just wouldn’t have been enough to top up all the raised beds. That meant it was time to turn to the local compost supplier for a delivery.

a delivery of 3 dumpy bags of compost
Compost delivery 2024

Within a few days the 3 bags were quickly reduced to just one full bag and a bit left in another. That was all the raised veg beds topped up plus half a dozen potato sacks part filled with compost too.

Any remaining compost left now will be used to fill gaps as the growing season progresses and also it will help to earth up the potato crop later this year

Beryl and her little litter

This time around we moved Beryl into the farrowing shed a few days ahead of the expected date but as it turned out she didn’t want to wait that long. More likely my calendar calculations could have been better I guess

Either way I didn’t check on her overnight into Friday because I expected another days wait but as it turned out she had a large litter and she lost most of them. When I checked her first thing in the morning she just had 2 live piglets and one of those wasn’t looking too good

The weakest piglet was immediately placed in a box of straw with a hot water bottle to raise the body temperature. The heat lamp hadn’t been on overnight so we needed to do something while that could warm things up

Luckily the warmth made all the difference and within an hour or so I was able to put the piglet back under the heat lamp with the stronger one. A nervous few hours later it was clear that both piglets were doing okay so I could breathe a small sigh of relief.

Two piglets suckling
Two piglets suckling

As with previous litters, we’ve found that Beryl is a really good mother and also (happily for me) very clean while she’s confined in the shed with little ones.

This saves on the workload when cleaning out the shed because we can let her out of the farrowing area to do her toilet, eat her breakfast and stretch her legs.

Sadly not all pigs are like this and some seem to take great delight in peeing on their beds, often quite soon after the straw has been replaced!


A first litter for Dora

As with previous first time mothers I’ve had, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Dora moved into the farrowing shed ready for her time.

She’s a very friendly pig and easy to move as she happily follows a bucket full of feed. However maybe she wouldn’t like being confined in the shed even though that meant being out of the winter weather.

A small litter of 2 for Dora
A small litter of 2 for Dora

In the end she delivered a small litter of which only 2 survived – a boar and a gilt – but she showed excellent mothering instincts. The piglets did well right from the start which can be a concern in case a first time mother doesn’t have strong instincts when presented with little ones


Facing the reality of taking on too much

We really enjoy keeping the pygmy goats and learning about their care. One of our original goals was to experience goat keeping in a manageable way and, given their size, this approach has been ideal for us.

Goats aren’t particularly difficult to keep but they do have distinctly different requirements from our pigs. We’d previously not had any livestock that needed such regularly care – for example, hoof trimming every 5-6 weeks!

However, more recently it became clear that there just wasn’t enough time for everything we’ve taken on. This was particularly troubling when considering the different breeding animals that would be needing proper attention and I wasn’t happy that we could do everything to a good enough level

pygmy goats happy to take food when offered
pygmy goats happy to take food when offered

When considering that we would have had pigs farrowing at around the same time as our first experiences with goat kidding, I just wasn’t comfortable that I could devote enough time and attention to everything

Sadly the decision has been taken that the pygmy goats have to go but, as luck would have it, the breeder who supplied them was happy to take them back so they could continue specific bloodlines.

Pygmy goats waiting to be collected by their new owners
Waiting to be collected by their new owners

A grand day out at the Wolsingham Show 2023

This was our first time taking pigs to the Wolsingham Show but I’d heard good things about it and wanted to make sure that the Tamworth breed was represented at the show.

We’d only ever been to one day shows before and this was a 2 day show over a weekend so I wasn’t sure how the pigs (or myself) would cope. As it turned out I needn’t have worried because we all coped very well

Allendale Tamworths setup and ready
Allendale Tamworths setup and ready

Thankfully the weekend did not involve any showing or judging of the pigs so there was a lot less to worry about than our trips to the Northumberland show.

Betty and Wilma meeting the public
Betty and Wilma meeting the public

More rosettes at Northumberland County Show 2023

This time around we took Elsie as the most senior sow, Beryl who is Elsie’s daughter and also our most recent addition Dora that we kept on from Doris’s litter last year

Settling in before the judging
Settling in before the judging

They all behaved impeccably although Elsie did get very grubby because she enjoyed digging up the fresh grass in her show pen. She still got a second place rosette for her class though!

As usual, it was an excellent day out for all concerned plus a great way for the public to meet our Tamworth pigs and find out more about them

Rosettes for each pig
Rosettes for each pig

So many piglets around the holding

We had planned to have four litters of piglets from November onwards but when they actually arrive it can be a little overwhelming with the numbers of animals.

Tina was the first to farrow on 6 November with a litter of 7 piglets – 5 boys and 2 girls. This was her first litter but she handled everything really well. She is from the Maple female line and is a descendant of Esther, one of our original 2 breeding sows.

Doris (a Princess sow) was not far behind Tina and farrowed on 8 November piglets – 7 girls and 2 boys. This was the first time that we’d had 2 litters within a couple of days of each other so some special arrangements were needed. This meant that what used to be our wood shed had to be turned into an additional pig farrowing shelter but in the end all our efforts were worth it.

Doris and litter in the woods

In the run up to Christmas it was the turn of Elsie (a Jacqueline sow) with her second litter and on 21 December she duly delivered a litter of 7 piglets – 5 boys and 2 girls. After about 10 days in the farrowing shed, she and her litter were moved out to a woodland pen which our pigs always prefer to the shed.

A little over 2 weeks later, Beryl farrowed on 6 January with a nice litter of 7 piglets again – 4 girls and 3 boys. Yet again our farrowing shed setup worked really well and the piglets soon got the hang of the heat lamp area

Beryl in the farrowing shed feeding her first litter

Eventually 6 boars from Tina and Doris’s litters were sold on as weaners to someone locally. They’re now living the high life and rooting up the ground at their new home further down our valley near Allenheads

We have plans to keep one of the girls from Doris’s litter because we have now sold Doris to another breeder. By keeping one of her litter we can continue to breed that female line – Princess – in the future. Most of the other piglets from these litters will be kept here and raised for meat in due course.

Some have a special role to play and will be going to out on loan a temporary new home for a few weeks. However that may change depending on circumstances so I’ll share more on that at a later date.

Taking the rough with the smooth

Sometimes events can hit you without warning and no matter how prepared you think you are, there’s always something that can catch you out.

We had 3 lovely Dexter calves born this summer – first to arrive was Ursula on 21st May and her mother, Nellie, has regularly given us lovely calves. This was followed by Hattie giving birth to a bull calf we called Jay on 2nd June and finally Daisy delivered another bull calf, Joe, on 15th June

Hattie with Jay

However on 25 July, a few days after an extremely hot spell of weather, we found that Ursula had died without any prior indication of problems. She was just found lying dead in the field and her mother (Nellie) was obviously upset. In all our time here, this was the first unexpected death for any of our livestock so it was a traumatic time for all concerned.

While checking the cattle first thing the next morning, I noticed that Jay was looking out of sorts so the emergency vet was called out, They came promptly and after a quick post mortem on Ursula, decided this was a stress related condition often called Shipping Fever. They gave Jay an antibiotic injection to try to deal with this and we left him alone to rest for a few hours.

Sadly he was also found dead later that day so my concerns immediately turned to Joe, the last remaining calf born that summer. He appeared to be fine but I obviously couldn’t trust that given the recent experiences.

A nervous few days followed until it became clear that he was managing just fine so we could relax a little bit. That was easier said than done though and we’ve continued to watch him much more closely since then.

We’d never had any problems like this in 7 years of breeding Dexter cattle and hopefully we won’t see anything similar again