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.

First time litter for Doris

Each time we have a pig farrowing we prefer to bring her into the farrowing shed near the house so we can more easily monitor them while also providing a comfortable home for the new litter while they get going.

Somehow we managed to miss the pre-farrowing signs with Doris and so she farrowed out in her woodland pen on Sun 27 Feb. Quite a surprise for us but she didn’t seem to be bothered even as a first timer!

At the time she was sharing that pen with a couple of others so we moved her friends out to another pen soon after which meant the new family could have the whole space to themselves.

A slightly smaller litter than average but she had 3 boars and 2 gilts so I was happy enough with that. They had a good start in life and enjoyed the huge wooded space all to themselves

Esther delivers (for the last time?)

Esther was one of our 2 original Tamworth breeding pigs but she is now an older sow who has farrowed a few times before so I wasn’t too worried. However there was a slight concern in my mind because she hadn’t had a litter for some time. To help her relax she was brought into the farrowing shed on Saturday so that she had plenty of time to get properly settled.

As it turned out that was very good timing because she farrowed on Tuesday 22nd. A fairly small litter of just 3 lovely piglets – 2 boars and 1 gilt – but I was happy there were no other complications.

Esthers litter of 3 piglets

We’ve decided that this will be her last litter at the grand age of 7 years old, there’s an ever increasing risk of farrowing problems and reduced litter sizes as the sows get older. As a result we’ve figured she doesn’t need any of that extra worry in her life and of course we don’t want that either!

Elsie has her first litter

After the big arrival of Elsie in September 2021 followed soon after by a visit from a borrowed boar in October, as expected nature handled everything normally and Elsie eventually had her piglets on 22 Jan

As it turned out, I had got a bit ahead of myself by bringing Elsie into the farrowing shed more than a week ahewad of time which meant extra work each day cleaning up after her. Overall though, I’d still rather have had that than work in a last minute panic with piglets arriving when we’re not ready for them.

Elsie about 3 days before farrowing

There was a certain amount of worry and repeated checking on Elsie from my part but you can’t rush these things. It was a particularly great relief to me when Elsie decided to farrow at a reasonable hour (between 6pm and 10pm) and on a Saturday evening as well so it didn’t interfere with my day job!

For a first time mum she did an excellent job and eventually ended up with 9 piglets in total – 4 boars and 5 gilts – with no unexpected complications which is always a great relief for me

new born Tamworth piglets

We all soon settled into a nice routine with the piglets getting milk every 30 minutes or so and me feeding Elsie 3 times a day while cleaning out the shed. It’s always a nice to take some time to watch the piglets but when you see them a lot on a daily basis you don’t always notice that they are getting bigger quite quickly

After 2 weeks in the farrowing shed, the piglets had become more active and were ready for the outside world. By that time, Elsie had also had enough and would prefer to wander about in the fresh air whenever she likes. I was also ready to have a break from cleaning up the farrowing shed so much every day so we all win in the end!

Elsie and piglets in the woods

We can’t keep all of the 9 piglets due to space limitations but we have already found homes for 2 gilts and 2 boars which is a good start. The rest of the litter will be available for sale when they are weaned in about 4 weeks and any that remain unsold will be kept here for finishing later in the year.

If anyone is interested in buying our Tamworth weaners so they can raise their own pigs then just comment on here and I can let you know more information via email

Third litter of piglets for Fifi

I never like the idea of talking about important events before they’ve happened and you’re sure how they will turn out. This definitely applies to our sows when they farrow because there are a multitude of things which could go wrong if you stop to think of the worst.

Although I make sure our sows are handled regularly and familiar with having us close by, once they move into the farrowing shed near the house in preparation for the event I still get concerned that unforeseen problems could come up.

So far I’ve been quite lucky and had mostly problem-free farrowing for all our sows – only rarely does a situation come up which means that the vet needs to be consulted. I like to think that our native rare breed Tamworths are made of strong stuff with a good constitution but I’d still rather be prepared just in case

Is there anything cuter than a pile of piglets?

This latest farrowing for Fifi was one of the smoothest I’ve ever had and, apart from it starting at 2am onwards, it was a real privilege to be there the whole time. It also made a change from the winter farrowings we’ve had because I could happily sit with her in just a t-shirt and jeans instead of the full kit of jumpers, coat, thick socks etc.

By the time the sun was fully up on Weds 14th July, Fifi had delivered 9 live piglets – 5 gilts (girls) and 4 boars (boys) – which is remarkably consistent because her other 2 previous litters were also 9 each time. She did have some piglets that were stillborn this time (despite my best efforts I couldn’t save them) which is tough to take for me but that’s all part of the process and she has enough to keep her fully occupied anyway.

They’ll spend about a week or two in the farrowing shed until they’re strong enough and curious enough to move to our designated piglet pen in the woods. In fact this move will have to wait until I finish preparing that pen but I’ve still got a few days before it’s needed

Right now the farrowing shed is their whole world and that’s more than enough to occupy them as they explore all corners when mum isn’t looking. After some feed which is at least 3 times a day, Fifi does like to go outside for a wander and to make use of the toilet facilities in the woods but I’ll save that treat for the piglets once they’re a little bigger

Preparing for farrowing

I’ve now established a fairly reliable procedure to follow in the run-up to farrowing which seems to work for me and more importantly seems to suit the pigs too!

About 5-7 days before the due date, the expectant mother is moved into the farrowing shed – a fancy sounding name but in reality a stone outbuilding nearer the house which is already setup for piglets and also makes my life easier when checking on them.

There is a small “creep” area in this shed which has been partitioned off using wooden sheep hurdles so that only the piglets can get into it. This area has a heat lamp so they keep warm without huddling around their mother rather than potentially being stood on.

Fifi demonstrating the farrowing shed setup

Experience has shown that after moving in the sow very quickly settles into a new routine in this shed with regular trips out for exercise. It’s not quite the solitary confinement that it may appear at first glance and they do still get access to fresh air and grass. However the primary goal of using the shed is to ensure the lead-up and actual farrowing are as stress-free for the pig (and me!).

This is also a good time to deal with a worming injection so that the protection that gives can be passed onto the unborn piglets. For this purpose, we use Panomec which is an injectable form of Ivermectin administered subcutaneously. We don’t want (or need) to give any unnecessary medication but this is a good way to get a specific job done with the minimum of fuss – provided the sow is busy eating at the time of course!

Another important step in the preparation is getting a “farrowing kit” ready in advance. It’s always a good idea to have everything you might need easily to hand during the farrowing rather than having to rush around looking for things. This includes the obvious things like iodine spray, cloths and a travel mug to keep my tea warm. It also includes other less obvious items such as some gloves, a marker spray (for identification purposes), a hot water bottle and a handy sized carboard box with straw for any piglets that need some warming up – although that’s perhaps more important in winter than for a July farrowing.

This will be the third litter for Fifi so I’d hope she’s getting the hang of it all now and won’t need any help from me. Her previous litters have both been 9 piglets which is a good litter size for Tamworths at least. Hopefully she can keep these numbers up again but I’ll settle for whatever she gives us just so long as mother and offspring are healthy

I’ve recently reviewed the records I’ve kept on previous litters from all our sows and that indicates an average gestation of 113 days. Based on my calculations from the time Fifi was in season when the boar was visiting, I’m getting ready in plenty of time before Monday 12 July!

Our first litter by natural service

After a number of unsuccessful attempts at artificial insemination with the pigs earlier in the year, we decided to try natural service instead and we borrowed a Tamworth boar for a few months.

When he arrived we quickly found that he was very relaxed and easy to work with, so that was one big worry dealt with right at the start. As he is from the Royal Standard male line, we decided to call him Stan during his stay with us.

Stan enjoying his food

Early in September we introduced him to his first lady friend was Fifi and, as the title of this update suggests, Stan must have got to work immediately. As a result, about 15 weeks later we moved Fifi into the shed nearer the house so she’d have a week to adjust ready for farrowing.

Our pigs are mostly outdoors all the time and seem to prefer the freedom that gives them. However, Fifi soon settled into the idea of being housed indoors especially given that the weather was so wet around that time.

From late afternoon Christmas Eve I was fairly sure that something would happen in the next 24 hours if not sooner. With this in mind, I turned on the heat lamp in preparation and settled down with a cup of tea to keep an eye on her.

At about 11:30pm I decided that I should get some sleep for an hour or two but when I checked her again at 1pm she had already safely delivered 9 piglets – 6 girls and 3 boys. This was her second litter and she had the same number as last time which is a good result.

While there were some slight differences in size between the piglets, there were no obviously smaller, runty ones and none were much bigger which might have meant they were able to bully any smaller ones.

A lovely Christmas present

A great result even if it did mean a fair bit of lost sleep for me overnight but luckily Christmas day was a fairly quiet affair and watching the piglets always cheers me up!

A few days later it was time for Stan to head back home, he should have served Esther (in October) and Sissy (in November) as well so he work here has been completed.

Thankfully he was impeccably behaved right up to his departure and loading him into the trailer for the journey back home to Gateshead was a simple process. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t bother to stick his head into the farrowing shed and check on his new offspring or their mother. I suspect his mind is already more focussed on the next lady friend that’s been lined up for him.

Stan loaded and ready for departure