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.

Tamworth piglets head off to good homes

Over the course of the last few weeks most of the piglets from the current litters have all headed off to their new homes. We are keeping a few from each litter to raise for meat ourselves but it’s always nice to see the others head off in many different directions

From Elsie’s litter of 9 piglets we had 2 gilts that headed off to Middleham in Yorkshire and 2 boars travelled a much shorter distance, maybe a 5 minute drive across to the other side of the East Allen Valley. That same litter also yielded a couple of good gilts that were pedigree registered to continue the Jacqueline blood line. One of these we sold on to another Tamworth breeder in the Scottish Borders but we’ve kept the other one for ourselves and named her Beryl.

The rest of that litter will be meat pigs for our pork boxes in due course and should be heading off to the butcher later this summer. More news on that as we get closer to the time.

Doris and her litter

With Esther having a litter of 3 and Doris having a litter of 5 within a similar period, it made sense to combine them as they grew to weaning age. The 2 boars from Esther’s litter eventually headed off to Appleby in Cumbria and the 3 boars from Doris’s litter were selected to keep as our own meat pigs.

One gilt from Doris’s litter also headed up to the Scottish Borders with the gilt from Elsie’s litter which left just 2 gilts (1 from Doris and 1 from Esther). These 2 headed off to a new home just a little way west from us to Greenhead at the far western edge of Northumberland

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

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

First litter for Fifi – from start to finish

Very reasonably in my opinion, Fifi farrowed during the afternoon on Sunday 8 March which definitely beats sitting up all night for a 4am farrowing as we’ve had quite often in the past.

She produced 9 lovely Tamworth x Berkshire piglets (8 boars and a single gilt) with very little trouble. From that point right through until weaning just over a week ago now, she has been an excellent mother with apparently endless patience and plenty of milk.

Her litter really thrived with her and enjoyed their time out in the woods until eventually at about 7 weeks old it was time for weaning.

Fifi and litter exploring in the sunshine

Since then Fifi has happily settled back into a slower pace of life in a shared pen with Sissy in a fresh part of the woods.

Once they had been weaned, her litter were sold on to new homes and they even behaved impeccably when loading them into the trailer for delivery. This makes them probably the most successful litter we’ve ever had.

All grown up and leaving home

As is usual with pigs, once the mother is weaned you can be sure that she will come into season again within about a week. With this in mind, I decided that it was worth repeating the Tamworth/Berkshire cross-breed with Fifi again almost immediately.

Who’s the daddy? Barlings Lassetter 1899 apparently

Now there’s just the small matter of waiting 3 weeks to confirm that Fifi is definitely in-pig and if she doesn’t come into season then that’s another success for my pig AI skills! I could use an AI success again given that my last attempt with Sissy has apparently failed.

Once it’s been confirmed that Fifi is in-pig then it’s another 3 months or so before she farrows again which should be around the end of August.

Given the fact that we sold out of our latest batch of pork boxes in a single weekend, I have a feeling it may have been better to keep a few from her litter. On the other hand, it will be good to have reduced numbers for the next few months. With outdoor reared pigs it’s essential to rest the land used from time to time to avoid any build up of pests and diseases.

Most of the empty pig pens have now been reseeded with a specific seed mix for pigs. This is a grass based mix which also has things like kale and turnips added which is great for foraging pigs! It will be really interesting to see how well that does in the future.

All stages of pig breeding in one weekend

The past weekend has been a major entry on my calendar for some time because a number of fairly big events were scheduled.

However looking back on it all now, I realise I hadn’t fully appreciated that nearly all stages of pig breeding were involved – artificial insemination on Sissy plus a new litter for Fifi and also 3 meat pigs heading off to the butchers.

Fifi farrows for the first time

Fifi had all week to settle down in the farrowing shed and was getting closer to farrowing so we started final preparations on Sunday morning. This just means gathering the various things we might need at short notice once it all starts. If there are problems then we don’t want to waste time hunting for something crucial that might save a life.

By lunchtime things were clearly moving fast and over the course of the next 2 hours she rapidly farrowed 9 piglets with remarkably little trouble given this was her first litter.

They’re now almost 2 days old and all are still doing well. Almost up to the psychological (and non-scientific) 3 day point when I can start to believe they’ll all survive.

The most important first hurdles have been passed though – getting milk from their mother, finding the heat lamp and getting plenty of sleep!

Sissy AI

After the rather worrying time during the last farrowing for Sissy we’ve decided to try getting her back in-pig as soon as possible.

Another AI for Sissy

Once separated from a litter at weaning, a sow will come into season again within a week.

As usual, this meant careful planning to make sure I could be around to do this, ideally at a weekend. Also it meant timing the order for supplies so they arrive at the right point – it only lasts for about 5 days

In the end it all seemed to go well with the 3 AI attempts spread out over Friday and Saturday. As often happens, at least one attempt was a bit of a disaster but the other 2 appeared to be fine.

We’ll know for certain in about 3 weeks if we don’t see Sissy coming back into season – another future entry in my calendar!

Meat pigs to the butchers

To round off the weekend, there was a trip to the abattoir on Monday to take the first 3 meat pigs. This is never a great day but we always keep things as calm as possible for the pigs.

Having been born and raised here on our smallholding, they travel less than 30 miles in the trailer which all helps.

Considering the nationwide problems with smaller abattoirs closing due to the costs of regulations these days, we’re quite lucky to have something within a decent distance.

Locked and loaded for the trip

The pork from this batch has already been sold out in advance via social to a combination of our loyal regular customers and a few new ones as well.

Once we get the meat back next weekend, we’ll know for certain whether there is any left available or, in the worst case, if we’ve over sold it ahead of time.

There will be another batch of 3 meat pigs heading off in about 6-8 weeks time so anyone who missed out this time won’t have long to wait. We’re also hoping to get a little more bacon from the next batch – we don’t often have bacon made because the pigs needs to be kept quite a bit longer but it’s nice to have it every once in a while.

As well as being some of the finest pork available (according to me at least!), the pork sales help cover the costs of keeping all the pigs on our holding so we’re always very grateful for that.

And off we go again

This weekend was weaning time for Sissy and her small litter of 2 piglets so the farrowing shed became the piglet shed just for one night. In the morning Sissy moved back to the woods for some peace and quiet while the piglets enjoyed a hearty breakfast without having to share it with mum

Tamworth piglets at 2 months old
Tamworth piglets at 2 months old

They’re off to their new home now (at Wilde Farm if you’re interested) and it’ll soon be time for us to see whether Sissy comes back into season as expected or not.

Although it can seem a little soon, the fact is that a sow will come into season around 5-7 days after her litter have been removed. It’s not an exact science so we’ll need to keep a close eye on her over the next week or so just to check

The current plan is to try the AI again with Sissy when she comes into season so that she has another litter during this year.

In the meantime, the shed has now returned to more normal use with Fifi moving in this evening in preparation for farrowing in about a weeks time.

Fifi enjoying her supper in the shed
Fifi enjoying her supper in the shed

Since the only Tamworth boar available as AI at the time was actually her father, this litter is an experiment with crossing 2 rare breeds – something we’ve not done before.

The AI used was from a Berkshire boar so I’m really curious to see what the piglets look like when they’re born.

I can still remember doing the AI with Fifi and, if I’m honest, it really didn’t go very well so I’m pleasantly surprised that she’s in-pig at all. That may mean a relatively small litter in the end but it’s impossible to tell at this stage.

Watch this space for further piglet developments in about 7-10 days!