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

Expanding the breeding herd

When we started on our pig breeding journey, we only had sows from the Maple bloodline. This was mostly because that was what the breeder had at the time and we were just starting out so we needed to find our feet first. This worked well for us but as the original 2 got older we bred a replacement – Fifi – who also had some great litters for us.

Even when we eventually sold Fifi on to someone else, we kept a gilt that we’ve called Tina from her last litter so we could continue to breed with our original Maple bloodline. As that litter was only born in July, for the moment Tina gets to enjoy a quiet life without the attentions of the boar until she’s a bit older.

Early in September we collected an 11 month old Jacqueline gilt from the Yorkshire Dales who we have decided to call Elsie. This was the first new pig we had bought in the 5 years since we started breeding so it seemed quite a big deal to me. However everything went really smoothly and, after a week to settle in, she was introduced to the borrowed boar ready for piglets during January 2022

Then in early October we collected a 9 month old Princess gilt from Gateshead who has been named Doris and, helpfully for ease of identification, she has a shorter tail presumably due to part being lost when she was little. As before, she soon got used to our routines and by late October was introduced to the boar.

I think by this point, the boar couldn’t quite believe his luck with 3 females of various ages to keep him company and almost an acre of woodlands to roam around in. But then it got even better because it was pumpkin season…

Fifi off to a new home

As part of a longer term plan to increase the number of female bloodlines, we sadly had to part with Fifi to make room for new breeding stock. However as it turned out, we were able to find an excellent new home for her and also 2 gilts from her most recent litter.

Thankfully loading on collection day (7 Oct) went without a hitch and without a backward glance she was soon on her way.

Fifi was very well behaved for loading

It was also agreed that Fifi would be in-pig when she left us so the new owners could expect to see piglets early in 2022. This meant she had a few weeks with a borrowed boar before departure and when they first met he certainly seemed to be very pleased to see her…

Fifi and the borrowed boar

It seems that they’ve all settled very well in their new home in Dumfries and Galloway with plenty of woodlands to explore over the coming months judging by the picture below. I’m hoping to hear good news about Fifi’s next litter arriving at some point during early January 2022

2 gilts enjoying their new home

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!

Rain + Pig = mud

On Friday morning we awoke to find a couple of inches of snow had fallen and settled too which was a slight surprise. It wasn’t quite cold enough for it to stay though and it rained occasionally for most of the day so everything turned first to mush then fairly quickly into mud

For most of the livestock this was not a problem, the cows obviously wanted extra hay delivered but that’s not a problem. They are really placid these days and always happy to see me arrive with a fresh bale

Their big moment is coming next weekend when we have our 4 yearly TB test booked with vet visits on Friday and Monday. I suppose there’s always a chance they might have it but we’re in such a low risk area that it’s very unlikely. I’ll still keep fingers crossed though…

We had more pressing activities to handle this weekend. In recent weeks, Esther has been re-enacting some examples of 1914-1918 trench warfare in her pen and the excess of water soon had a predictable result.

Top of the list of jobs for Saturday was to prepare her a new pen and get her moved into something more pleasant. She doesn’t usually have any particularly special requests, just a room with a view and plenty of fresh bedding which I think we managed fairly well

A scenic view across the East Allen valley

Once she made the move into the new pen she seemed happy enough and was soon testing out the house herself!

Esther loves her clean, dry house

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!

A tough couple of weeks

Now that some time has passed since my initial worries for Sissy during the first week or two after farrowing, it seems a good time for me to summarise the events for future reference

Sissy farrowed in the early hours of a Monday but seemed to have a difficult and long-winded farrowing with only 2 live piglets in the end. A couple of days after that she still hadn’t got her old appetite or her personality back so on the Friday we called in the vet in to check her over.

Just not her usual self…

Although there was no specific problem diagnosed and her temperature was roughly normal, the decision was made to give her some medication as a precaution. These I believe were her first ever antibiotics as she’s never had anything before and she also had some hormones to help in case her body wasn’t adjusting properly after farrowing.

I was left with a follow-up injection of antibiotics to be given a couple of days later so that I could be sure she’d received the full course of treatment. We also made the decision to get in some fruit and veg for her in the hope that would stimulate her appetite over time.

Carrots (and apples) work wonders

By the middle of the second week she was clearly making good progress (as were the piglets) and she was often happy to take short trips outside with her tiny companions.

At times during this period I did wonder if she had just been trying it on because she was happy for an apple, carrot or tomato but would then ignore her normal pig feed. Suspicious behaviour but I gave her the benefit of the doubt…

Exploring the outside and clearing the unwanted moss

Last weekend was almost 2 weeks since farrowing and thankfully she is broadly back to normal now. She is a very attentive mother and always watches out for her litter but shows no aggression when we are around so that’s the perfect combination for a small scale pig keeper