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

A slightly unexpected new addition

We had been a house of cats for sometime with 3 of them after moving here and adopting a cat along with the new house. However over recent months the cat numbers had sadly been dwindling and by June this year we were back to having no household pets

While this was obviously quite a sad set of events, it was also nice to have the house free of animals plus their feed and water bowls, cat litter and assorted small mammals that were sometimes brought in.

There had been discussions recently about getting a dog at some point but eventually this was agreed to be something for my retirement when I would (theoretically) have more time. The theory was that there’s barely enough hours in the day for the current day job plus all the smallholding related work.

As it turned out, fate decided something different because we heard from some friends about someone who needed to rehome one of their dogs. We duly considered everything and decided to at least visit to see what the dog was like… On reflection I can see the problem with this because once we’d seen her we couldn’t really NOT take her on!

As a result, we now have Jess who is roughly 4.5 years old and has the sweetest disposition as well as being impeccably trained so she’s fitting in here beautifully. I have even less time now but it’s definitely worth it in the end

Jess, the worlds best dog!

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!

The 8th anniversary and another successful calving

At the end of May 2021 we reached the 8 year anniversary of moving from a previous suburban semi-detached life to our rural 15 acre smallholding in the North Pennines.

On one level we are now so settled here that this is just another anniversary and no big deal really. However when I take the time to consider how far we’ve come, I can fully appreciate the efforts we’ve made along the way, the many new experiences we’ve had in that time and the incredible support from family, friends and neighbours.

Sadly pressures of time with a day job plus the many smallholding tasks and managing our 2 bed holiday let mean that the blog updates are less frequent these days but I will continue to post updates as often as I can in future.

Calving

All 3 of our Dexters calved over an 8 day period in late May with Ruby and Hattie both having red heifer calves then Nellie having a red bull calf. We’ve never had a full set of red calves before and it’s more remarkable when considering that the black gene is more dominant in Dexters. This is best explained in the following extract from a forum post I found:

Red is a recessive – it only shows in animals which have inherited a red gene from each parent – so a red Dexter has two red genes. A black may have two black genes, or it may have one black and one red – the red will not show

http://www.dextercattleforsale.co.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=131

Sadly it turned out that Daisy did not hold any pregancy from the bulls visit but that wasn’t unexpected because it coincided with her damaging her udder and ultimately losing a teat. She’s bounced back well thanks to prompt vet treatment and her calf from last year had been enjoying an extended period of milk production as a result so she should be back to normal for next year.

Sly looking good for his sale photo

We had previously known that all these calves arriving this year would mean too many animals in the herd but that can’t be helped. We hope to be selling Ruby plus her calf we’ve named Raquel along with a beef steer from last year in the next week or two but after that we’ll also have to sell Hattie and her calf that we’ve named Ivy.

Ruby and Raquel

That will leave us with just the 2 original cows – Daisy and Nellie – plus the male calf Nellie had this year and the steer that Daisy had last year. The hope is that this coming period of reduced numbers will help our grazing land recover and with luck should also make any hay we get this year last longer through the winter

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

4 years just flies by

In our area, there is a 4 year regime for cattle TB testing as a result of the generally low incidence of the disease here. It’s still a theoretical possibility that they might test positive but it’s fairly unlikely.

When our Dexters had their first ever bovine TB test in Dec 2016/Jan 2017, the event didn’t go too smoothly. As a result I was keen to make sure that this time everything was a little less stressful – both for the cattle and for me!

Over the last 4 years we’ve learnt a lot about the nature and behaviour of our cattle which makes it much easier when handling them. It’s still not a precise science but at least we are more likely to get the outcome we want these days

As it turned out, I got nearly all of them penned first time with just Ruby acting up initially. However this was easily resolved having spent some time recently getting her halter trained. It was just a matter of a bucket with some treats to occupy her while I slipped the rope halter on then led her into the pen where the other were already tucking into some hay.

All penned and ready for the first visit

The first visit last Friday involved 2 injections in the neck for each of them – one injection is Bovine TB and one is Avian TB – along with a quick calliper measurement of the skin thickness at the injection site.

Apparently the idea is that when the vet returns 3 days later, they can assess the injection sites on each animal to look for a reaction. The idea is that each animal should have less of a reaction (i.e. swelling) where the Bovine TB was injected than they do from the Avian TB.

Ruby demonstrating where the injections are done

In the end, the second vet visit on Monday went really smoothly with the whole herd happy to be penned in ahead of time while waiting for the vet to arrive. After getting checked they soon got the all clear and as a reward for good behaviour some more treats in their feed trough

Everyone is happy to get TB testing done

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