Updated: Oct 21, 2020
6 years ago, livestock was not in my peripherals. I was working for a small pet franchise, trying to build my own pet-based business. If someone had said to me that, in 6 years’ time I would have almost 12 acres to play with and farm animals to go with it I would have laughed in their face but, here we are; 6 years later and I have exactly that.
The decision to get pigs was an easy one.
Most smallholders start with poultry but, I had done poultry; breeding them for eggs and for sale since I was 17 so, I started with sheep.
Just over a year ago I started with a very small flock of just 9 Shetland sheep and the things I have learned along the way inspired me to carry on. For my second year on the smallholding, it was only natural to move onto pigs and that is exactly what I did.
The decision was also helped by the fact that 2 of my friends were going into it with me; a kind of 'Pig-Share scheme' if you like. We each decided how many pigs we wanted and for what purpose and went from there.
Choosing a Breed
My ambition is to farm animals in a way that puts the breed at the forefront of what I do. I want to be able to produce a good quality meat product but first and foremost, I want to be able to help protect those breeds that are struggling and so chose a breed that was featured on the RBST rare-breed watchlist of which, there are 11 - I also wanted to be able to produce my own meat and so needed a good dual-purpose breed.
We initially narrowed our list down to 3 that we liked the look of: the 'Gloucestershire Old Spots'; the 'Tamworth' and the 'Oxford Sandy and Blacks'
Through all the research for each breed we really couldn’t choose so, I let my family pick. They all chose OSB's but for different reasons: my other half likes ginger animals and thinks that we should just have a ginger farm but he decided that the OSB's were more interesting than the Tamworth’s, the Kids; well, they just googled OSB piglets and fell in love (I don’t actually think they googled the other breeds)
So, Oxford Sandy and Black it was.
In life, I have been dealt a fair few lemons and, once upon a time I used to allow the lemons to sour my experiences before moving on; now, I make lemonade and move on with a refreshing drink in hand. What I mean by that when it comes to animals I haven’t always had the right help; either going in blind and offering a home to an animal without really understanding what the animal needed or, trusting the wrong people for help and/or advice. This, for some of the time hasn't (and rightly so) worked and so now, I make sure I have as much info or help as I need to get going.
Luckily for me (as I already have sheep) I already have a holding number meaning that was one less thing that I needed to do.
With sheep, unless you are going to breed them you don't need a flock number as the sheep you buy arrive tagged with the breeder’s flock number but, with pigs I learned that it slightly different. The breeder tags the Piglets before sale then, before they go to slaughter the new owner would be required to slap mark them with their herd number.
If you don’t own any livestock, then your first point of call would be to contact APHA and apply for a holding number. This is relatively straight forward and is a free service.
My first step was to contact APHA (the' Animals and Plant Health Agency') to get my herd mark. Then I needed to register with eaml2 which tracks the movements of pigs between land.
Once the logistics were in place and was given the OK to have pigs on our land, we need to prepare the area.
This I where I came stuck; I had read so many things from so many people and from so many books etc saying that pigs will break fences and they'll escape and and and.... in the end I reluctantly joined a Facebook group to seek advice from experienced owners. Now, I say reluctantly because I haven’t had the best of experiences from FB groups in the past and some group members can just be horrible in their responses.
It would seem, though, that livestock groups host a different type of people. I have never been more excepted nor had my queries answered so happily than on my newfound group.
So, back to the fencing issue. Through the very helpful responses on Facebook; I determined that the best fencing strategy for me was electric and, from having sheep, I had fencers and miles of wire so I was ready right?....wrong.
I was advised that the energisers I had would do nothing to stop a piglet wandering out. You see, my energisers gave a max output of 2.4 joules; I needed 3.5 or higher. I managed to purchase a VoSS energiser which, I later discovered, certainly packs a punch.
There is lots of info available on the .gov website but, for me (for the sheep) a huge part of my learning came from amazing Facebook groups such as 'Positively smallholding UK' and for the pigs, the best I found for the breed of pig I wanted was, the 'Oxford Sandy & Black Pig Society' (where I found Tania) along side another breed specific group the 'Oxford Sandy and Black pig group'
Both groups' admin is so very proactive but, without Tania's advice and help, I would probably still be looking for the pigs.
Finding some Pigs
I have all the legal bits sorted; I have my fence sorted; the landowner has approved the location so, all that is left is to find me some pigs.
Like most people when looking for animals, I went straight to 'Preloved' and there were soooo many pigs. After a couple of weeks looking, I managed to find a lovely breeder who was very accommodating; I was happy with what i saw and so reserved 5 little oinkers - turned out that she was 3 miles outside the permitted transporting limit which, with me not having a certificate of compliance, meant I could not collect them legally. The search began again...
Eventually, I found a breeder close to Bridgewater and another in Lydford; around 40 and 25 mins from my home: I went to see the piglets and was hooked. There was nothing going to stop me having pigs.
For all those in the south west reading this and, especially those considering pigs in the future; firstly, consider OSB's as your breed of choice and secondly, consider the two breeders I used: Tyler Duke and Tania Whittick.
Tyler: We chose 5 pigs from Tyler. 2 gilts that will be used to preserve the breed for generations to come and 3 boars (which couldn't be registered) which will be raised as meat pigs. Tyler has been rearing pigs with his grandad for years and they don't only raise great, healthy pigs, they also know a thing or two about them; His grandad is an area Rep for the GOS breed.
Tania: Now, Tania had been in touch via the FB group before I had found Tyler and freely offered so much advice, she really helped put my mind at ease about getting pigs. I decided to have 2 more boars from her and glad I did; she has been a god send- her knowledge on the breed (from my point of view) is infallible and no question has been too much trouble; she lives for her pigs and is a good person to know.
Getting the Pigs Home
Now, this was the fun bit. I had done everything I could possibly have done and now was the time to organise getting the pigs into the quarry.
One of the Friends involved: Nicola from Parsonage farm in Croscombe offered to collect the 5 from Tyler with her trailer as I went to get the 2 from Tania. Tania had advised that, due to their size, they would easily fit into a large dog crate in the boot of my car. She wasn't wrong but, one thing I will say is after that journey home, it is NOT something I recommend. Boy when they poo, they poo, and it reeks to high heaven. The 20-minute journey home was a fun one; the kids were retching in the back seat, my hubster retching next to me and me laughing my head off with all 4 windows open.
It was definitely a journey to remember