We’ve not had the chance to blog much this year. Things have been more than a little insane, mostly because of piglets. Seriously, so many piglets.
Back in July I blogged about how we’d been able to reverse our breeding woes, with an in-depth explanation of the many pitfalls we’d faced and how we’d beaten them. Admittedly, that was a wordy post, but in my defence it was winter and the rain was keeping me from doing real farm work. 😊
Since that post, we’ve had over 140 piglets born across 14 litters. This is a good news story with a bit of a twist. First of all, having an average litter size of 10+ is good, especially for predominantly heritage breeds. Secondly, our mortality rate has been around 15%, compared to intensive farms who have a 10% to 15% mortality. Of course, I’m sure that even modestly sized intensive farms have 140 piglets in a week, but we’re going for quality over quantity here. 😀
The twist is the number of litters we’ve had on the ground at one time. We currently have five pre-weaned litters, two that are ready for weaning, and another one due shortly. Our farrowing shed, which we detail in my Breeding Redemption! post, is set up for four litters. Our original plan was to have about four litters at a time, move the babies out as groups to weaner or grower paddocks, and then cycle in some more pregnant girls. The problem we faced earlier this year was that we weren’t getting enough girls pregnant. We thought we’d found and addressed all of the problems and were faced with a choice: try and get the girls pregnant in a controlled way and run the risk of something still being wrong resulting in still having too few babies, or put extra girls in with the boys and run the risk of having too many litters at the same time. As it turns out, we ended up in the second situation, but it was a calculated risk, and to be honest, it’s a nice problem to have. 😊
We’ve been able to use the weaner and grower paddocks as overflow, and move girls around as needed. The farrowing yards/paddocks have been pretty much full for six months, and will shortly have five litters spread across four yards. We’re at the stage where we’ve been able to get on top of it though, and we have new girls in with the boars now. That means that we’ll be having a new wave of litters due 10 or so weeks after the current litters are weaned. It seems weird to be getting girls pregnant when we have a glut of piglets, but we need a relatively steady pipeline of piglets coming through. The last thing we want is to have our current batch of piglets getting to grower/baconer size with nothing coming up behind them.
Right now, our production for 2018 is guaranteed. We have more pigs than we need, and so are able to branch out and try new things. We can try new products and explore new markets, and that’s working well. We’ve got a steady supply of things like kranskys and mettwurst, and they do very well for us. It also means that we’re able to expand our CSA scheme, and also offer slightly more generous packs to our members. CSAs are linked to production, so it only makes sense to reward our loyal members when production is good. 😊
Of course, the end result that really matters is lots, and lots, and lots of piglets, and I wanted to write this post to celebrate that fact. Rather than my normal wall of words, I figured I’d let pictures do most of the talking. I’ve trawled through the hundreds of pictures we have and picked out forty or so. I’ll caption them with as much detail as I can, but some will just be there for the cuteness factors. Enjoy. 😊
Our latest litter. This is Red. She’s a Tamworth we bought in as a weaner from friends. Her two sisters, Tammi and Nicole Pigman, did well as breeders, giving us nice litters right when Red was about baconer size. She was a lovely pig, so we decided to give her a shot as a breeder. We were not sorry. 🙂 She had 9 babies, with one squashing. The babies are gorgeous too!
This is Frankie. She had 15 babies this litter! She’s one of a couple of white girls we have left, and she’s my almost favourite pig (Honey is still number 1) 🙂
Frankie’s litter looking all cute and stuff.
This is Patch and her second litter. She was a Berkshire, though with the patch on her we suspect she had something else in her heritage, probably Duroc. She was an awfully unfriendly girl, despite being around us constantly since she was a weaner. Much like people, some pigs are just never nice…
Patch’s litter taking breakfast outside. 🙂
These babies belong to Smoked III. Yes, we recycled that name twice. 🙂
The babies are super tactile, and like to be touching each other and/or mum whenever they can. It also means they’re super snuggly when you pick them up.
These are PV2’s (Patch Version 2) girls. She only had four on her first litter, which is unusually low. They are amazing piglets though, and super chill. I grabbed these two girls when we moved PV2 up out of the grower paddock and into a spare farrower yard. We castrated their brothers at the same time, and I took this opportunity to have mad loves.
These are Tamworth cross Saddleback babies. You get some read ones, some saddleback ones, and then lots of in between spotty ones.
Also Tamworth crossed with Saddleback. These tended more towards the saddleback though.
Linhda takes every chance she can to get some pats in…
Moving piglets in the cage trailer is infinitely easier than picking them up. These guys are probably 30+ kg live weight, which feels like 60kg if they start to struggle. Moving them manually is definitely doable, and they’re tame enough that it really doesn’t stress them too much. Using a ramp and trailer really helps my back though. 🙂
These are babies that we transferred to a grower paddock. You might need to squint to see them all the way down the back there though.
Extreme piglet close up!
This is the first litters from Nicole Pigman and Tammi – Tamworth cross Saddleback. It’s rare to get an orderly line at feed time.
One of Frankie’s litters. She produces amazing babies.
Frankie’s babies. Believe it or not, these guys are half-Saddleback. The white/heritage cross is called “Blue Merle”, and we’ve had merles who are white with giant black patches, and others that look mostly white. These guys ended up with black spots on their butts. Came out white though.
Nom nom nom!
This is Lulu. We bought her from an intensive farm who had tried Large Blacks, didn’t like how fat they were, and then called us. She was pregnant when we got her, probably to her brother. This is her second litter, and the dad is Lazarus, one of our Saddleback boys.
She had a perfect red-coloured Saddleback boy. I kept him entire and am very excited to see what happens.
She also have 13 and weaned all 13. She’s a good girl.
This baby was fully using his/her siblings as a mattress. You can see the spotty black butt on one of those being lain on too.
This is a creep working as designed. The babies can scootch away from mum and avoid being squished.
A nap under the heat lamps. They love the heat lamp.
This is Donk. She’s an amazingly gorgeous friendly girl, and we all adore her. This is her first litter, and the dad is Lazarus. You’ll see that a few look like Saddlebacks, but the dark parts are actually spotty. Where Frankie’s babies (exactly the same breed) have spotty butts, these guys have spotty saddles. It’s so cool!
Ginger’s latest litter, which is number 3 for us. She made herself a nest of sticks – just hard, sharp sticks. We added a heap of straw to make it a bit more inviting.
Maybelline – believe it or not, she’s a saddleback. Her saddle is huge though (she’s not pure), and so she looks white in this picture.
We bought her from the same guy we got PV2 from. We really didn’t need more pigs, but he was moving interstate and wanted people like us to have his pigs. I’m not said either. She was pregnant when we got her, and she had 11 and weaned 11. They’re gorgeous piglets too.
Donk keeping an eye on her babies. The two black ones are ring-ins. The mums really don’t care which piglets they mother. 🙂
They ease away from the heat lamp when it gets too warm. This is a toasty semi-circle of cuteness.
Frankie’s babies growing up. They were SO boofy when we weaned them.
The one at the back looks like she’s judging me.
Doesn’t get much cuter than that…
This is Juno, named by some of our customers as part of a competition. She was a teenage pregnancy, the baby daddy being a blue merle boy (half white, half Berkshire). She had 10 and weaned 10, which is an amazing first try.
This is a post-castration picture. We like to hang on to the boys for a short while and make sure they’ve recovered from the anaesthetic. Some of them don’t slow down, but others, like these little guys, like to have a nap for an hour or so.
These are Maybeline’s babies, being moved from Templers to Lochiel. They’re gorgeous babies.
PV2’s litter. She was pregnant when we got her, unexpectedly too, so these guys are freebies. You always like larger litters, but unexpected litters of any size feel good. 🙂
The second from the right is a little girl who looks just like Stitch from Lilo and Stitch. Guess what her name is now? 🙂
The little one at the top has a rough spot under her eye. That’s a little wound caused by the eye teeth of her siblings. They like to tussle, and rather than bite directly they do this little side swipe thing with their mouths.
We had a vet once who suggested that we use nail clippers and trip their eye teeth at birth. We’ve never done that, and never will. You get the odd baby with small wounds there, and we treat them. It doesn’t slow them down though, and is part of their natural behaviour.
They really do bliss out under the heat lamp. 🙂
Red’s babies. Her two sisters have had litters to the same Saddleback boar, and end up with lots of Saddleback-looking babies. Red had full black babies mostly, a couple of reddish babies, and the one spotty one. No Saddlebacks at all.
When you’ve got this many piglets, sometimes a sow on the run just has to feed standing up. 😀