Pig mother and piglets sit in a barn at the Story Pig farm.

Spring is finally springing, I can hardly believe it ­­– another winter survived as an outdoor pig farmer, although I write this at the beginning of March, as the east winds blow through us and shrivel and burn the grass that has continued to grow all winter. The days are noticeably longer, as one that is ruled by the seasons, I am awake earlier and outside until it’s too dark to see. The winds in March miraculously dry the mud overnight. It’s incredible, areas that have been muddy for months retreat quickly, and if not caught quickly and levelled, become rock hard craters and can be there for months for me to bump and bash my way over. The pigs themselves love this time of year – they rise early too, ranging across their paddocks from first day break. It’s not too hot for them and they soak up the spring sunshine.

I have just come inside after a full-on day in the pig fields. The wind has been battering us all day – the ground has visibly dried in front of us. Once a fortnight, on a Wednesday, I have help on the farm from one of my best friends, Len. We work well together and he is great with the pigs. This morning I had a long list of groups of pigs I needed to move. This is like a giant puzzle – every paddock has pigs in them at the moment, so where to start? We use our tractor and stock box to move them in groups, backing up to the electric fence as straight as I can and turning the fence off with one of our many switches. You don’t want to do this too early, otherwise the pigs will push through the fence and escape. Depending on which groups I am trying to load, we may need my trusty pig hurdles – these can be joined together with metal pins. They are sheeted for pigs so the pigs can’t lift them with their noses and escape. Escape is a recurring theme with Tamworths, – they will always escape given half a chance!

To start with, we were moving heavily pregnant mothers – no hurdles needed, just open the tailgate and the side gates quickly. They are trying to barge their way in before I have them open – throw a bit of food to the front of the box and in they waddle. Pigs are strong and rough, you have to be tough and quick to work with them…they will knock you over in an instant if food is involved and you are the wrong side of it! I shut the side gates, pick up my never-to-be-without piece of ply board that is my pig board, shut the tailgate and deliver them to the maternity unit; a paddock surrounded by trees and with lots of individual places for them to give birth. They fly out of the box and quickly start to explore their new area. Then it’s back to load the next group, they too are pregnant and are quickly loaded, apart from Martha, our oldest sow who never walks into the box without a lot of skullduggery. No amount of food and coaxing or waiting will load Martha, so to move her, we have to take all the hurdles and make a long pen, big enough so she feels no threat, and then once she knows she’s cornered, in she trots. Instead of taking 5 minutes to load a group, she takes over half a precious hour. We drop off the next group and then watch out –mixing pigs is always tricky as they fight to reassert their pecking order. You need to be careful

now – they are heavy, weighing upwards of 200 kilograms each. When they are fighting, they will not stop for anything until one gives in and runs off, but the beauty of our system is that they can run away!

Then we have to pick out and move some of our growing young pigs. This always needs hurdles – they are in much bigger groups, often 40 or more in a paddock, and they too are strong and boisterous. We set the hurdles up; this in itself is a battle. They all scream around us, trying to knock everything over as we set them down. Once they are set up, a bit of food and they start to stream in. This is Lens finest moment – once they are all in, he swings the hurdles closed with a leap and we have them. We mark the ones we are moving and make a passageway to let the others out. Patience is needed now…the ones you want are facing the wrong way, the ones you want to keep in are always by the opening, trying to dive past me. This is why I need my pig board – they can’t go through it and you can channel them the right way. We moved eleven groups today and I am very tired now – off to have a bath and then supper with my wife. Glamorous life this pig farming!

James Hull, Sherborne Times, April 2022

Pig mother and piglets sit in a barn at the Story Pig farm.