Tamworth Nesting with Piglets
In the old children’s story of the three little pigs it talks about them making their houses of straw, sticks and rocks. This is really what pigs do. They use the available materials to create a bowl shaped oval nest that redirects the piglets back in towards the mother’s belly and teats as well as lifting drafts up over the group. The nest above is classic architecture.
This nest building behavior is critical in pastured pigs. Without it they’ll not farrow good litters. In the confinement industry they see the same nest building behaviors, the attempts to gather materials, as “bar biting” which they consider destructive. As such CAFO, a.k.a. factory farms, try to breed out nesting behavior since they want the sows to lie quietly in stalls and crates. This in turn will make it very difficult for them to transition from crating to open housing systems.
In our pasture setting the nesting is critical. The sows must build good nests in good locations and defend those spaces so that they can have their piglets in privacy. This is why, if you want to have sows farrowing on pasture, you want to start with good pasture genetics and not just culls from the factory farm. You want strong natural instincts.
Generally sows pick a place that has some mix of sun and shade but rarely out in the full sun. Very often they’ll nest in the shelter of a fallen over tree, brush or under evergreens which make an excellent natural roof. Typically a female pig† builds one nest for farrowing in, that is birthing, and then a few days later she builds a new nest away from that to leave behind bacteria, scents and scavengers. After about a week or so her piglets will be trailing her through the pastures and soon join the herd time to time.
This sow is a Tamworth bred with Hamlet, our Tamworth boar. She is part of the north herd which is now manned by Spitz our Berkshire boar. This week Happy, sister of Speckles our lead south herd boar, joined the north herd. By moving sows like Happy back and forth between the north and south herds we effectively breed the boars in those herds together as their genes become dominant, mixed with the selected mothers, over many generations. This is how one breeds two males on the farm without them ever seeing each other.
Hamlet is a purebred Tamworth – I’m looking to cherry pick his genes for what ever he can bring in.
Spitz is a good looking, affable purebred Berkshire which are renowned for the marbling.
Speckles is the product of our nearly ten years of intensive selective breeding for over twenty-six traits. He is a beautiful, fast growing, well tempered, prolific huge specimen of a boar in his prime.
In another decade we’ll be able to see the results of the three way mating we are conducting between these three boars: Hamlet, Spitz and Speckles. My continued goal is to produce well tempered, robust, big, fast growing animals that thrive in our climate on pasture with a minimum of interventions while producing top quality delicious, tender meat. In other words, pigs they way they should be and were back before the industrial revolution ran them over. Back to the future!
Outdoors: 86°F/63°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 83°F/68°F
Daily Spark: Just because you don’t understand modern art doesn’t make it good.
†A female pig is born a gilt and becomes a sow when she farrows, gives birth, to her first litter of piglets. Think of it as Miss vs Mrs in human society and hold the political correctness.