I was very excited last week when Hayley, who lives in the next village to me, kindly said I could meet her pigs. Especially when there was a mention of piglets! Hayley has had great success with her pigs in the show ring, winning multiple championships over the years. Most exciting of all is that Hayley and her pigs recently featured on the BBC's new programme 'The Farmers Country Showdown'. I spent a couple of hours with Hayley in her Farmyard to find out more about her pigs and where her passion for them began.
How long have you had pigs for?
I have had pigs in my life as far back as l can remember as my grandparents used to have them on their farm but Dad and l have had pigs around 38 years!!!!! God l sound so old,,,,,,,
How did you first become interested in pigs?
My interest started with my Grandad's pigs, l used to go and just sit watching them in their pens, l would just love going to see them. When l knew there were hopefully going to be piglets arriving my Grandparents always knew where to find me, then the passion for them just carried on.
Hayley holding a 3 day old British Lop piglet.
Which breeds do you have?
The breeds l have are pedigree British Lops and pedigree British Saddlebacks.
How many pigs do you have?
At the moment we do not have very many, only 2 British Lop sows, 1 British Lop young boar and around 3 British Lop July gilts. In the Saddleback section have 1 sow and 1 July gilt but at the moment we do have piglets arriving.
Why did you choose those particular breeds?
We have had quite a few different breeds over the years, but we chose these breeds as my Dad has always liked the Saddlebacks and I just love the British lop for their temperament. I think they are a very beautiful pig and the British Lop are on the endangered list of rare breeds and l would absolutely hate to lose this beautiful pig.
Hayley feeding the Saddleback and British Lop gilts in the snow. (A gilt is a young female pig).
How many litters of piglets do you have a year? How many piglets does one sow have on average?
On average we usually try to get 2 litters a year but we like to follow the sow and see how she goes. If we find that a sow always tends to have big litters and the piglets pull her down to much weight wise then we just let her have one litter a year. However, some sows seem to bloom from litter to litter so we just let them carry on being a mum while they can. Litter numbers can vary from 1 piglet to 17/18 but ideally around 9 to 13 is ideal as a nice big sow can cope with 13 piglets, it is a guessing game every time a sow farrows.
Jilly, a British Lop sow, feeding her 4 piglets which were 3 days old.
A couple of 2 week old British Lop piglets (from a litter of 6) who are being hand reared as their mother, Nancy, sadly had a large cyst on her underline and could no longer feed the piglets.
When are the piglets ready to be weaned off their mother?
Weaning takes place usually around 7/8 weeks but if the sow is feeding quite a few and they are pulling her weight down, then we have to take them away sooner to help her get back into condition again.
Hayley holding a 3 week old British Saddleback piglet.
I was very excited to be able to hold a piglet!
You have had great success in the show ring with your pigs. What do you look for in a prize-winning pig?
A prize winning pig is always a gamble, the first thing l do is look at them for the first time when they are 3 days old when l give them an iron injection. l turn them over, have a look at their teats and see if they have between 12 and 14 evenly spaced teats and no blind ones. Then at 1 week old you can roughly see by the ears if they are the correct size and position, hopefully they are not to big and facing towards their nose but covering their eyes, not going down the sides of their faces. Then l will tag and tattoo them at roughy 3 weeks old, then I just watch them as they grow to see if anything changes for example walking square with good shape to their body.
What is involved in your show preparation?
Show preparation starts long before the shows, l try to get the piglets friendly at a very young age . They then seem to love having the attention which is half the battle, roughly a month before my first show l will start to soak the pig skins in baby oil nearly every day to get their skins really soft with no dry skin patches. Then I begin bathing them 3 weeks before the show to get them used to it and brush them every day to remove dry skin.
Are pigs easy to train to be guided by a board and a stick?
Some pigs can be trained very easily and some hate the stick or can be bit scared of the board but they usually always soon get the idea. I always talk to them all the time and they do get to know the words walk on! Slowly! And don’t be NAUGHTY! You don’t hit them with the stick you gently stroke it along near the jaw and they will turn their head towards you and walk in that direction. To turn the other way you use the board against the jaw area and they will turn away from you (well you hope that’s what they will do!!!!!).
Hayley in action at local agricultural shows.
What advice would you give someone looking to get pigs?
Advise... I am not sure but pigs are very intelligent and strong but they can be very nasty if something upsets them. They are very hard work, as pigs can be great escape artists but they give lots back in affection.
What is your favourite thing about owning pigs?
The best thing about owning pigs is you can build great relationships with them. They can really give you a warm loving glow with just being around them and then you realise they have got into your skin, all you talk about is pigs to everyone. I would never want to be without one in my life .
If you want to find out more about Hayley and her pigs take a look at BBC iplayer on 'The Farmer's Country Showdown' >>> https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09pv1cy/the-farmers-country-showdown-series-2-15-gransden-pigs
Keep your eyes peeled to see how Hayley's pigs have inspired my designs...
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’