Our pigs are Gloucester Old Spots, an ancient breed which produces supreme quality pork with outstanding flavour.
And it all starts with the birth of the piglets. Our young female pigs are called “gilts”. This is a dialect word whose use goes back to the Middle Ages. Three months, three weeks and three days (approximately) after the gilt has been served by the boar, we can expect farrowing to start.
Unlike cows that generally produce one calf or ewes with one, two or three lambs, pigs are prolific breeders. The first gilt to farrow this year produced fourteen piglets. The second produced ten.
With such large numbers of piglets, survival can be a struggle. It is a lovely sight to see a gilt or sow with a dozen or more piglets all struggling to latch on to a nipple to feed. Fortunately pigs have twelve or fourteen nipples, conveniently arranged in two rows for easy access!
If all is going well we let our pigs farrow in arks out in the fields so that the piglets are born in as natural an environment as possible with the minimum of human intervention.
In many large litters there is one piglet that is much smaller than the rest. This is referred to in many areas as the ”runt” of the litter. In Devon we have a wonderful dialect word. We refer to this piglet as the “nistledraft”. Don’t ask us how this name came about. Its provenance lies in the mists of time.