Our 200 Saddleback sows have a special place in my heart.
So much of my life has been spent learning, then championing a better life for these intelligent creatures. If we want to eat meat, then we should ensure that animals not only avoid suffering, but have some fun too.
Each sow will give birth (farrow) to around 10 piglets every 6 months. Before they farrow, they move into a small paddock with plenty of clean grass, and they will build a nest with straw in their mobile house (arc). Once the piglets are around two weeks old, the electric fence which separates the sows who are giving birth at the same time is lifted, so that they can amalgamate as a group.
The piglets stay with mum until they are about 8 weeks of age (much longer than in most non organic systems) and then they move in the same group of siblings and friends into another grass paddock. We do separate the girls (gilts) and boys (boars) at weaning, as they can be sexually active by 5 months and that can lead to trouble, as we don’t castrate.
In the summer they will have a wallow, to keep cool, and in winter a huge pad of straw outside their arcs to keep them warm and dry, and out of the mud. It does get very muddy in winter!
It’s a good, if short, life. Pigs are ready for slaughter at about 6 months, growing incredibly fast on a diet of cereals, protein, whey from our Italian mozzarella makers, pasture and fresh air. They stay remarkably healthy, and while they have a couple of vaccinations, it’s very unusual for us to need to use any antibiotics.
We produce about 3000 pigs a year, all turned into delicious bacon, speedy sausages and hot dogs, plus fresh pork too. Do come to visit them at the farm, and taste them too if you like.