On my holding near Boston in Lincolnshire I breed Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs for Breed preservation and meat. I tried several breed of pig before settling on the Oxford – although good registered stock is difficult to source around Lincolnshire. I have two Sow’s and a Boar – most smallholders will question the need for a boar, given the cost to feed such an animal on top of your existing costs.
I didn’t start out with any intention of getting a boar – but as ill explain later there is a method to what some might call my madness. Firstly let me tell you about our holding, we moved here in 2011 from the then of England – Kent, our venture started some 6-7 years earlier with 1/2 a plot on the local allotments, this grew to a few garden hens for eggs, to hatching chickens for meat and then waterfowl. The small seed planted back then has grown into a way of life today here on our 3 acre holding. We keep Pigs, Hebridean sheep, Mule Sheep, Goats, Poultry and dabbled with a fattening cows too. I now rent an additional 5.5 acres of local grazing to balance our stocking levels.
Having kept pigs for a while – like sheep, I wanted to breed our own pigs rather than buying in weaner’s every 4-5 months. So we brought in a couple of registered female weaners to rear for breeding. Without a boar, we had two options AI or sending my girls for stud. As someone who’s not scared to have a go. I spent a couple of months monitoring their cycles, then a few days before they were due in season I contacted Deerpark Pedigree Pigs in Northern Ireland and got some semen ordered along with some catheters. Having read and watched many article or video I could find on AI, I took the plunge.
The books, articles and videos make it sound and look easy, which it is once you’ve done it a few times, but daunting the first time – a bit like anything I guess. In short, her vulva should be slightly larger and pinker than normal, she should also stand still once pressure is applied to her back. Using Boar Pheromone spray, Vaseline, a catheter and a sample, I AI’d one of my girls 3 times at 12 hour intervals. Then comes the 3 week wait to see if you were successful – which I wasn’t. After another failed attempt I decide to seek a stud. I did note somewhere that AI is more successful on a sow who has already a ha litter.
Facebook is a good place for connecting with like minded smallholders, farmers and livestock experts. Through here I was able to find a boar my girls could go to, However at the time I didn’t have a suitable trailer, but the stud’s owner collected and returned for me – at a cost of course. Just over 4 months later out girls had their first litter.
Once piglets where old enough to leave mum, and had new homes a set again to try AI. At this time i was not aware of the fact – 5-7 days after removing the piglets from mum she’ll come back in to season. I started watching cycles again, and proceeded as before and yet again failed, so resorted to stud once more.
I started looking at costs – each sow cost £30 a time to AI and so far I had spent £150 without success. Stud was becoming expensive too, as they were gone for 4 weeks or so, so paying board, stud fee and transport each time was also costing around £160. When I put everything on paper I would be spending £300+ a year to stud and/or AI – which made me think, how much would a boar cost to keep. I worked out a boar would cost me a bag of feed a week (at £5.60 a bag, that’s £290 a year) It was looking cheaper to keep a boar, plus if I had a boar I could offer a stud service to help fund his keep.
Back in January I took the plunge a brought a registered boar from Suffolk, and one of my sows in expecting her litter the middle of June – but ironically, I tried AI – 5 days after removing piglets – and had success. She is due at the end of April.
When I reflect on my decision to buy a boar, I still believe it was the right decision. Firstly it’s natures way of reproducing, I don’t have to monitor cycles, order semen, be on hand 3 times in 24 hours to administer the AI. In addition there is no chance a video of me trying to AI a pig will end up going viral on the internet or being introduced by Harry Hill on ‘You’ve been Framed’. In contrast I’m not saying everyone should own a boar, they are a lot bigger than sows, significantly stronger and need a strong pair of hands to handle. That’s not to mention the pen, housing etc, I have had problem with my boar destroying automatic drinkers so now he has a Belfast sink. Start out simple then progress, find a local stud, or someone who has experience of AI to help you the first few times.