A breeding lesson
PUBLISHED: 08:45 08 May 2014
The latest in Kate Humble's smallholding journey
My five-year-old godson is obsessed with baby animals. He came to stay during lambing last year and, after helping feed the pet lambs, has, according to his mother, been asking for a lamb of his own ever since.
I’m not sure we ever grow out of being charmed by baby animals. Calves, foals, lambs all have that gawky, endearing ability to make us go ‘Aaah’; no one can resist cuddling a puppy or a kitten and then there are piglets, that, in my view, win hands down for comedy value as well as sheer, unadulterated cuteness.
But baby animals grow up. Once weaned they need another source of food. They need space and shelter and water. Deciding to breed from your livestock needs careful thought. What are you going to do with these extra animals? Sell them? Eat them? Replace old stock or increase a herd or flock? All of which are valid reasons to breed, but perhaps need to be considered before the act of procreation is engineered. And that, as regular readers of this column will have noticed, is something that I have learned by NOT doing the sensible thing.
Arguably, buying two Kunekune piglets in a rash moment of sentimentality was not sensible in the first place. (Although, in my defence, Kunekune piglets are almost irresistible.) Too late I discovered that a Kunekune was not a breed to go for if I was hoping to make beautiful hams or present admiring friends and family with the perfect Sunday roast. Kunekunes are not a breed to
choose if you are hoping to produce meat, unless you have a particular penchant for vast quantities of fat. So somehow I had to justify their existence to a husband who was already questioning the wisdom of having two animals that required us shelling out for an ark, bedding and food with scant evidence that we would get anything in return.
“We’ll breed them!” I said, brightly. “Sell the piglets and make our money back in a trice.” Ignoring his look of practised scepticism, I picked up the phone.
Adam Henson had just taken ownership of a young Kunekune boar. “Bring your two up to the farm park,” he said. “They can go in one of the paddocks with the new boar and be a visitor attraction at the same time.” Pushing aside thoughts that Duffy and Delilah (yes, I’d named them – they were never going to be a roast) were on their way to become part of a Cotswold sex show, I took him up on the offer. The boar was tiny – much smaller than my sows. “Don’t worry, said Adam, “he’ll manage.”
Five months later both Duffy and Delilah had given birth to seven and six piglets respectively, all survived and all were thriving. “What are you going to do with them?” asked Adam. “Sell them,” I said, already imagining coming home triumphantly waving a cheque. But the reality was that they didn’t sell. Or not all of them. The gilts sold, but no one wanted the boars. Instead of returning home waving a cheque, I returned with two sows and six, fast growing weaners that we had neither the space or the use for. It was a salutary lesson. We were baled out by a friend with a farm down the road who agreed to house them, if we provided the feed. “What happened to those lovely piglets of yours?” asked a delivery driver who had seen my exploits on Countryfile. “In the freezer,” I said. “Can I pay you in sausages?”