Lone Free Rangers

Berkshire pigs. When I first looked into keeping pigs, these were the ones for me. Roughty toughty outdoor breed, rare enough and good to eat; and best of all, wouldn’t get sunburn on my south facing, coastal fields.

3 years into keeping cross breeds and in to learning how to look after pigs, I had a small windfall and decided the time was right to invest in the pure breds I so fancied. The Berkshire Pig Breeders Club introduced me to Sharon Barnfield and I acquired Bear, aka Kilcot Peter Ladd. And quite a lad he has turned out to be. Now a bruiser with tusks and boar plates, he has sired 8 sanders in 2 years, not all planned it has to be said. His enthusiasm for his work has been boundless and no amount of electric or stock fencing has prevented him from doing what he clearly regards as his duty. Still fond of a tummy tickle and a cucumber, Bear lives in an acre paddock near my house, so near that he and I chat through the kitchen window.

I bought Edith, of the Excelsa line, from Chris Impey shortly afterwards. She is my hippy pig, a laid back lady with middling enthusiasm for Bear’s attentions. Edith is the free-birthing trail-blazer of the Swanbridge herd. (See separate blog post, Freebirthing the Berkshire Way.)

My other 3 sows are Middle White x Berkshire crosses and they all muddle along together across 8 acres of rough pasture, woodland and occasionally help themselves to another 7 acres of sheep grazing / hay field when I’m not looking.

Over the years, I have learned how to manage their feed according to the ground they occupy, using a crude rotation system through the seasons to take advantage of the acorns, grass, hogweed and so forth. Foraging now provides the bulk of their intake with supplementary milled feed from a local farm combined with a high quality commercial feed from the local agricultural suppliers.

They are fit not fat. Their vet practice has written up Swanbridge Porkers as an example of good practice in pig keeping and has supported me in maintaining a vaccination programme against Erysipelas and Parvo, for example.

This free ranging system allows the pigs to display all their natural behaviours – from building nests under trees for farrowing to dismantling hosepipes to make their own wallows… but it does bring its problems.

Ground can quickly turn sour if over used, especially in the wet winter months; and it is no fun for the smallholder trudging knee deep in mud across windswept fields, carting sacks of feed around. Making sure they get enough to eat and the right balance of minerals is also important and that is why I supplement, we have domesticated them after all.

It is also worth bearing in mind that already a slow growing breed, Berkies can take up to a year to reach pork weight when they are living off the land and scampering about all day. Delicious, dark meat with an 1” back fat is worth waiting for; and they do make a fine sausage.

Karen's breakfast
Swanbridge Porker sausage and bacon


roast pork
Roast Swanbridge Porker joint




Limpy is a small, broken pig. She is a Middle White x Berkshire cross, born to Georgia about two years ago. When a weaner, Limpy fractured her front left leg and right shoulder – I do not know how but I do know that with care, they healed well enough for her to manage although she could not bear much weight on the front right trotter. However, she stopped growing. This was a good thing for her as pigs do not generally manage well on 3 legs and humane slaughter had been a consideration. Soft heart won out over common sense and Limpy stayed.

Then Bear the boar (a hefty chap, pedigree Berkshire) escaped his electric fencing and attended to poor Limpy. I assumed that as she was undersize that she wouldn’t take but on closer inspection two months’ later, it was evident that she was in pig.

I did some research. The prospects were not good for Limpy nor for the piglets. The likelihood was that she would not survive the farrowing, that the piglets would be undersized, that she would not be able to feed them, that she would be unable to mother them. All bad news heading our way.

Practically, the most immediate problem was keeping her away from the big sows. It was February, cold and wet. Very wet and very muddy and the forecast was even wetter and even muddier. One sow had already farrowed and was living under a tarpaulin in the wood; another was in the big shed. This left the Downton Abbey ark for Limpy which fortunately was only 30 yards from the house. She was moved in and penned in with electric fencing. Limpy suddenly found herself in the wholly new position of nice, warm accommodation, food on a twice daily delivery service, private water supply and a view of the sea.

She bagged up very neatly and on the morning of 3rd March, 2017, she farrowed. 1 born dead but 6 big healthy live piglets and no problems. None. Limpy didn’t let down her milk straight away so the wonderful Arthur John & co. of Cowbridge, agricultural suppliers, lined up lamb colostrum subsitute and multimilk, bottles and teats for me to collect. The gorgeous wriggly piglets had both lamb colostrum and then, when Limpy’s milk came on line much later that day, hers too. Bottle feeding 6 piglets round the clock would have been tiring work but we would have managed somehow – I was very grateful nature stepped up to the mark, however!

Limpy was going to need lots of extra feed but I couldn’t risk her getting fat and being unable to bear her weight on the bad leg. Also, being so small, her capacity to eat on par with a normal sow was impossible. So, a rota with Jane (Kennixton Flock, bringer of the Braeburn apples for Limpy) meant that Limpy was fed at roughly 4 hourly intervals with high protein feed mixed with eggs and multimilk (nothing goes to waste). The piglets, attracted to the milky feed, also supplemented their suckling with her feed much earlier than I had noticed any other piglets doing.

Limpy’s piglets are now weaned. They are still living together in their own paddock but will have to be separated very soon. They are the biggest and fastest growing piglets we have had yet in the Swanbridge Herd. They weigh the same as Limpy now.

She could not have managed without support but what a brilliant mother she has been; and continues to be. Limpy’s little story deserved to be told.

Hayes Farm, Sully, 1800s


These papers, from 1967, describe the extraordinarily advanced ideas on agriculture and social services practiced by Henry Evan Thomas at Hayes Farm, Sully, Vale of Glamorgan.

From staff welfare to combustion mill engines to agricultural land management, this remarkable man was 150 years ahead of his time.



Funny ol’ day

I used to keep diaries. Lots of diaries. Then Mum died & I stopped. Now I use Twitter & Facebook instead. I still hope that one day I will be famous & all this stuff will be useful. Until then…

Today was a funny ol’ day.

Fed animals in the dark, wished the bees a good morning & trekked off to Spar to buy cat food. It’s 0705, still dark & I am wearing the very latest in smallholder gear: filthy waterproofs, filthy boots & gloves, topped off with unbrushed hair & pjs underneath. I have never worn pjs to a shop before. Of course, as I walk in, having left the boots outside, I walk straight into someone I know. Of course. I am hilarious apparently. I have to agree but draw the line at having my photo taken for the Spar hall of fame.

Next stop, give or take loading a pig or two (would’ve been 4 but one got away), is Maddocks at Maesteg. This is where I learn that abbatoir workers & the nice lady from Animal Health don’t get many laughs in their job. Thinking the coast was clear, I stripped off the waterproofs to reveal a short wool dress, black tights & then slipped on a pair of shoes. In the car park. In what is now daylight.

What are we here for but to entertain our neighbours.

The rest of the day included the joys of waiting for Big Pig to farrow (still we wait), thanking Jane Bissett profusely for pig-sitting when I was at work, cooking a very mediocre supper & getting the escapee boy pig back in with the other boars.

It also inluded 2 parcels in the post: a beautiful, cross-stitch Valerie Chicken cushion cover from Tracey & a beautiful cross-stitch GOS pigs cushion cover from Ros.

And now, back to the tax return. Nos da.

2017 Goals ~ Let’s go with Healthy, Wealthy and Wise… and a couple donkeys

Check this out – delightful! #livingthedream

Pumpjack & Piddlewick

I absolutely adore that the advent of the New Year gives one a sense of renewal, a chance to reflect and consequently focus on ones short and long term goals.  We have lots of changes planned for 2017 and, I must say, yes, I must, that we are very, very excited (and a teeny bit scared).  We will be putting all our eggs into our  entrepreneurial basket and focusing our time specifically ~ Pumpjack’s to our new wine business Terroir au Verre and me, Piddlewick, to my Pumpjack & Piddlewick  Shop and the life that goes on behind it, so our blog will get a bit of a face lift too this year.

Welcome 2017! It’s make or break time.
(Hmmm, maybe not a good euphemism when talking about entrepreneurial eggs.)

Our Plans? If all goes well, the immediate goal will be  to buy our own place for ourselves and…

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Ivo’s Blog, Star Date Dec 27th, in the year 2016

Ok, so this is my new life.

One minute I am happily parading around the hay field at Swanbridge with my 4 girlies and the next, bam, I’m being trailered off to god knows where with that scary shepherd woman, Jane.

You Jane, me, Ivo..

Now that dopey one, Helen, she’s a piece of cake to control. This Jane, she’s a whole different piece of skirt in waterproofs.

So, here I was, couple of days ago, stuck in a barn. Not having that, I thought. So, while no bugger’s looking, it’s break out time and off to see a load of fluffy white fat-assed sheep in a nearby field. Christmas!!!!

Well, what a time I had! See, girls like a good-looking lump of big-horned manliness.. treat em mean, keep em keen, I say. I am having the time of my life and I’m pretty confident they are too judging by all the bleating.

Anyway, all is going to plan when Jane realises I’m not where I should be and comes looking. Caught red-hooved and forced to walk the lane of shame back to the barn.

Now, she then has the bright idea of caging me whilst all the other rams are just behind hurdles. It was time to keep quiet and behave.

Until nightfall.

In the quiet of the still frosty starlit night, we boys broke free. Ok, so it may have taken me longer than the others to escape but boy, what’s the point of having a giant pair of tin-openers on your head if you don’t use em, huh?

Right. First things first. We beat the s..t out of each other. Blood, wool and tears everywhere. Boys on tour. We had a blast! We trash the barn.

Now, what do we want? Girls… we want ewe…

So this is where there’s a flaw in our plan. We can’t get out of the barn. And what looks like a ewe, smells like a ewe but ain’t gonna complain? A big bag of fleeces… My kinda girl. Come here, Dolly, ewe look lovely to me..

Ah, what a night!

I have no idea why Jane was so cross this morning.

ivo sketch.JPG

Savour Kilkenny


Wonderful to get a mention in Country Smallholding magazine for our trip to Kilkenny; even more wonderful to be invited in the first place!

What a remarkable year – given talks at food festivals, shown sheep, judged a novelty dog show, written a play & seen it performed; published in 3 magazines – and made some more quite remarkable friends too.

And now, back to work.

Snout, A Play about Pigs & Feminism

thumbnail_img_8713This is a tricky one. The write up says that this is a play which examines ethical farm practices and may put you off your pie.  This is not quite what we get. It is not ‘Fun’ but it is ‘Food, Drink and Drama’. Or did I miss something?

I take three friends with me –we are all women, all farmers and two of us keep pigs. We discuss the play we have seen and the pie we have eaten a lot. In fact, we talk about it over chips later on Penarth Pier and again in the week. It has made us think. But perhaps not in the way Jones would like us to.

It is a play about 3 little pigs, 3 women acting as pigs and as women. They are in a trailer heading for the slaughter house. Their actions and conversations are an odd mixture of supposed pig talk and young women chatter. They grunt occasionally. One is a cross carrying faithful type who misses her sister, one is a punky type who misses her lover and the other is a party going good time girl. A bit stereotypical. They work out that they are not going to a show but to the abattoir and so forth.

Now here’s a problem. Facts. Anyone who knows anything about pigs, knows that they don’t carry hairbrushes or wear crosses. They also don’t get electric shocks for bad behaviour when they squeal in a trailer. They might wander into a shed to watch a farmer, er, enjoy himself but we are pretty sure that we don’t know anyone who finds pigs that attractive.

When they talk about life, death and the lack of control over their lives, something resonates with me. Do they contemplate the meaning of life? Do we, as owners, play God?

Pigs are fun to be around precisely because they are calculating, funny and usually, miles ahead of their keepers. But we keep them also because they can be eaten. The speech at the end, before they trot out to their doom, is tediously predictable and aimed at converting the audience to vegetarianism, I think. My colleagues are not impressed and feel that this last scene spoils an otherwise interesting and thought-provoking play.

Then we have the after-show discussion. Lots of people have stayed behind for this and we are keen to debate the ideas raised in the performance.

But there is a surprise. Jones take an unexpected stance. She tells us about tattooed pigs and cruelty. She then explains that the play is actually about feminism; she uses the pigs to slaughter as metaphor for seeing women as meat, as bodies to be cut up into pieces, as porn, as without control. Oh. I see now. This makes sense of scenes previously lost to me.

We discuss life and end of life, self-determinism, women’s rights, farming practices and eating meat. The audience is enthusiastic and picks up a particular thread with zeal: why have a play about killing animals and then give us a meat pie? Where does that meat come from, asks another. But it’s about women, not pigs, really.

We get it.

It makes even more sense when Jones explains to me that she had taken a 1hr40min play and made it into a 40min production. Sometimes, we need to rewrite not just slash and edit or we lose the meaning of a piece.  The playwright cannot attend every production to explain. The metaphor is clever, her idea is sound and with tweaking, would make an outstanding work.

I looked up the use of tattooed pigs for handbags – can’t be true, we said, but it was: art as an excuse for profit. Deeply shocking. I can see where she is coming from and Jones definitely is on to something here.


Enjoyed:          10th November, 2016 at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Playwright:      Kelly Jones

Director:          Kenny Miller

Actors:             Coco Clare Cage

Lacey Michele Gallagher

Viv Sally Reid



Country Smallholding Magazine


It is thanks to #twitter that I have made some excellent connections and friends.

Affording endless entertainment, company & information, I have also been invited to tweet for @smallholdersUK & @smallholdersIRL this year.

Not only a baptism of twittering fire but a welcome to the world of publishing (in a very minor capacity). Country Smalholding Magazine was kind enough to print something about me & my menagerie earlier this year and this month, am included in a feature on establishing a smallholding.

Sharing what we do and how we do it, in all professions, is hugely important & for many reasons. Personally, I want other people to learn from my mistakes & from the things I think I may have got right for once! Why endlessly reinvent the wheel? I want to learn from everyone else, too.

I also, like many like me, want to share my bonkers journey in this complex world of farm-to-plate & to show that ethical farming practices can be sustainable & enjoyable; & that high welfare stock produces high quality, healthier food.

Come & meet me & the #swanbridgesafari on Sunday mornings, 11 0’clock at the field gate (but only when it’s dry). DM @HelenJoy20 or PM Swanbridge Porkers or Swanbridge Flockers on Facebook for details.