2013 NEWS

2012 NEWS






November 2013: Saddleback Champion Boar Culled

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It was a very sad day when recently I decided enough was enough and Coal Yeat Grand Duke had to go to the cull.

Why, you may ask, should such a magnificent animal be culled? The reason is quite simple - he had lost his appetite for the sows. I had given him lots of opportunity over the last few months to cover newly weaned sows but to no avail. The final straw was when my best breeding sow returned to season after running with Grand Duke for 7 weeks.

I put her in with my Hampshire boar who served her immediately, and she is now settled in pig to the Hampshire. No January show pigs from this Rosette sow for next year's shows.

There is no place for animals not doing their job on this farm. The cost of keeping a mature boar is approximately £10/week so they have to earn their keep.

It's a real shame as he was only coming into his fifth year and I have had Saddleback boars working in their eight year.

This Saddleback boar epitomised everything that is good about the Saddleback breed of pigs. A very calm kind temperament coupled with a love of the human race. He had the ability of a true champion to rise to the occasion in the show ring and show himself to the judge.

In 2011 he was Saddleback pig of the year and Saddleback Champion of Champions a very rare double of National honours and a major coup for the Coal Yeat herd of pedigree Saddleback pigs.

I will miss giving him his daily scratch behind his ears!

October 2013: New Saddleback Boar Is The 2013 Saddleback "Pig Of The Year"

Just what does it take to become the British Saddleback Club "Pig of the Year"?

The winner of this prestigious title has had to accumulate the most points at shows throughout the 2013 show season. This years winner, the Saddleback January boar pig Watchingwell Rajah, GDX/87 born on New Years Day 2013, is now my junior stock boar, having been purchased from Mrs Sharon Groves.

This is all the more impressive as Sharon lives on the Isle of White and has to travel by ferry with all the additional time and cost involved, before travelling to all the shows.

To win this title you not only need an exceptional pig but also a massive commitment to spend all season showing the pig. Congratulations to Sharon for her commitment in continuing all season to promote the Saddleback breed with such a splendid boar.

But where is Rajah now? No, not here at Lowick but up in Scotland with Caron Stewart's Clash herd of Saddleback pigs as she needed a boar to borrow to serve her Saddleback gilts, so she took him from the Scottish smallholders show. Meanwhile my three Saddleback January gilts, born at the very end of the month, are growing on as they have not been pushed for showing and are enjoying the outside life up at Coal Yeat Farm. They await his return to Lowick.

Recently, on the pigkeeping courses I run in  partnership with Carole, my  litter of two week old Saddleback piglets were the stars. Everyone thinks they are so cute at that age. But only four of the eleven piglets have made the grade to be potential pedigree Saddleback breeding pigs. The rest will be eaten as "WE HAVE TO EAT THEM TO KEEP THEM", but we also have to sell them at a viable economic price. Finished Traditional breeds of pigs cannot be expected to sell at the same price as modern commercial pigs. It is financial disastrous!

Butchers must pay us pigkeepers a viable price or soon there will not be any Traditional breed pork in their shops.

October 2013: Saddleback Gilt wins Scottish Pig Show

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At last a pig championship this year! We had to wait until the very last show but my Saddleback gilt Coal Yeat Rosette, born at the end of January 2013, beat her two sisters to the Traditional Breed Championship, before being placed above a very nice Hampshire July 2012 gilt for the overall pig championship.

So I guess as this is the only pig show in Scotland, this Saddleback gilt is the Scottish Champion Pig of 2013?

Well done Imogen for showing this gilt so very well, as it was her skill in the ring which helped Kevin Mathews, the BPA judge, to award this championship. She went round and round the ring perfectly while the Hampshire gilt gurned away in a corner.

What a good show this Scottish Smallholders Show is, lots of everything: cattle, sheep, fowl, trade stands and a sausage competition. Oh yes, we won this too! And we have never shown a sausage before! We won three out of the four classes and were champion traditional and modern breed sausage. Two sets of carving knives, a sausage making kit with a hand sausage making machine were the excellent prizes for these sausages made locally here in Cumbria by Crakeside Butchers.

We returned laden with silverware (4 cups), as Harry excelled himself winning both the young handlers class and the pig agility class with Imogen coming second in each class.

This show needs more pigs to expand this section. It is a very friendly show and very accessible being only 10 miles from the motorways.

It is so refreshing to be valued as an exhibitor after the debacle at Westmorland County Show. A fine ending to an excellent show season in which Harry and Imogen have been rewarded for all their efforts showing the pigs at different shows around the country.

September 2013: Saddleback Classes at Westmorland County Show?

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I think I'm mad, I must be mad, yes I am mad in the family taking 35 pigs to Westmorland County Show on the Twelfth of September.

Twelve of the pigs were a Saddleback sow and her litter of 11 born in July which, available all day, attracted the most interest from the public of all the pigs forward. The other Saddlebacks we took for the show to ensure a breed class were 3 January gilts and a two year old sow who was well in pig.

The schedule and catalogue clearly stated that if 10 or more pigs of one breed are entered by 3 or more exhibitors then individual breed classes will be held. Hence the Hampshire, Saddleback and Oxford Sandy and Black pig breeds all qualified for individual breed classes. But the stewards had made a decision to amalgamate all the modern pigs into a class followed by all the Traditional breeds in another.

We as pig exhibitors did not agree with this fraudulent attempt to negate individual breed classes, as we had all entered and our entry fees accepted on the specific wording of the schedule.
Quite a strong disagreement ensued between the exhibitors and the stewards until it was finally agreed that individual breed classes would be the order of the day, and the show commenced accordingly. This was all so unnecessary as if it was the intention of the pig stewards to amalgamate all the breeds, why did they not contact the exhibitors and seek our views? I fear for the future of Westmorland Show as a major 1 day pig show as so many exhibitors left with a sour taste in their mouths and the word will spread.

However after winning the pig championship for the last 2 years, it was not to be this year. Congratulations to the Whitley family who launched a sneaky trans Pennine raid to take both the Saddleback and Old Spot breed championships and then the overall with their Gloucester Old Spot January boar.

What a coup! What just reward for all the work, time, effort, money, and patience this family put into their pigs. They may all wear pink ties, perhaps because of their Lancashire red rose alliance, but they do bring out some very good pigs. Even Ella the youngest family member at 10 years of age, pipped Imogen to be the Young Handlers Champion on the day. Harry put in his best performance handling a young Saddleback gilt, but could only manage last place being beaten by 3 of the best young handlers in the country.

The show season may be over for most, but I'm off to Newbury show and the Scottish Smallholders  before I stop showing as October approaches.

August 2013: Saddleback Pigs Fail To Take Anglesey County Show Traditional Breeds Championship

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It was a very close call between an in pig Middle white and the Saddleback champion gilt of the Mulkeen's for the Traditional breed championship at Anglesey County Show. Eventually the judge, Kevin Mathews, was drawn to the white pig as she was so very in pig, while the Mulkeen's is waiting to see the boar in September to provide January show pigs for the 2014 season. The correct choice on the day! It is always a dilemma when to put a gilt into pig as at the later shows judges tend to favour "pigs doing their job".

Pig showing is all about the pig on the day. This is what makes it such fun as at every show different pigs come to the fore and time makes pigs alter so quickly. For many pig keepers Anglesey is the last show in their 2013  show season, but not for my team which are just coming into their own as other pigs fade into their breeding cycle.

I still have 3 shows ahead of me in September as I head both South and North and for me the local Westmorland County Show. South to Newbury, and North to the Scottish Smallholders Show, a new show for my show team. Harry has qualified his January Oxford Sandy and Black gilt, Coal Yeat Elsie, four times as breed champion for the breeds Champion of Champions final at Newbury Show. This is to be judged by Steve Richardson, a breeder of Landrace and Large Black pigs and who, along with his partner Janice Wood, are the owners and exhibitors of the Champion Pig at Anglesey, their Landrace pig [congratulations once again at pipping me to the modern breeds champion, putting my Hampshire sow into reserve Modern Breed champion].

My only consolation is to have a legitimate reason to give Janice a congratulatory kiss and a cuddle!

Thanks again to Janice and Steve for sponsoring the young handlers class, which after much deliberation was awarded to Grace Bretherton with Emily Mulkeen in second and Imogen third and Harry fourth. These four youngsters had worked very hard all day and the strong cappuccino coffee Harry drank for breakfast worked wonders as he at last excelled himself to rise to the same showing ability of these three professional girls! Well done to them all who, not to be satisfied by showing pigs, did their best to sell the tea towels printed to raise funds for the BPA Young  Handlers Club.

Finally a big thank you to Lizzi, a vet student from Cambridge University who concluded her two week pig placement on my farm. She prepared, washed, oiled, watered and fed the show team of 12 pigs and has now graduated from the John Sutcliffe hands-on school of pigkeeping with honours

August 2013: Saddleback Pigs Give Pig Breeders Pulling Power!

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With Hatfield show being defunct in 2013 a new show was initiated at Stoneleigh Park, the home of the long lost Royal Show. This was to be a Country Show and fair with the final of the young handlers taking place over the weekend, coupled with a Pig and Sheep Show.

The annual tug of war was again won by us "The Pigmen", who remain unbeaten in any pull for three years.

The turn out of pig and sheep exhibitors was very encouraging for the future of this event with exhibitors travelling from all corners of the UK.

Travelling down the M6 on a Friday was a big problem as it was solid standing traffic for miles and miles, but fortunately it was not too hot, and we managed to get the pigs to Stoneleigh in very good condition, albeit 2 hours longer than expected.

We - that's the family and myself - took three breeds of pigs: Hampshire, Saddleback and Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, accompanied by Harriet, a vet student on a 2 week pig placement. The pigs showed themselves well and we picked up the Hampshire breed championship with Judy, our mature sow who is just coming back to herself being well in pig. The young Hampshire boar was also reserve champion in the modern breed live carcass class being pipped by a Landrace!

My to January Saddleback gilts got lost in a massive class of sixteen gilts. This class took over half an hour to judge with Harry and Imogen doing a valiant job keeping going for such a long time. It was an impossible task for the judge who clearly got in a muddle giving a rosette to a gilt which was, in my opinion, only for killing.

We got a call from the pink tie gang that they could not make the show with their Old Spot pigs as too busy making up for last years dismal Ice Cream sales with this bumper year. So the Whitley girls were not able to compete in the Young handlers final. If anyone deserves the title of young handlers of the year, it's Ella and Sara who put in so much effort at so many shows and are always the ones to beat in the young handlers competitions. We need to introduce a new points system that takes into account placings at shows throughout the season and doesn't rely on one weekend. This was exemplified by Imogen not even getting a rosette in her pig handling at the weekend while never being less than second all season.

But it takes time to get a competition sorted and we must all thank Tracy and her helpers for putting on such a good inaugural event. It must have been such a thrill for the Bretherton family to see their daughter Grace take the overall pig championship with her Landrace sow, and a small justification for all their efforts to bring this show to fruition.


July 2013: Saddleback Pigs are Champions again

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Saddleback pigs may not have had such a good show at the great Yorkshire Show, where they have been Pig of the Year for the last few years, but they were champions at Great Eccleston Show. Unfortunately not my Saddleback pigs but the gilt Garsfield Rosettee born, reared and bred by Brian and Margaret Mulkeen, and most expertly shown by their granddaughter. A true family affair.

But not to be totally outdone I borrowed the Mulkeen's two granddaughters Emily and Eleanor to show my pair of January Saddleback gilts and they won the class! These two Rosette gilts, born at the very end of January, are just coming into their own after winning the Cheshire show class and having a show-off for the Great Yorks.

You can over-show young growing pigs, especially in this heat wave we are having. The next time out for all the young pigs - Saddleback, Hampshire and Oxford Sandy and Black - is the new show at Stoneleigh on 3-4 August, followed by Anglesey County Show on 13-14 August. It's not only the pigs that can suffer in the heat as this pigkeeper has had to put his head under the cold tap many times this week, 6 days showing in a week is pushing the limit. Thanks to Ryan, a vet student who has been with me for 2 weeks gaining pigkeeping experience, who now is an adept pig wash man!

Where would we be without our grandchildren and children to help at the shows? If we all did not put in such an effort to encourage the next generation of pigkeepers, I feel the shows would be much less supported with fewer exhibitors and pigs.

A big thanks must go to Tracy and Ian Bretherton and their helpers for putting on such a friendly show, which is always relaxing after the rigors of the three days at the Great Yorkshire show. It was a brain wave of Ian's to leave the skirts off the tent which kept it nice and cool for the pigs, public and exhibitors.

Meanwhile back on the farm I'm waiting for my Rosette sow to drop her litter of July Saddleback piglets, next years show pigs?


June 2013: Sizzlingly Hot at Cheshire Show for Saddleback Pigs

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This year the pigs have suffered with the fluctuating temperatures of the late spring, dominated by cold Easterly winds and punctuated by the odd couple of hot days. Saddleback pigs do not like dramatic changes in temperature, and stopped eating in the heat.

The two days of Cheshire County Show were a heat wave with temperatures in the pig marquee soaring in the mid 30°c, which stressed all the pigs especially the large sows. Eventually we managed to open more gaps to allow the air to circulate and cool the pigs, but it was still too hot for man and pig.

Harry and Imogen showed the three breeds of pigs - Saddleback, Hampshire and Oxford Sandy and Black pigs - very well and we came away with two breed champions and a reserve breed champion Saddleback pig with Coal Yeat Rosette (a gilt born at the end of September 2012). The Saddleback January gilts on their first outing excelled themselves and in a class of 8 Saddleback pigs we got first and second with litter sisters.

It always amazes me just how biddable Saddleback pigs are as these gilts had no pre show training and were shown straight from their pen on the farm. The only disappointment was Coal Yeat Grand Duke our stock boar, who was beaten for the first time in 4 years by a mature boar, which he was placed above at the last show. A different judge, a different day!

It was good to see so many familiar faces from the pigkeeping courses in the pig tent checking up on the progress of my pigs. I did not have too much time to chat as the pigs, all 20 of them, consumed bucket loads of water throughout the day.

The major surprise was my pair of Hampshire pigs in the Commercial pig classes. They were awarded the champion rosette and a trophy to match. This matched pair in the pork pig class, under 65 kilo, looked really well and beat Duroc, Lop, and a commercial cross-bred pair.

The children, Harry and Imogen, worked really hard showing the pigs and a big thanks to Carole for helping with showing the pigs while I tried to present all the pigs clean and shining from the pens. Imogen won her age class in the young handlers and was eventual runner up to 16 year old Sara, who had a great day.

The level of skills these young handlers are now achieving makes all us older pig people very proud.


June 2013: Saddleback Pigs sweep Stafford Show qualifiers

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While I was having success in qualifying my Oxford Sandy and Black gilt for the January young pig of the year final, the Mulkeens swept their two Saddlebacks into the July Young pig of the year final. Both finals will this year be held at the Great Yorkshire Show in July, when pigs of all breeds which have qualified from shows around the country come together for this prestigious events final.

Unfortunately my September Saddleback gilt was the only entry in her class so she had to compete against July Saddleback gilts, as the classes were amalgamated. No chance giving away 3 months of growth. However this was a triumphant return to the show ring for Coal Yeat Grand Duke the 2011 Saddleback 'champion of champions' and Saddleback 'pig of the year'. Having been outwintered all winter he still has a thick coat of hair, yet this only added to his presence in the ring as he majestically brushed aside all the other boars being shown. He will be going to Cheshire County Show in mid June, Gt Eccleston in July and Angelsey/Stoneleigh in August (still too many shows fail to put on classes for adult mature boars).

The great thing about showing pigs is how well the children are showing the pigs. Harry and Imogen now show all the female pigs leaving me only the boars to show. The BPA youth club is really working well stimulating such expertise at such young ages. The 9 to 12 year old young handlers class had so many entries it had to be split into two. I think there were almost 20 children and pigs in the ring at once! Congratulations to Sara for again being overall young handler champion, no-one works harder than Sara as she shows a massive team of 16 Gloucester Old Spots and gets to more shows than I do!

One show topic of conversation at the show was the price of pork. In order to keep pedigree pigs we have to "Eat them to keep them" but we must market our pigs at a realistic price. My local butcher is selling half a pig, cut to your requirements, at £1.25/pound. This, advertised as local pork, actually originates from Yorkshire via a Preston meat wholesaler. I have never considered Yorkshire local to us here in Cumbria. But in a nutshell this encapsulates all the problems with pork meat sales being too cheap and misrepresented. In order to break even with our traditional breeds of pork we need a realistic price of not less than £8.00/kilo.

All this is fully explained and costed during our pigkeeping courses which run monthly throughout the year (


January 2013: Saddleback Pigs withstand the Winter Cold

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It always amazes me just how hardy Saddleback pigs are. I outwinter all my dry sows at Coal Yeat Farm situated on the 500 ft contour in a windy spot on the Furness Peninsular, yet with good management they thrive. The extra fat that Saddleback pigs carry in the winter certainly pays benefits as they are always first out of the arks for their daily feed. Have you noticed that young pigs killed in autumn or early winter, when reared outdoors, always have more fat on their backs?

Nature naturally induces the pigs to lay down fat as the days shorten and temperatures plunge, as this extra layer will ensure survival through the winter. And how winter has arrived now we are in January, with both frost and snow. How the Saddlebacks hate the slippery frozen uneven ground that was previously December's field of mud.

With the pipes and troughs frozen outside I'm back carrying water, and how pigs can drink, at least a gallon a day for dry sows and boars. Fortunately the extra insulation on the water pipes at Bridgefield Farm has kept the majority of water running for the pigs in the barns where the sows with the January litters are lactating.

I attended the Kendal Auction Mart Christmas show and sale of pigs in December taking two fat pigs to enter in the pairs class. It was sad to see so many notched Saddleback sows and boars being culled as their offsprings made little money. Will there be a shortage of pigs in 2013 as many smallholders forsake pigs? Has the recent upsurge in the Saddleback pig population reached its peak?

Also it was very interesting to see, at the local slaughter house in mid December, a lairage full of rare breed pigs. Sixty pigs in all and only less than 10% were for local butchers, the rest were private kills. Where is all this pork going? Is this why the local butchers already struggling from the supermarket competition are seeing sales of pork diminishing?

We live in turbulent changing times and must have confidence in our chosen breed the British Saddleback Pig, which has proven over and over again to be the most profitable pig under my hands off management system.

Currently I have for sale some pedigree Saddleback gilts and sows run with the pedigree Saddleback boars, together with weaners or growers for spring delivery.