Culling our Berkshire pigs

A Berkshire boar snuffling in the grass and mud.

The combination of ever rising costs and customer expectations of ever falling prices means we’ve started culling our herd of Berkshire pigs.

Prices were up again when I paid the bill at the feed merchants today, necessitating a dip into our household savings and that’s unacceptable even though we have three porkers going through at the moment.

Pork from the growers will recoup the money from our savings but there will be nothing left to pay for further feed, much less the replacement stock we need. Or fencing materials, veterinary costs, farm insurance and the like. We broke even last year so there’s nothing left in the bank for them at this point.

If we could cover our costs and get the small margin we need to rebuild our cushion, it might be worth going on with the pigs. But with the majority of potential customers for pigs and pork—five of seven in the past fortnight—demanding prices that are one-third to one-half the cost of the production we see little point in carrying on. (Ironically, we have a bigger base of potential customers than ever thanks to most other local producers quitting.)

As our boar, Gus, and one of the sows, Daisy, were already in ill health I decided to cull them immediately instead of running up further veterinary and feed bills.

A neighbour with a firearms certificate, endorsed for culling injured stock, brought his .22 over this afternoon and shot both of them.

I’d have preferred to use a shotgun as it’s safer and more effective—fired at close range into the skull about an inch above the eyes—but the people who let me use their shotgun (under supervision on my land) if needed were away. (UK firearms laws have so far prevented me obtaining a shotgun certificate.)

With both pigs, the first shot from the .22 didn’t hit quite square thanks to the pigs moving their heads slightly. The fractional change in angle, combined with the hardness and thickness of a mature pig’s skull, meant the bullets ricocheted up their foreheads.

I’d anticipated this and positioned the pigs with the empty hillside rising behind them, but it wasn’t pleasant to have rounds zip off bone into the air then plough into the soil far up the rise.

In both cases, the second shots hit square, at very close to a right angle to the forehead, and penetrated the bone. Both pigs dropped immediately, indicating their brain stems were destroyed by the rounds.

The neighbour and I moved the pig carcasses around to the hardstanding to allow the knacker to collect them tomorrow. They’re under a tarpaulin to avoid offending passers-by—we know from experience how few people like to be confronted by the realities of farming.

As for the remaining sows, I’d like to send them to slaughter. If we can turn them into sausages, chops and hams we can cover the costs of culling them, plus the costs of disposing of the boar and sow.

However, most abattoirs up here only take pigs to 80kg and the sows are in excess of 200kg. If we can’t send the sows to slaughter, we’ll have to pay the cull costs from the proceeds of the last porkers.

It will leave us a little out of pocket but not as much as keeping a herd of pigs on and subsidising at least half the cost of other people’s food, as an ever increasing number of would-be customers make clear that’s what we’re expected to do.

Well, their expectations won’t be met at our expense. Instead, they can go to the supermarket, fill their trolleys with cheap, imported and intensively produced pork while blaming the supermarkets for farmers not getting paid enough for milk or pork.

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91 Responses to “Culling our Berkshire pigs”

  1. We don’t know about the markets argument, but we think Mhairi is correct. Rare breed pigs like Berkshires are not commercial pigs any more. They don’t make money and that has to be accepted if they are to be saved. We have a small herd of Tamworths that we paid for from our salaries. Their houses and fences came from our salaries, too. The piglets, which are in some ways “just a surplus”, bring in enough money to cover the monthly feed but that’s all. It’s the same for many people preserving rare breeds. It’s a privilege and an honour to be saving them, so we accept that it will cost us money. People who buy weaners from us pay £25 to £35, with most paying £30. We just take what people offer as we’re not doing it for business. Of course, if set a price and it was any higher they wouldn’t buy and we’d have to pay the feed bill from our salaries, which would be a bit too much for us. We love having the pigs, they’re like pets and we love saving the Tamworth breed from disappearing. If that costs money then that has to be accepted. If you want to make money from pigs then surely you should be using commercial breeds?

    • Absolute TOSH !! The WHOLE point of saving Rare Breed is to show to folks what real pork should taste like and how healthy it is for your body to eat a proper meat to fat ratio. The commercial breeds are quick growing, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and taste like the water filled meat that they are.

      Real lovers of rare breed pigs know this and that’s I guess why we drop out of the market when things become just too brain numbingly hard. If folks like you continue to keep rare breeds as glorified ‘pets’ you are doing all the breeds a severe injustice and putting out of business the very folk that are really trying to save the breeds for the purposes they were originally bred for.

  2. got to agree with sue – your short term gain there is long term doom for the breed. as long as they only exist on the whim of the privileged few who can fully subsidise them, the breed is far, far from being ‘saved’. indeed, they teeter ever closer to the brink as you drive the businesspeople out. oopsie. our sowherd has been halved, we are one of only a handful; of people with our saddleback line and really they should be gone too…..if we hit any more financial hardship, they will. this has *entirely* happened since the phenomena of keeping pigs as pets in the last few years.

    • Our sows were Mermaids and Suzannes, the two most scarce Berkshire bloodlines. Culling two of the 26 Mermaids with progeny cuts their numbers by 7.6%. Culling two of the 28 Suzannes cuts their numbers by 7.14%. It’s actually worse than that for the Mermaids as they’re the oldest and unimproved sow line. In other words, they are closest to what the Berkshire was originally intended to be.

      Similarly with boars. We had a Namatjira that we had to cull due to OCD compounded by an injury while serving a sow. There are only 19 Namatjira boars left. (Gus was an Ambassador and they’re in slightly healthy shape with 29 in the last survey.)

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