The Tamworth pig originated in Tamworth, Staffordshire, UK and is known to have been at least partially bred from pigs from Ireland known as “Irish Grazers.” The breed was first imported into the US in 1882. The American Tamworth Swine Record Association was founded in 1887.
These pigs were originally bred to thrive outside on foraged food, especially in wooded areas. They are amazing rooters. We’ve seen dirty snouts on day-old piglets. We find the sows’ favorite farrowing spot is under a recently turned-over maple tree stump. The new family won’t venture from the nesting area for a few days, and the freshly dug roots and all of the many grubs and bugs provide ample nutrition for mother and piglets alike. I’ve witnessed many a newborn piglet suckling on a maple root, until mama announces that the milk bar is open. Their long heads and long snouts help them forage very efficiently. We use them on recently cleared land for de-stumping and de-rocking. Moving a particularly stubborn stump is often accomplished by several pigs working on it together. They look and sound like linebackers.
We always know when someone has given birth because no one shows up for breakfast. We find the new family easily enough, because the rest of the herd has spread out in a big circle around her. The sows are very good mothers, with a litter size of 6 to 12. We’ve found the boars to be very safe, gentle and protective with new piglets. They are quite tame and friendly. They are still pigs, however: Our 800-pound boar, Albus Dumbleboar, comes up for a scratch every morning, but I will never get between him and a chocolate cake.
We did have one farrowing disaster, but it was with our (and her) very first litter and a sow we later ended up sending off to freezer camp because of bad mothering. We came out in mid-February when it was -15 degrees F to find frozen piglets half buried in the hay. We were able to revive one of them by holding her in warm water. I forgot to wrap the baby (all but her head) in a plastic bag first, and when we later brought her out to her mama, she took one sniff and rejected her. So I raised a bottle baby that year, but have not had to do it since. It taught me a lot about piglets, though. I had her potty trained and everything. I had a puppy and a young dog at the time, and Bjarki and Minnie remain best friends, years later. Minnie is almost 500 pounds now, and a mother herself, and she and Bjarki exchange lots of kisses and cuddles every morning.
We find them quite hardy here in our cold New Hampshire winters. Even when it’s well below zero and they have three-sided sheds available to them, they prefer to huddle together in the open, and we can see the steam from the pile from hundreds of feet away. We give them plenty of hay to bed in, and when it’s really cold, you can only see snouts and ears above the hay.
In the summer, we are sure to provide plenty of available shade and wallows filled with water and find they do well. In the heat of the day, they barely move and do most of their eating and foraging in the evening. Their red coats make them adaptable to many climates and protect them from the sun. When it’s very hot out, they make sure to coat themselves in mud from their wallow.
We’ve not found them to be fans of morning, at all. We do all of the rest of our farm chores first, and then feed the pigs. They all slowly and sleepily wander down to our feeding area when they hear the tractor coming, one by one. We feed ours quite a bit of expired organic yogurt from our local food pantry, and they love it. We joke that we are turning organic yogurt into bacon, 4 ounces at a time. We have several lovely neighbors who bring up windfall apples and garden clippings and weeds. We’ve found several things that at least our pigs do not consider food, like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. They’d prefer we feed that to the sheep, thank you very much. Even if we put it at the bottom of their feed trough and cover it in yogurt, we find it in piles out of the trough, with the yogurt licked off. We had such a bumper crop of zucchini in our garden this year that we were feeding tons of it to the pigs. You know you’ve grown too much zucchini when 6 sows, 1 boar and 16 piglets start to cringe when they see it.
It’s amazing what a garden comes up where we have kept them. So many volunteer tomato, squash, tomatillo and pumpkin plants come up. It’s quite bizarre to see so many woodland plants on their next regrowth, right next to a tomato plant. I constantly do a double-take. They love to harvest their own plants, and we have to get up early and hunt for tomatoes we want to steal from them early in the morning. They know exactly when they’re ripe.
After we’ve moved them from a paddock, we rock the field, rebuilding all of the stonewalls that have been on our land for hundreds of years. We also build brush piles, and burn them once the ground is snow-covered. The soil left behind is simply amazing. The crops we plant in their wake are wonderful with all of that organic matter in the tilled soil. Pastures are lush. Most of the trees don’t regrow, but if they do, we use our Icelandic sheep on the next pass. We have our current home vegetable garden on an area where we had the pigs a few years ago, and I do top-dress it with new compost every year. But the raised beds have soil that is just black gold. I confess I admire it all the time.
At maturity, both sexes weigh between 600-800 pounds. As long as we provide them with large paddocks where they stay quite active with foraging and walking around, they can breed for many years. We usually slaughter at around 250 pounds, as most farmers do for most breeds. It takes them about six to eight months to reach slaughter weight. We don’t castrate our male piglets, because we do not have boar taint in our herd, and we find they grow better that way. It is also nicer for all concerned.
They are considered a “bacon” breed, because they thrive on low energy foods and grow slowly, producing lean and fine-grained meat. Their extra long length means extra pork belly. We get a very good carcass yield, usually 60-70%, a very productive meat to bone ratio. Their long body provides a very good, long tenderloin as well, quite prized. Unless we slaughter an unproductive sow, there isn’t much fat back, but what there is renders to a lovely lard that is quite healthy, full of omega-3 fats. Everyone that tastes our pork tells us it’s the best they’ve ever had. Happy critters living in a healthy outdoor environment make healthy, delicious guilt-free bacon and pork. It doesn’t get better than that! I save all of the fat when I cook with the bacon or pork chops, and use it in all sorts of delicious ways. I bake with my lard, and my breads, pie crusts and biscuits are divine.
These pigs are quite smart and friendly, and get along well with other farm animals. Albus Dumbleboar and all of our brood sows know their names. (We find it useful to have a theme when we are picking out names, and chose the Harry Potter universe for our Tamworth pigs.) Our turkeys and chickens forage alongside of them quite often. They get along well with our Great Pyrenees guardian dogs, and are herded pretty easily by our Icelandic Sheepdogs. When the piglets scoot out under the hot wire we use to keep them in, they shoo back in as soon as they hear the dogs start barking. They all find it a very amusing game, dogs and pigs alike, the bunch of hooligans.
The American Livestock Breed conservancy lists their status as “threatened.” There are an estimated 1,500 Tamworth pigs in the United States right now, and fewer than that in the rest of the world combined. They are not well-suited for intensive commercial production, because of their slower growth and strong desire to root. They are wonderful for farms where they can forage a significant portion of their own food.