The Duroc is the latest addition to the Tedfold herd, and Rachel Graham went along to find out more about what attracted Oliver Giles to the breed
Regular readers of Practical Pigs, and anyone involved with the showing side of pig-keeping, will know of Michaela and Oliver Giles.They have been keeping pigs in West Sussex for over 20 years, enjoying great show success with British Saddlebacks, Middle Whites and more recently, Durocs. Oliver is a student vet, Michaela writes for the magazine, they run pig-keeping courses and supply pigs to breeders and small-scale keepers across the country.
“I grew up with multiple sets of meat weaners and unregistered breeding pigs. In 2010, we introduced pedigree British Saddlebacks to the farm, and bred those for a few years,” explained Oliver. “In 2012, Mum said that if I did well in my GSCEs I could pick a breed of my own, and I chose Middle Whites. We’ve been showing British Saddlebacks and Middle Whites with great success from 2011 to date.
“At the 2017 Great Yorkshire Show, we saw a beautiful November-born Duroc gilt in the ring and just had to buy her. I collected her the same year from Hayley Loveless, in Dorset. She is registered as Portbredy Lena 1337, and ‘Lena’ is still in the herd today.”
Most of the female bloodlines in the UK originated from Denmark, but the Lena bloodline that Oliver has is the only directly American sow bloodline in the UK. Oliver’s first litter from Lena was via AI from Deerpark in Ireland, because at that point he didn’t have a boar. The semen was from the Top Drawer bloodline, which is what was available at the time. After Lena’s first litter, Oliver decided to buy a boar.
“A few months after I bought Lena, I went to the Isle of Portland to see Jeremy Barber, a top judge and commercial breeder of Durocs, to pick up a Top Drawer boar from him. I hadn’t seen it, but trusted his judgement and collected Seaborough Top Drawer D1078, or ‘Floyd’. Mum was away at the time. She knew I was collecting a boar, but I also came back with a gilt! Jeremy was very kind and offered me the seven-month-old boar for £250 – and a gilt to go with it for £100. He was extremely generous with his charging, because he said that he wanted to help get me started with Durocs.
“The gilt was a Hover, but I don’t have that line any more. I had a few litters from her, but I sold her on so I could focus on one line and put my stamp on that. If you keep multiple female lines, you have to maintain their status by keeping multiple of each line. I’d rather have more of just one line, and focus on that.”
From Lena’s first litter of 15, several piglets were lost. “Lena was a bit prone to standing on her piglets, so we swiftly changed our management to a heat lamp and creep, and from normal straw to chopped straw, which actually made the biggest difference. The piglets didn’t end up getting lost or tangled up, which solved the problem. We kept one from that litter, Tedfold Lena 5, ‘Gretchen’. We sold her in 2019 as a sow, then bought her back again 18 months later! She was shown in the 2018 show season as a February gilt and qualified for Young Pig of the Year.
More male than female bloodlines came from America and those Oliver has – Top Drawer and Raw Deal – were both imported from the famous Cedar Ridge herd in Illinois in 2014. Until recently, Seaborough Top Drawer D1078 (Floyd) was the only registered boar in the UK from the Top Drawer bloodline, but Oliver registered a second boar a few weeks ago, which was sent to North Wales.
With the arrival of Floyd, Oliver continued breeding and showing, and kept more of the piglets. He now has five sows and two boars. Floyd is kept for serving the big sows, but Oliver likes to keep a younger boar for the gilts and smaller sows. “I sell them once they get too big for the gilts and buy another one. I’ve had two Raw Deal boars from Jason Knaggs, over the years,” he explained.
Senior boars can be a bit temperamental and highly strung, especially some of those with the American bloodlines. At 450kg, Floyd needs to be handled with care. He can only be used on big sows, and they come to him. He doesn’t move out of his pen, and Lena is his favourite sow. He gets upset if she’s not in the pen with him, and when she returns after weaning he’s very happy to see her.
Addition to the herd
I was curious about why Oliver wanted to add another breed to what is already a very successful herd of British Saddlebacks and Middle Whites.
“Durocs added a niche diversification to the breeds we already had. It’s a more commercial outlet for our weaner sales, we have more commercial farmers of other species coming to collect Durocs to add to their own farms. It’s a very popular breed. From our first litter in 2018 to now, I’ve registered 10 females and four males to the herd book. I recently sold several Durocs to a new herd in North Wales. They have been to me three times for pigs, all three of the breeds we keep, but primarily Durocs.
“What we do here is primarily geared towards showing, so I breed all these pigs to produce a winner in the show ring. The weaners that don’t make the grade get sold as meat weaners or to first-time pig-keepers. Once people have kept them and tasted the meat, they don’t want any other breed.
“The Duroc is fast-growing with very little fat, and what fat there is, is marbled throughout the meat. They can reach 60kg deadweight within 4-4 ½ months. However, because they don’t put on subcutaneous fat, you can get away with keeping them for a bit longer and killing them at a higher deadweight. This provides more meat back for not much more money – a bit more bang for your buck – and with none of the thick layers of fat that can be found in other breeds.
“This also makes them an ideal for beginners who just want meat weaners. It doesn’t make sense NOT to keep Durocs as your first pig. They’re fast-growing, and nice in the field – you can’t really mess a Duroc up. The meat’s exceptional, you don’t have to worry about fat and if you overfeed them [a common mistake made by beginners], they just get bigger, not fatter. People come on our training courses dead-set on a specific breed, and leave saying they want Durocs!
“As a breed, Durocs are generally really calm and nice-natured. They don’t mind being injected, and don’t bat an eyelid, even Floyd, although he’s done from over the fence. The Middle Whites scream like blue murder while they’re being vaccinated, and every time they see you afterwards!”
If you’re planning on growing your youngsters on and breeding with them, then the picture changes slightly. As mentioned earlier, some boars with imported American bloodlines can be challenging to handle when fully grown. This seems to be down to individual character though, rather than a general Duroc trait. Not all boars are aggressive, what makes them challenging is their size and damage potential, but certainly the Duroc boars have a different character than traditional breed boars. However, a boar that’s a great size – of any breed – should always be approached with caution.
The females don’t fight with each other, so introducing sows to each other is no problem. They are absolutely lovely and really affectionate until they’ve got piglets. Once they farrow, they can be feisty if they feel their piglets are being threatened.
Some are still nice with piglets, and any protective behaviour tends to be more of an issue in confined housing. Oliver tends to farrow them inside and then move them outside after both iron injections and then the sows are generally fine – although exceptions do occur. For this reason, if you’re planning to handle the piglets, removing the sow first is a sensible precaution. In fact, until you know how a sow of any breed will react when you pick up her piglets, this is the most sensible and safe practice.
“Generally, they make good mothers, but some individuals can be clumsy. We farrow them all in the stable, for ease of management. Farrowing in a stable means that if I have to go in, I’m not crawling on my hands and knees in an ark, and it makes delivering the iron injections to the piglets at three and 12 days old much easier,” explained Oliver.
When Oliver is selecting piglets to keep for breeding or to show, he looks for good confirmation, decent hams, a level back and shoulders to match. “Floyd produces really nice pigs!”, he smiled.
With Gretchen having qualified for Young Pig of the Year in 2018, the following year Oliver went on to further success with his Durocs. “In 2019, I had multiple Duroc Breed Champions at the BPA Accredited and Affiliated shows. I qualified a Duroc boar for Pig Of The Year (Tedfold Top Drawer 20), and that same year I also qualified two Duroc gilts for Young Pig Of The Year, Tedfold Lena 25 (Henri) and Tedfold Lena 30 (Heidi), with the latter winning Reserve Overall in Young Pig Of The Year 2019.
Oliver is currently enrolled in the BPA Apprentice Judge Scheme. This is by invitation only, and he qualified because of his previous success in the show ring.
Obviously, a good knowledge of the breed standard is required, but I asked what else is involved. “This year I’ve attended a few agricultural shows to shadow judge some experienced judges and to learn from them and gain practice at being a judge in the centre of the ring. It involves me judging the pigs in the ring, placing them and justifying my reasoning to the experienced judge supervising me. I was nominated for my success with the Middle White, which is my main breed, and if I pass, I’ll be a Middle White judge for a minimum of three years, at BPA-accredited shows. After which, I can be reviewed to see if I can add more breeds, according to my capabilities. I could judge other breeds at affiliated shows, and I did some apprentice judging of the Duroc at the Great Yorkshire Show, under John Millard. “I really enjoy it. You’re supposed to shadow three judges, and I’ve already done five. I think that judging is a natural progression for me. I’ve achieved a lot as an exhibitor, I feel I can spot a good pig and do a good job, and studying for my vet degree gives me an additional perspective.”
What does the future hold?
Oliver is in the final year of his veterinary medicine degree at the University of Surrey, which entails travelling to different practices around the UK. This year he’s been away on placements in Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Somerset, and the day-to-day running of the pigs is done by Michaela when he’s away. Once he qualifies, he hopes get a job nearby or within commutable distance of home. What will happen to the pigs if he doesn’t manage to find somewhere close, is a bridge that will have to be crossed when the time comes. In the meantime, he’s enjoying the success and pleasure this herd brings him.
This feature first appeared in the Autumn 2021 issue of Practical Pigs, available here
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