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This squealing litter promises a good supply of sizzling sausages; Our columnist has had some rather unusual arrivals at the smallholding down to earth.

Byline: LIZ SHANKLAND

THERE can't be many people I've met who haven't discovered my obsession with livestock.

It doesn't matter where I am - black-tie do, business meeting or dinner with friends - I always manage to bring animals into the conversation. There can't be many people who've talked pigs with Dafydd Elis-Thomas or had a conversation with Warren Gatland on the eve of a rugby international about dagging sheep.

At the moment, I'm in pig overdrive. It's piglet time and I'm boring for Wales on the subject and showing pictures to anyone who will stop long enough for me to get my phone out. Consequently, at the pre-and post-match functions at the weekend, quite a lot of people were forced into viewing snaps of my latest arrivals.

Expectant parents never know for sure how their offspring are going to turn out and that's part of the pleasure, I suppose. When Buddug, one of my wild boar hybrids had her latest litter, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Although I don't know for certain, I believe Buddug's grandparents were a wild boar and a Gloucestershire Old Spots sow. The latest litter would seem to support that. Seven of the piglets are like tiny ginger dalmatians - the background colour coming from Boris the Tamworth boar, who was brought in to serve my pedigree girls, but just couldn't resist breaking under the fence and getting to know the neighbours. The eighth one, however, is dark brown with black stripes, like a wild boar piglet, and identical to his mum when she was tiny.

Gerry wasn't convinced Buddug was in pig at all, butIwas in no doubt. We agreed to disagree, but I insisted on getting her out of the field and under cover just when the icy weather began, so I couldmonitor her progress. Because of her build, she hides pregnancy well, and I wasn't sure when she was served, so there was a three-week window of waiting.

Fortunately, I was at home when she started farrowing - but only just. Gerry and I had managed to get away to Edinburgh for the rugby, as Josh had agreed to come home from university and hold the fort. He had to leave early in the morning, and we were back just a few hours later, so it all worked out quite well. She had the first two as I was busy cleaning out the other pens, but I sat with her for all the others. One was born dead but looked perfect - something which is incredibly common in litters. I'm gradually getting used to the inevitable disappointment.

The other eight, however, were feisty little beasts, squeaking like mad and fighting for teats as soon as they popped out. Seven are gilts, which means we'll have a good supply of bacon pigs by the autumn. I know it seems weird to be talking about the end product at this stage, but that's the reality of keeping livestock.

The sentimental side of me is saying I'd quite like the little brown gilt to go to a good home. She'll probably turn out quite a lot like her mother and would be an unusual pet for someone.

Gerry, on the other hand, says sausages. We have people queuing up for sausages right now. Our butcher, Jonathan Tudor, has hit on awinning mixture which everyone seems to love - even people who haven't eaten sausages for years. Jonathan has been curing some bacon for me, too, so I'm looking forward to picking that up this week, as we haven't had any home-bred ham for quite a while.

Another thing I'm looking forward to at the moment is getting the two litters of Tamworth piglets out of the barn and moving all the pigs onto fresh ground. We're getting fencing contractor Paul Davies to make some new paddocks in a couple of weeks, so we'll be able to rotate the pigs more often and give the fields a proper rest once they've taken a battering from heavy feet and wet weather.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a spell of dry weather so the work can be done as soon as possible.

For me, there's no better sight thanaherd of orange piglets racing across a green field like a shoal of shimmering goldfish. I'm pretty easy to please!

You can contact Liz Shankland by emailing downtoearthliz@hotmail.co.uk or visit www.lizshankland.com

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BLISS: Piglets and their mother
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 17, 2009
Words:740
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