FANCY KEEPING a few pedigree breeding pigs? If you do you will be among a growing number of pedigree enthusiasts, according to the British Pig Association.

The association’s Marcus Bates says 200 new members have joined the BPA, which covers all the traditional breeds, this year, taking membership to 800. The niche market for traditional breeds is developing, he explains.

Some are small hobby-sized units, but family-sized pedigree pig units are being re-established too. “They are finding a market for traditional breed meat, so are building herds back up to the 60-sow plus level.”

Part of the reason pedigree pig breeding has become more practical is the ease of AI and availability of semen. The BPA’s Traditional Breeds AI Scheme is run by Robert Overend of Deerpark Pedigree Pigs in Northern Ireland.

Mr Overend says legally any pig owner can AI their own sows. “We have trained people of 12 to do it, but they must be experienced with the pigs to consider this.

“Pig AI is simple, as unlike cattle you don”t have to put your arm in.” It is preferable for people to take a half day course. However, an experienced pig keeper could show them, he adds.

Semen can only be bought from a licensed AI station. Mr Overend supplies semen from Berkshire, British Lop, Gloucester Old Spot, Large Black, Middle White and Tamworth pigs at present.

“But to get the boar you want order semen when you wean sows, five days before it’s needed.”

Because this is supplied fresh, storage once it’s delivered to the pig keeper is vital, says Mr Overend. When stored well it should last 3-5 days, possibly up to eight days. It must be kept at 15-20C, normal room temperature.

“When semen is stored correctly and AI done properly, conception should be as good as for natural service.” Normally sows are inseminated twice, depending on how long they remain on heat. They should come on heat five days after weaning, but sows vary so check them often around this time to see when they are standing, he advises.

To ensure a strong heat, he recommends applying pheromone spray on a piece of wood, wooden door or gatepost, rather than spraying it around the sow”s head. “Wood will hold the scent and attract the sow, helping keep her still when inseminating her.”

PEDIGREE PIGS

* Traditional breed semen available

* AI easy to do

* Store semen carefully