This little piggy: meet the farmer whose brought wild boar back to the New Forest (From Bournemouth Echo)
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This little piggy: meet the farmer whose brought wild boar back to the New Forest
They may look like loveable Pumba from The Lion King; all hairy with a big, smiley face.
And their stripy, squeaky babies are the cutest thing since Prince George.
So when farmer Jamie Burgess tells me they are classed as Dangerous Wild Animals and he needed to install a list of safety features as long as his arm before he was issued with his licence to keep them, I’m gobsmacked.
He shows me the six foot fence he was told to put up at his farm, Swallowfields, at Bramshaw in the New Forest. It’s dug at least a foot into the ground and has a barbed snout wire and an electric fence.
“Each passage in their unit has to be double-gated,” he says.
The reason for this became evident the morning he arrived – and there have been a few of them – when he found a couple of boar wandering around outside their stalls.
“They could easily jump five foot,” he says although: “They are so strong and clever that if they can get their front legs over part of the gate they can climb up and over, like a ladder.”
Not that we should fear them. True, wild boar can grow to the size of a medium-sized bear. And it’s also true that on the continent they occasionally charge the odd hunter in the deep, dark forests. And who could blame them? But Jamie says they are not malicious, even though the ones he’s feeding are not above giving him a powerful shove with their snout.
“They just think I should give them some more,” he says.
He does not find them aggressive. “They’re a bit like the New Forest ponies. They associate people with food and so, if a person comes to them, they may hope he’s going to give them something nice to eat.”
The only time they might get agitated is during a mating session: “The boar becomes protective of the female,” or if someone comes between a sow and her new litter.
Certainly the mums he’s feeding look delighted with life, scratching their backs on the metal gate and looking on as their adorable offspring shriek and skip and suddenly, almost as one, start snootling about in the long grass.
“They’re looking for grubs and they like grass roots,” says Jamie. “We feed them good quality feed with scraps such as peelings and fruit thrown in. But if they found a dead carcass they would probably have a nibble on that because they are omnivores.”
He and his brother are fourth generation farmers but the boars only came about after he left the Parachute Regiment and re-joined the family business following an interlude in the building trade.
“We’d always had pigs but there’s not a lot of money to be made, especially with the big producers, you can’t be a competition to them,” he says.
“I looked into wild boar and as there was no one else doing it in Hampshire we decided to.”
He and his brother acquired their first herd or ‘sounder’ and took it from there; “They are very slow-growing and take between a year and 18 months before they end up on someone’s plate,” he says.
“I think that’s what adds to the flavour, it takes time to grow them and they live good lives.”
They certainly do. Outside a paddock with trees is being created for them, inside they have pens big enough to skip about in and Wave 105 playing in the background because: “They like music.”
Maybe this is why Swallowfields’ boars have already been awarded the prestigious New Forest Marque, an assurance sign of high standards of husbandry and locally-produced food. And you can check it out yourself; they sell boar meat and sausages at their farm shop.
Looking at them foraging around, it’s easy to feel a slight pang because they are so cute. But this is what farming is meant to be; good welfare producing good food - not vile factories where the inmates never eat a blade of grass or see a ray of sunlight.
And according to my husband, who joyfully noshed his way through four of Jamie’s boar sausages; they don’t half taste good.