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  • Writer's pictureAlistair

Ecosystem Engineers: The (new) Tamworth Two

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

I have been wanting to get pigs on to the land at Cefn Garthenor since I started last May. Tamworths seemed the best bet as they are an old breed, as close as domesticated pigs get to a forest pig or boar, but less prone to escape. They are hardy and relatively low maintenance, so will happily live out all year round, as long as they have some shelter from the elements. And utterly gorgeous.

Beyond these characteristics, and actually most importantly, they will help the project along by doing what pigs do best. They rootle, plough up ground, create wallows to cool in and generally disturb things in a good way. This heavy-duty work gives massive opportunity to other plants and creatures. Breaking up the ground allows flowers, plants and trees the space to germinate. It provides bare ground for insects to bask in the sun. In the winter they expose seeds and other goodies for hungry birds to feast on. Their wallows create mini wetland habitats for all sorts of amphibians. Pigs really are ecological or ecosystem engineers. Their ancestors, the wild boar, are regarded as a key-stone species, that is to say they have an impact out of all proportion to the size of their population and dramatically shape their environment. Tamworths are the next best thing.

So, why’s it taken me so long to get these miracle workers then? Well, there is a long list of excuses. High up on that list was the fact that pigs are perhaps the greatest escape artists of all domesticated animals. They are intelligent and inquisitive, and this is coupled with brawn and an ability to dig which is truly remarkable. I thought that (a) I’d better make sure that my boundary fence was more that just cattle proof and that (b) I’d better get to know my neighbours just in case. Local contractor Richard Hicks has been upgrading my fencing, so I’m feeling more confident about that. And a year in, most of my neighbours know I’m a little eccentric but not actually dangerous.

Rootling in the woods

The next issue was, how many to get? I settled on two. I know, that does not sound like a lot, does it? But pigs are very hard working and can plough a field before you’ve shut the gate on them. I do not want to be in the position where I need to get rid of over-active pigs before they go over the top in terms of re-engineering the land. I was also advised to avoid youngsters as they are the most likely to abscond.

There are not so many pigs in this part of Wales, but as it happens just down my track sits a fabulous pig sanctuary, . It is run by Sasha who hosts 90 plus pigs. These were originally intensively farmed, ended up in an abattoir that was condemned, barred from entering the human food chain and finally rescued and given the retirement they deserve by Sasha and her team of volunteers. That means that, unfortunately, they are not the kind of hardy, outdoor all year around, kind of pigs I need. So, pinching a couple was not really an option. But Sasha has been a mine of information and has helped me get the setup (and fencing) right. The team will also give me a hand, checking up on the pigs when I’m not around.

In the end I found a Tamworth breeder at the other end of the Brecons. Barbara Warren runs Court Beddyn Farm, near Pontypool ( and was able to help me out with a 5 year old mother and her two year old daughter. Cagney and Lacey, as they are now known (you need to be a certain age for that one). And so it was that I took delivery on Monday afternoon. Just as Barbara had assured me, the ladies are very friendly and will follow you around (assuming you have a bucket of food!). I’m hope that this makes them homing pigs.

Ultimately, I want the (new) Tamworth Two to work across large parts of the land. But, as I’m not around all the time, I wanted to have a fairly large and secure area which could be used should they prove to be the escape artists I hope they aren’t. So, they have started in a large enclosure (around a hectare, so 100m x 100m) which is around 40% woodland and 60% meadow. It slopes, fairly steeply, from the high point on the farm (near the yard) down through the wood.

Mud, glorious mud. Time for a well deserved wallow

The Welsh national archive gives ancient place names, and the field I’m using is listed as Cae Ffynnon. Cae means field and Ffynnon is Welsh for spring, fountain or well. And, unsurprisingly, it is the site of the spring that, until 30 years ago, fed water the house. The old clay pipe connecting the spring to the old reservoir tank is broken, so the ground is suitably wet and ideal for wallowing. The pigs lost no time in making the most of this … they are very, very smart. I look forward to seeing what they do at Cefn Garthenor, but in the meantime, they certainly put a smile on my face.


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