If he trots towards you chewing, get out quick

Daniel Butler talks to Andrew Holman, wild boar farmer near Knighton, Powys
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The Independent Online
'My first job of the day is to check the pigs are all there and give them their morning feed. We have one boar and five breeding sows now, which is down a bit on last year, but still means we'll produce 35- 40 piglets next Easter.

"During the mating season, before Christmas, I can"t go in the pen because the boar would attack me. During the rest of the year he's usually all right: although if he trots towards you chewing hard it"s time to get out - he"s sharpening his tusks against each other ready for a fight.

"In the wild they're a different thing altogether: very shy and retiring. A boar would have to be really pushed to attack, although dogs are a problem. They don't like them at all and if one comes sniffing around where they're hiding they'll go at it.

"My boar came originally from Poland - and like most Polish animals he's very big and black. The sows are much smaller and, coming from France, light brown. The herd lives in a bit of waste ground, fenced in with electric netting.

"They each get a daily bucket of cake and two or three times a week I tip in a trailer load of stock potatoes. We would like our animals to be organic, but it would be uneconomic because the feed is four times the price. Instead we sell our animals as "additive free" - reared without growth promoters, hormones and antibiotics. I worm them, but that's all in the way of medicines. A wild boar grows very slowly - five years before a big boar has finished - and you can't get round it. Feeding growth hormones and the like has been tried and it just doesn't work.

"Last year I grew a field of fodder beet for them - I broadcast the seed by hand in a paddock they'd ploughed up and fertilised. I didn't bother to harvest it - just let them back in.

"Most of our animals go to a 'real meat' shop two miles up the road, but I also sell to a game dealer. At first we had problems finding an abattoir - a wild boar's bristles are so coarse they clog up the machines and once one got frisky and had one of the butchers up against the wall. Now we have a deal where we always send animals in pairs - they're calmer in a herd - and they're skinned rather than scalded.

"A good animal will fetch pounds 200, but even so, there's no money in wild boar farming: unlike sheep, there are no subsidies. Also, commercial pigs are ready for slaughter at four to six months, but it's 18 months before my animals reach 100lbs.

"To be honest, the real reason I do it is because I fell in love with them while I was on exercises in Germany. When I left the army and went into sheep farming, I wanted to diversify into something a bit more interesting. To find out more, I went to a conference where I expected everyone else to be like me - enthusiasts. Instead I found most were commercial pig farmers, looking to increase the hardiness of their animals.

"That's because there's very little work with wild boar - they are so tough they live outside all year round even though we're 1,500 feet up. Unlike our 800 sheep, we never have to call the vet during farrowing. A boar's pelvic contractions are so powerful they would break your arm if you tried to help and anyway the piglets are torpedo shaped and come rocketing out with no problems.

"The only real headache is when one gets out. They immediately become very shy and nocturnal and shooting is the only answer. It's difficult and time-consuming. Unlike most animals, a wild boar's eyes don't show up in a torch beam, so you have to bait where you can floodlight the whole area. Even then it can take nights of waiting before you get a clear shot.

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