An animal rights charity has saved a sow and her 10 piglets from being slaughtered after she escaped from a farm in Nottinghamshire while pregnant.
“Matilda” and her 10 piglets were discovered on woodland near Ollerton last Monday by a dog walker, who alerted Brinsley Animal Rescue.
Volunteers from the charity found Matilda the following day in Crow Park appearing malnourished and without an ear tag as she lay next to her just-born litter.
Ear tags are used by farms to track and trace livestock and to mark them out as commercial products rather than pets.
Charity volunteers found Matilda looking malnourished and without an ear tag next to her litter
Credit: Brinsley Animal Rescue
They learned the pregnant sow, driven by her "maternal instincts", had escaped from nearby Haughton Warren Farm by burrowing through electric fencing that surrounded the pen.
Matilda, who is aged between one and two years old, had been unable to effectively forage for food as she had a ring through her snout, the charity said.
The volunteers fed Matilda a combination of cereals, fruit and vegetables to help her recover from the birth.
Two days later they found that farmers had rounded up the family, taking them back for slaughter.
Matilda had not been able to forage properly with the ring in her snout
Piglets are usually removed from sows when they are a few weeks old, and killed when they reach about six months of age.
But on Friday afternoon, activists forced a U-turn from the farm, which handed Matilda and the litter over after a campaign across social media sites dubbed “Save the Ollerton 11” and threats to stage a protest outside the farm.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition online urging the farm to release the pigs to Brinsley Animal Sanctuary.
The pigs will now be looked after at the rescue centre to start with. A permanent home has been found for them at Surge, another animal sanctuary in the Midlands.
Campaigners had drawn inspiration for the title from the “Tamworth Two” – pair of pigs that escaped 1998 while being unloaded from a lorry at an abattoir in Wiltshire, causing a media frenzy.
The owner of the animals said he still intended to have them slaughtered once they were recaptured, but the Daily Mail newspaper stepped in and bought the pigs in return for an exclusive story. It was described as one of British journalism’s great scoops. In 2004, the BBC even produced a 60-minute drama, The Legend of the Tamworth Two.
Jon Beresford, founder of Brinsley Animal Rescue, said pigs were more intelligent than dogs and he believed Matilda escaped to protect her unborn piglets.
"Matilda’s maternal instinct has driven her to escape from a commercial farm," he said.
"Pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures and they have a huge maternal drive."
These pigs will now be able to reach their natural age of 10 to 15 years old. Mr Beresford said that he had been contacted by former employees of the farm who claimed that escapes were a “regular occurrence”.
Dog walker Anna Aston, who originally found the pigs, said Matilda had "earned her freedom".
"It’s such good news, it has made my day," said Mrs Aston, who became vegetarian a year ago. "I couldn’t stand the thought of them going back to wherever it was, and we all have a good idea of what would have happened to them.
"We can’t save all the pigs but I just felt that she had earned her freedom. She had the instinct – she needed to have the piglets somewhere safe and went and did that."
Wold Farms Breeding Ltd, which manage Houghton Warren Farm and is one of the largest outdoor pig breeding businesses in the country, has been approached for comment.
Wold Farms is owned by UK food producer Cranswick, which raked in £82.7 million pounds of profit in 2020. Cranswick has been approached for comment.
Marks and Spencer had championed Houghton Farm in a promotional video on Youtube in 2019. Tom Slay, a M&S agricultural manager, describes the farm in the short film as a pleasant “environment” where the pigs can “exhibit a natural behaviour” with a “massive amount” of area to roam in and “wide open spaces”.