WHEN Richard and Vivienne Thompson made the decision to up sticks and moved to Finney Hill Green farm with a dream to set up a smallholding – they never thought that one day they would be champion pig breeders.

It was six years ago that the Thompson family swapped their suburban existence in Whitley Bay for the countryside of Allendale, taking their three chickens with them.

“Pigs had always been part of the plan,” said Richard. “Particularly rare breeds, because we felt that we’d be doing our part to keep their bloodline going.

“We first experimented with Oxford Sandy and Black weaners, before trying Tamworths for size, which we caught the bug for immediately.”

While the Thompsons sell their pork locally, their Tamworth litters have sold as far afield as Carlisle, County Durham and the Scottish Borders.

Pigs Sissy, Ester and Fifi, or the “girls” as they are known to the Thompsons, have lived in the woodland at Finney Hill for four years. Recently, the biggest of the bunch, Sissy, wowed the judges in her debut at Northumberland County Show.

“For years, we thought the only way we’d end up involved in the show would be selling our sausages in the food tent,” said Richard.

“I had cold feet about entering, because I wasn’t sure how the pigs would handle travelling or crowds, as they had never left the farm before.”

Deciding to see what Sissy and her niece Fifi were made of, the Thompsons competed for the first time this year, where Sissy took the title of Traditional Breeds Champion, and Fifi fifth place.

Now in possession of champion genes, the Thompsons hope Sissy’s next litter will gain interest from other breeders who want to jump on the Tamworth wagon. Richard will administrate artificial insemination in September, in the hope that she will produce piglets in January.

“Most breeders would aim to get a champion pig to breed right away, but we work on a cycle here to not push the animals, or ourselves, to any limits. Ester is hopefully in pig and we’ll be checking in the next few weeks. ”

Since 2013, Richard has documented the progress of his smallholding, which now holds six Dexter cattle, two bullocks, a dozen chickens alongside the Tamworths, in his online blog ‘Small Plot Big Ideas’.

Working in the computer industry means Richard has embraced the online world to help his smallholding flourish, including learning about how to artificially inseminate his pigs through studying Youtube videos, and boosting sales of his meat locally through social media.

“Social media and agriculture aren’t always so intertwined,” said Richard.

“But we’ve found it to be essential in spreading the word about our products, both locally and further afield, and showcase the happy life our animals lead.”