An animal rights charity has launched a campaign to save a sow and her ten piglets from being slaughtered after she escaped from a farm in Nottinghamshire.
‘Matilda’ and her ten piglets were discovered by a dog walker on woodland near Ollerton last Monday, who quickly 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.
They learnt 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.
But two days later they found that farmers had rounded up the family, taking them back for slaughter.
Piglets are usually removed from sows when they are a few weeks old, and killed when they reach about six months of age.
Activists have now launched a campaign across social media sites dubbed ‘Save the Ollerton 11’, pledging to hold a protest outside the farm on Friday evening.
Nearly 4,500 people have signed an online petition for the farm to turn Matilda, and her piglets over to Brinsley Animal Sanctuary, who have offered to rehome them.
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 Tamworth Two 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 greatest ever scoops.
In 2003, the BBC even produced and broadcast a 60-minute drama The Legend of the Tamworth Two.
Jon Beresford, founder of Brinsley Animal Rescue, said the farm has no claim to ownership of Matilda and as there was no ear tag they cannot prove it belonged to them.
He said: “She cannot legally now go back into the food chain. There is no traceability.
“The farm is not going to keep them as pets, or to retire. They are in the business of killing pigs for meat for money.
“If they do not allow us to rescue them or anybody else, I can’t imagine anything else that is going to happen other than an untimely end.”
Matilda’s maternal instinct had driven her to escape from the farm, he added.
Mr Beresford said he was contacted by a former employee of the farm who claimed that escapes were a “regular occurrence” and the establishment “needs scrutiny”.
Dog walker Anna Aston, who originally found the Ollerton 11, said Matilda has "earned her freedom now".
"Wherever she has come from, she deserves a safe and happy life with her little family," Mrs Aston said.
Wold Farms Breeding Ltd, who manage Houghton Warren Farm and are one of the largest outdoor pig breeding businesses in the country, have been approached for comment.
Wold Farms is owned by UK food producer Cranswick PLC, who raked in £82.7 million pounds of profit in 2020.
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”.
A spokesman for Marks and Spencer said they would not be providing a comment on the Save the Ollerton 11 campaign and that they were leaving it in the hands of Cranswick PLC to provide a statement.
Cranswick PLC have been approached for comment.