Sebastian Carr adores his rare breed British Saddleback pigs and tends to them lovingly through their lives, including on their final journey.
Once a quarter, his mother Elisabeth rings up his primary school on a Monday morning to tell them he will be late because he is on the way to the abattoir. Ten-year-old Sebastian also loves bacon, sausages and roast joints and believes pork tastes better if the animals are happy and meet their end without having suffered stress. He has just been named Young Member of the Year by the British Saddleback Breeders’ Club, which is dedicated to a breed listed as vulnerable by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, with just 300 registered breeding females.
Sebastian’s family has a smallholding in Sturminster Newton, Dorset. His parents gave him four female Saddlebacks as a surprise for Christmas two years ago. He gave them all names and acquired a boar from Wales called Berwyn to begin breeding. He traveled with his parents around the country seeking sows from different bloodlines to improve his herd and now has about 20 pigs.
Sebastian still enjoys his PlayStation but says looking after his pigs has become an important part of his day. “I like spending time with them and playing with them a bit. If you have a bad day you can go and see them,” he said.
But he said he did not enjoy “all the mess they have made: the pig pen used to be all grass and now they’ve turned it into sloppy mud”. Speaking yesterday as his family were about to tuck into roast pork from his herd and homegrown vegetables, Sebastian said it was important to him to see that his pigs arrived at the abattoir near Sherborne “nice and calm”.
“I feel OK about it because they are not stressed when they come to the abattoir. It’s happy meat as they have a lovely place to run around in and they are taken good care of. I’m confident eating it knowing where it’s come from and that they had a happy life. I have to say it does taste amazing, much better [than pork from supermarkets].”
Sebastian still enjoys his PlayStation but says looking after his pigs has become an important part of his day.
About eight of his pigs are slaughtered annually and the meat returns to his home via a butcher in Dorchester, meaning a total of less than 50 “food miles” for his pork compared with several hundred for much supermarket pork. He sells the surplus that his family cannot eat to relatives and friends and has made several hundred pounds in two years.
Mrs Carr, 40, a teacher, said she felt “incredibly blessed” to have two sons who “both completely understand where their food comes from. If you are going to eat meat this is how you should do it”. She added: “We get roasting joints, belly pork, chops, roasting joints, bacon, gammon and loads of sausages.”
“If you are going to eat meat this is how you should do it.”
She said pigs were intelligent animals and they responded to Sebastian’s “kindness and good nature”. While he had been happy so far taking his pigs to slaughter, Mrs Carr said she worried about the time Berwyn had to go because he was very attached to his boar.
Sebastian said he would always keep pigs as a hobby but he wanted to become an engineer, not a farmer.
Mammals have been social creatures for millions of years longer than was previously thought, living in family groups during the days of the dinosaurs, newly discovered fossils suggest. The specimens are from a mouse-sized animal that burrowed below the ground in what is now Montana almost 76 million years ago. The species has been named Filikomys primaevus, from the Greek filikos, meaning friendly or neighborly.
About 70 percent of the mammal species alive today lead mostly solitary lives. This and other observations — such as the lone habits of egg-laying mammals such as the duck-billed platypus — had led researchers to think that social groups probably only emerged after the dinosaurs became extinct, about 66 million years ago. The new species overturns that idea. Filikomys primaevus had powerful legs well adapted for digging, letting them burrow together. They appear to have lived in multigenerational groups of up to five individuals. Fossilized skulls and skeletons of at least 22 individuals were discovered at a dinosaur nest site, Egg Mountain, in western Montana. They were mostly clustered in groups of two to five.
“It is really powerful, I think, to see just how deeply rooted social interactions are in mammals,” Luke Weaver, a graduate student at the University of Washington and a co-author of the study, said. “Because humans are such social animals, we tend to think that sociality is somehow unique to us, or at least to our close evolutionary relatives, but now we can see that social behavior goes way further back in the mammalian family tree.”
Filikomys primaevus belongs to a broader group, the multituberculates, that existed for 166 million years. “Multituberculates are one of the most ancient mammal groups, and they’ve been extinct for 35 million years, yet in the Late Cretaceous they were apparently interacting in groups similar to what you would see in modern-day ground squirrels,” Mr Weaver said.
Filikomys primaevus had powerful legs well adapted for digging, letting them burrow together.
Scientists had thought that social behavior in mammals emerged only after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, and mostly in the Placentalia, the mammals to which humans belong, that carry the fetus in the womb to a late stage of development. “These fossils are game-changers,” Wilson Mantilla, a professor of palaeobiology at the University of Washington, said.
“As palaeontologists working to reconstruct the biology of mammals from this time period, we’re usually stuck staring at individual teeth and maybe a jaw that rolled down a river, but here we have multiple, near-complete skulls and skeletons preserved in the exact place where the animals lived. We can now credibly look at how mammals really interacted with dinosaurs and other animals that lived at this time.”
Mr Weaver said: “It was crazy finishing up this paper right as the stay-at-home orders were going into effect — here we all are trying our best to socially distance and isolate, and I’m writing about how mammals were socially interacting way back when dinosaurs were still roaming the Earth!” The study was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.