PIGS

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Christine was in tears as she sat back into the car seat.  “It’s not right,” she said, “making a vegetarian load pigs for slaughter.” “I know”, I replied, “you were way out of your comfort zone, weren’t you.”  Ruffled dust and brake lights disappeared up the hill and home to Newcastle.


About an hour later Katie put the phone down. “She got back home ok.  She said she was way out of her comfort zone.”  

“That’s exactly what I said to her…those exact words!”

Katie smiled, “I told she didn’t have to do it.  She didn’t have to put herself through the ordeal -  I said.  But she said that you needed her to help you.”

“Well I did…it’s true. “


It had been back in April that I had bought pigs.  The idea being that as B&B guests sat down, in the morning, they could look out of the window and see where their breakfast had come from.  ‘Provenance’ has always been important to me.  At least I try… I can’t grow mushrooms yet so they, at least for now, have to come from Tesco.   But the rest of the breakfast plate I can pretty much source from the immediate vicinity. 


Two pigs were bought for bacon and two, well three actually, in June for pork.   A ‘baconer’ is essentially an older pig and hence a longer pig so you get a nice extended body for more slices of bacon.  (The best bacon, they say, comes from a gilt (female) who has had one litter.)  The pigs bought in June would be killed at 28 weeks at the same time as the baconers who would be touching 40 weeks.  Maybe this doesn’t seem like a long time to be a pig but it’s a vast improvement on commercial pig farming where they are constantly fed and are killed in half the time at twice the weight. 


I intended to buy only two porkers.  I left my order with the breeder a month before.  He rang me back to say he was passing and would I like him to drop off the two I had ordered. “I’ve got a boy and a girl for youl” he bellowed down the phone, “…and do want the runt?”   No. I assured him, I did not want the runt.

Eddie turned up about three hours later, trailer in tow.  He took me round the back and we both had a peek inside.  There were two beautiful Oxford Sandy and Black piglets…and the runt.

“That’s fabulous”I said, “I’ll take the two…the boy and girl.”

“You don’t want the runt?”

“No.   I said I didn’t want him on the phone.”

“Are you sure?  I’ll do him half price.”

“Just the boy and the girl…no runt”.  I was firm and there ensued a long silence.  Eddie coughed and with an emotional wobble said,

“He’ll be lonely.”

“What?”

“He’ll be lonely…on ‘is own…all alone.”

Eddie had played the ‘lonely’ card.

So, three porkers it was and, to be fair, Rodney did catch up with the others and killed out at 63 kilos which is not bad at all.  And, of course, more importantly, he wasn’t lonely.


The naming of any animal that is ultimately pot bound is a contentious issue.  Some prefer  not to name at all for fear of the bond it can create between human and beast.  We opted to name our pigs after people we wouldn’t particularly miss that much.  In previous years we had owned a highland calf and had nurtured him to slaughter (a long process of 30 months).  We named him after my wife’s potential killer nut allergy.  So, come the day of the abattoir it was not as painful saying goodbye to ‘Peanut’ than it might have been saying goodbye to ‘Fluffy’. 


The first two pigs we named after dictators – Maggie and Imelda.  All well and good.  Then my kids got in on the act and the next two were called Patch and Black Bum (along with Rodney the-not-so-lonely runt).   I actually ended up with a bit of a soft spot for Maggie and was genuinely sad to send her off to the abattoir leading me to conclude that names are unimportant and it’s personality that counts.   It will also, certainly save me the bother of finding out what Mrs Ceaucescu’s first name was.  (It was Elena – I had to look)

Our first home produced bacon and sausage was served in November. 

“Black Bum tastes great!” says the elderly gentlemen staying with us.

Eyebrows are raised followed by awkward coughs from other guests who have shown less interest in our pig keeping.


Pigs are smart. They will get used to feeding at a certain time of day and will make a racket if not fed at that specific time.  That’s why the wily pig keeper will vary feeding times.  I would always try and tiptoe past sleeping pigs and get the food into the trough without waking them up.   It became an absolute necessity as autumn rains arrived turning the ground into  mud soup.  If the five pigs woke up, they would bound over and occasionally bowl me over into the pooey soup.  A word on poo.  Cow poo, horse poo and to a lesser extent sheep poo are good.  Insomuch as they all have an outside quality that is aromatically acceptable.  Chicken and pig poo are totally unacceptable.  It is the smell that no matter how much scrubbing is done will linger.  Only time will temper its invasive perfume.  So if you are knocked over by a hungry, hurtling hog and land (inevitably) in poo then it is no temporary inconvenience but rather a noxious punishment meted out to the entire family.  It can really put your children off their tea

There are few situations nowadays where a secure man feels a threat to his masculinity. Reversing a trailer at an abattoir is one of them. 


On arrival, one has to reverse in a straight line to the gates to the pens.  There is always a man in a bloodied white coat at the gate to see you fail.  In a past century he would have been a pirate.  I tell him I am not very good at reversing trailers.  “(Ha – haarrr) They all say that!” he sneers, narrowing his eyes and adjusting his cutlass.  So, I spent the next fifteen minutes wiggling and writhing my trailer like a dying snake.  I turn pink and sweat profusely while the pirate observes silently until, by some fluke, the trailer arrives at its approximate destination.  I gasp in relief and look for escape.   The second time I delivered pigs I managed to drop the front of the 4x4 over a big ledge.  Another pirate was shifting sheep guts.  I said “Ha!  I er… seem to have driven off the edge…what should I do?”  He shrugs and replies in Polish.  Along the lines of  - I don’t understand you, I don’t care about you, all I do is shift the sheep guts.  I find his disinterest in my embarrassment fortifying.  He must see this sort of thing all the time.   Plus, he’s Polish…which seems to make a difference in my head and I think I might get away with this.  I manage to reverse off the ledge and deliver my cargo.  I tell Katie of my near miss at the abattoir and she helpfully suggests that the reason nobody was around was that they were all huddled around the CCTV monitor as soon as they saw me arrive.


Not put off by my brush with the abattoir pirates or with smelling of poo 80% of the time I have ordered two more Oxford Sandy and Black pigs for March.