Perhaps I shouldn’t use this expression,
but the number of piggies we have on the Ffarm at any one time, is something of a moveable feast! Housed comfortably in one of our two traditional drystone sties, the ladies are our main source of ‘whey-ste’ disposal: because the by-product of cheesemaking (whey) is particularly damaging if poured into a water course, we’ve had to find an alternative means of getting rid of it. The most natural, traditional method, is to feed it back to the livestock – thus, the pigs greedily gobble it up (& even the goats get the odd bucket, which puts a wonderful bloom on their coats).
Whilst our first pig-keeping experience started as a ‘piggy co-operative’ with four Gloucester Old SpotxWelsh weaners back in March 2006, we’ve decided to annually purchase 3 gilts (young female pigs) for our own consumption, at Easter time; fattening one for pork which is sent for ‘conversion’ in July, leaving the remaining pair as company for each other for the next couple of months (pigs are sociable animals & you cannot legally keep one pig in permanent isolation); when they too make their ultimate journey to Haverfordwest (our nearest porcine abbatoir – unfortunately, over an hour’s drive away), with one being used for bacon & the smaller of the two, for sausages.
As with all our animals, the pigs’ welfare is for us the most important thing: during their lives they are mucked out every day & always have unlimited access to clean, fresh water. In addition to a comfortable bed of thick straw in the cosy, enclosed living area of the sty, they also have toys to stimulate their naturally playful & inquisitive personalities. Because we currently lack the facilities to free-range them, they regularly receive buckets of earth in the front, outdoor, area of the sty to stimulate & encourage natural rooting behaviour. In addition, they are often the grateful recipients of shoulder massages; & on hot summer days, a careful application of oil is administered to backs, ears & any other susceptible ‘pink bits’ to prevent sunburn. Their diet of a Universal Smallholder mix (rather than just plain pig nuts) & whey (which produces particularly succulent, flavoursome meat) is supplemented by fresh fruit & veg from the garden or the local produce market (please note – you CANNOT, BY LAW, feed kitchen scraps or waste vegetables from the supermarket to your pigs in case there has been cross-contamination with animal by-products).
And, whilst taking them on their final journey is never welcome (we travel them in a spacious, comfortable trailer, with plenty of straw containing ad-lib concentrate feed & veggies to make the trip as stress-free as possible, & even unload them ourselves so that when their final moment comes, they are indulging in their favourite pasttime – eating – & don’t know a thing about it), at least we have the cold comfort of knowing they’ve had a far better life than that of the sad slabs of anaemic-looking pork adorning the supermarket shelves.
On the naming of pigs? Well, the first four to reside here, were dubbed ‘Eeny, Meanie, Miney & Mo’; & our latest residents are called ‘Bacon’ & ‘Sausage’ (‘Pork’ having left us just before the announcement of the FMD outbreak). Many smallholders insisit you shouldn’t name anything which will ultimately end up on your plate; it’s an oddly English squeamishness, which somehow denies the connection between the farmer’s field & his fork. We have a close bond with all our animals & feel we develop more rewarding relationships, through their names; they definitely respond, & seem to have a greater degree of trust in us owing to this more personal touch. Subsequently, their lives are more relaxed & enriched – which can only be a good thing.
And the ultimate result? Happy, healthy piggies – & the most delicious pork, bacon & sausages we’ve ever tasted.