I have a dream… I live in a limestone cottage in rural England that catches the golden color of the sun in its walls and I have a small rare breed pig farm. In my dream I would be getting up early in the morning, jump into my morning clothes, run down the stairs to turn on the fire and slip into my boots to head outside to bring the pigs their breakfast. On my return I will jump in the shower and then do some work on my blog and photography, just after lunch I would check on the pigs again and spend some time with them. Of course pens need to be cleaned and housework needs to be done, but I’m not getting hung up on the less enjoyable things. In the evening I will know that I have yet another day taken care of beautiful creatures, help them give birth, rub their bellies and keep them happy before delivering the best meat to feed a small number of people who respect the work that went into producing this meat. I would have shortened the food chain, I will have made a difference. That is what I want, I keep asking myself ‘what am I doing to make things better’ Sitting behind my desk designing and creating layouts isn’t going to make a difference in the bigger picture of it all. I have the need to do more.
Mahatma Gandhi put my feeling into words perfectly “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
So a few weeks ago I went on a rare/native breed pig keeping course in West-Sussex, because you have to start somewhere …
|Middle Whites, one of the rarest British breeds.|
It was a freezing day, my cloths as it appears aren’t nearly warm enough to be running around on a farm all day. My pretty red wellies are too small for thick woolen socks or even a triple pair to keep my feet from turning into ice cubes.
Luckily I had a lot of excitement keeping me warm, the cold didn’t bother me at all.
The day started by waking up the pigs and giving them their first feed, we walked up the field where the paddocks were divided by gender, breed and age. The pigs were eager to tuck in and it became instantly clear they have a pecking order, if you aren’t careful to keep an eye out when you feed them, one pig would be very a very happy bunny and the others would go hungry. Every pig reacted to his or her name when called out, a lovely sight to behold and it shows how clever these animals are.
|Gloucester Old Spots|
The severe rainfall and cold climate this year has made for muddy conditions at the farm, fortunately pigs are happiest rolling and playing in piles of mud. They will eat the mud as it is their primary source of iron. Piglets who aren’t able to go out in these wet conditions in fear of drowning are given a nice fresh pile of mud in their pen to roll in and eat every day so they don’t become anemic. When they are a week or two older, they are let out to have a play under the watchful eye of Neil and his son Oliver who is going to train to be a vet.
Michaela told us that they know when a sow is going to give birth as she will start to create an elaborate nest with straw, twigs and sometimes even flowers. At times the nest will have some things in it that she will remove, like larger branches that could possibly hurt the sow or one of the piglets but when she does the sow will show her disapproval by loud sighs on which the pig will take the branch back and place it in the nest again.
|Sally the Middle White, and her babies.|
After we had a nice cuppa and a delicious moist piece of lemon drizzle cake we sat down to defrost our hands and feet and to talk about the legal things involved in starting your smallholding, which breed of pigs to keep, and how to keep your animals healthy. I’m not going to go into detail about this, you will have to go on a course if you want to know all the rules and regulations but I can say it is all very doable.
When we went outside again we were going to learn about measuring your animals to see when they are right for their final stop, the slaughterhouse. It is the less enjoyable part of being a farmer or smallholder when you care for your animals deeply, but a necessary step to preserve rare/native breed lines and keep livestocks healthy. Of course their pedigree breeding pigs don’t go to slaughter for a very long time, they have names, witty ways and are loved almost like pets.
The time has come to weigh piglets of different ages and learn how to pick them up and handle them with care so you don’t disturb the small creatures.
Upside down seems to be the way – though not for a long time of course – before slowly turning them to hold them in the much favourited ‘baby position’. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to holding a piglet, suddenly I’m 8 again and happy as a child. The Saddleback didn’t seem to enjoy it very much so we got him back with his mum but the Middle white baby, a few weeks older than the Saddleback didn’t seem to mind very much. They had to ask me to give him back or I would have remained standing there until the little one would start screaming for his big mum. Reluctantly I handed over the piglet.
Michaela had prepared a gammon and slow cooked pork for our lunch, I felt very humble to share this with them, the meat from their precious Saddleback pigs. Such a treat, I never tasted pork full of flavour and succulent like this in my whole life. I paired the meat with apple sauce and British watercress she had prepared – oh heaven. Michaela however trying to convince me she isn’t a cook just served me one of the best meals I ever had. I do adore uncomplicated simple food with big natural flavours.
One of the most moving things I encountered was the way Michaela and Neil were proud to share their food with us, proud of the hard work they put in -next to their jobs- to care for animals.
After the much enjoyed lunch we went back to the pigs for some serious exercise with ‘stick and board training’.
I ran after a giant Saddleback pig for almost half an hour, I
wasn’t giving up. Using a curly walking stick and a board, I was learning
how to guide a pig to a direction I want rather than the direction the
pig wants to run to. I admit, most of the time the sow was walking me
and I was convincing myself I was guiding her resulting in me running
after her trying to catch up …
But in the end I think it started to
work, I got her to her pen, back out again and back in again. I felt a
feeling of pride – I had done it – but was still not sure I had actually
pulled it off. I asked Neil if there was any hope for
me and he told me that a first day is always tough but that I had
perseverance … you got that right, I don’t give up.
I ended my stick
and board training with a session of hugging Molly the sow, petting her
and rubbing her back and belly while telling her what a good girl she
was. I really got into it – in a big way. These animals welcome a nice
rubbing, they love it when you make a fuss. They are such playful
creatures, running after each other and into each other -some breeds
like Saddlebacks and Old spots don’t see very well with their ears
covering most of their eyes –
|Me and Molly, the friendly Saddleback.|
wrists, back and shoulders were sore… I had healthy rosy cheeks from
the exercise and my heart was glowing with happiness. A farmers life is a hard one, but they will always tell you it’s worth it. If you spend time with the animals you see why. Pigs really are the most amazing creatures. If only …
|The watchful eye of Neil.|
|Going to feed the pigs.|
Are you interested in taking a pig keeping course? I did mine at Tedfold Farm in West Sussex, a farm where all animals are are slowly reared at their own pace and with lots and lots of love. Thank you to all at Tedfold Farm for a wonderful day.
I entered this course at my own expense.