We had another full day of preparations last Saturday, during which we discovered a local farmer David Smith who not only can sell us a regular supply of straw by the rectangular bale – we don’t have room to store giant wheels of it – for £2 each, but also happened to have some beautiful old Mexican hat feeders and drinkers in a barn from when his family used to keep 100-odd breeding sows and their litters. Now they’ve turned their attention to arable with a small beef herd and some diversification schemes, including letting business units on their land.
So after loading up the pick-up truck we borrowed from James’ work, we headed back home where my brother David, who had come to stay on the Friday night, nobly set to work cleaning up the rusted cast-iron treasures with a wire brush and carried out other tasks such as cleaning out the hens, while we put round the stock fencing. We all downed tools by dusk and admired our handiwork. Finally, Project Fence was complete and, furnished with our CPH number from the Rural Payments Agency, we could look forward to collecting those piglets the following day.
Despite the constant rain that greeted us the next morning, it was a joy to drive over to pig breeder Roger’s on Sunday and visit the litter. We chose two male weaners as we’ve heard they become rather boisterous and bullish by the time we’ll be taking them to the abattoir, which will hopefully make the deed a little easier. The pair we picked have distinct markings, too, so we can distinguish them – one has just a few splodges of black (below, right), while the other has more numerous and smaller spots (although so far we’ve resisted naming them for obvious reasons). Ear-tagged and wrestled into the dog crate in the boot of our car, during which they squealed in true porcine fashion, we expected them to protest loudly all the way home, but they simply snuffled and snorted to our delight. A careful introduction to the dogs, who it seemed took a while to figure out that the new additions weren’t canine, and they were soon truffling around the plot.
James and I sat on a bale and had our lunch while watching them eat pignuts and explore their new territory. They are even more enchanting than I anticipated – such a joy to watch. So far they do everything together, too, which is rather charming. They’re also magnificent Rotovators, of course, and have turned over large tracts of earth around the circumference of their run already. So much of Sunday was spent gazing at them – with my mum who also came to admire them – and polishing off little jobs around the place. After a busy few hours cultivating our soil, the piglets flopped into their ark – so intelligent, they knew where their home was immediately – and didn’t show much interest in their evening feed due to the vast quantities of nettles and roots they’d eaten.
The following morning I went to give them their breakfast and peered in the ark. They were nowhere to be seen. I searched the run and, again, not a sign. Panicking that they might have undermined the fence already or, worse, been stolen, I got into a bit of a flap until I went back to the ark and dug deep to discover that they had covered themselves in around a foot of straw! I gave them a stroke and replaced their insulating layers with a huge sigh of relief. Clearly, we’ve much to learn about these wonderful creatures!
PS Any advice from seasoned pigkeepers would be much appreciated – including information about quantities of feed as they grow…