As I wrote the week before last, I’ve changed tack when it comes to being affectionate towards the pigs we raise for meat. First time round, James and I maintained a level of detachment, but I’ve been patting, stroking and generally fussing our current trio of Oxford Sandy & Blacks due to the belief that it’s life-enhancing for both them and me. Sunday afternoon was a golden opportunity for just that, so I headed down to the run in my oldest gardening clothes to hang out with the porkers. To gain access to their quarters without being mugged and possibly knocked to the ground – even James came a cropper the other day – we now try a three-apple decoy. We’ve tonnes of windfalls that various friends and family members have donated to the porcine cause and the pigs love them, of course. Tossing said fruit into the run ahead of us can buy valuable minutes, especially if it’s around 8pm and they’re feeling peckish. It allows us the chance to reach the feed bin before they tackle us and attempt to nibble our ankles, toes or heels (Wellington boots are essential kit these days). Early afternoon, between their breakfast and tea, they’re less intent on chewing anything that moves (wonder if they’re still teething as well as having huge appetites?), but you still have to be a little cautious. After consuming their snack, they each went their separate ways and I sat still on a chopped up tree stump hoping they’d almost forget that I was there and would behave just as they do on their own. But they had other ideas. The smallest and, arguably cutest, suddenly launched at my makeshift seat and semi-mounted it.
I jumped off with surprise but gave him a stroke around the backs of the ears (particularly fine and soft hair there), which he enjoyed so much he promptly fell asleep and toppled off the log. This is the same little guy who ended up falling asleep against my leg last week when I stroked him in the same place.
Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon? He looked completely blissed out and, for the first time, I felt mildly uncomfortable about the fact that we’d be turning him and his herd into roasting joints, chops, bacon and sausages in the new year. When we didn’t pat and stroke the Gloucestershire Old Spots – helped by the fact that, from the start, they had a natural aversion to human contact – there was still an element of mistrust on their part, which in turn helped us remain detached from them and, ultimately, do the deed. I’m not saying it was easy, but we made it as painless as possible for them and us. I figure with the Oxford Sandy & Blacks that, due to the fact that they’re also boys, they’ll become quite bullish when their hormones begin to kick in and that it won’t be quite so tempting to make a cheeky fuss of them. Can anyone either confirm whether this is the case or not, their experience?
At least with henkeeping, there’s no difficult end in sight and you can fuss chickens without your conscience muddying the waters. Big Jeff, as we call our tall but gangly lavender Araucana cockerel, is getting on famously with his ladies in the layers’ run down the end of the garden and loves to be stroked and hand-fed a portion of corn. Unfortunately, his black female counterparts never did start laying in the summer and will likely observe the pure breed tradition of shutting up shop all autumn and most of winter, and so we’ll have kept them for around eight months before they start in mid-February (hopefully), the traditional time for such hens to resume duties. James and I keep wondering if we’ll come across a pile of secret eggs somewhere and the mystery will be solved. Do Araucanas have a reputation as late developers in the laying stakes, I wonder? Happy henkeeping.