“How can you rear them and then eat them?”, I’m frequently asked. It’s true, I get a tremendous amount of joy out of rearing a few animals; not least the pigs. They’re such fun, intelligent and affectionate animals that I’m frequently to be found inside the electric fencing of their paddock, sitting on the ground with a beer in hand while the pigs snuffle around me. They nip at my trousers and wellies in a bid to see if they’re edible before settling down at my side as if to savour the beer with me.
But let’s be blunt: these animals wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t to provide us with food. Wild pigs disappeared long ago along with many other wild sorts of domesticated animals. Dogs and hunter-killer cats are only about because people have them as pets. Pigs would make great pets too as they’re easy to toilet train but you’d not be able to keep any fine furniture; they’re fairly heavy and clumsy creatures and their hooves would spoil the parquet flooring.
But it’s obvious I care. If I’m to keep animals for food it’s important to me that they have as good an existence as possible and, as they enter the food chain, I satisfy myself that they displace a few pigs that would have otherwise been reared in the horror that so many others are.
So they get space to run around in, trees to root beneath and a snug straw-lined stable to sleep in. My farmer friends have told me that I supply piggy heaven. It’s not necessarily economical but I believe it’s worth it in the end.
So, the time has to come that they’re to be taken to the abattoir and this is a process that I take as seriously as any other part of their existence. It’s important that the animals experience as little stress as possible for two reasons. First, I’ve made a decision to rear pigs and to do things as well as I can and that therefore must cover the whole process from start to finish. And second, if the animals aren’t stressed when they go to slaughter, the meat tastes better. Simple. If only things were.
The pigs live in a paddock that’s on a steep slope with access from the top. I’m pretty good with a trailer and tractor but, for various reasons, it took me nearly two hours to tow my animal trailer down there, turn it around and drag it up the slope to the right position. It then took me a further hour to organise an electric fence “passage” from their existing domain to the trailer. As I removed the last bit of fence to let them into the passage I wondered how I’d persuade them to move along it. Previously, I’ve always used a little food on the ground to make a trail and then, over time, they circumspectly follow it into the trailer. But no. Three of the four just ran along the passage and straight into the trailer. Great. The other one took me another hour to persuade using charm and guile but little force. If only I was a pig whisperer.
The biggest challenge was now towing the heavily-ladened trailer out of the paddock and to a hard-standing outside my bedroom window where I’d hear if they were distressed – which they weren’t. That took the best part of another hour.
So I was able to leave them overnight, bedded down on straw in their trailer and then, early the next morning, tow them gently the ten minutes or so to the abattoir, worrying all the time how I’d get them out again. I shouldn’t have. Once reversed into position, I lowered the ramp, opened the trailer’s inner gates and out all four came, sniffing around without a care in the world as they disappeared round the corner to meet their fate.
I know this was the end of their lives but I’d like to think it couldn’t have been much better.
I hope that the animal rights people, my friends, Oldfield’s diners and, of course, the pigs, recognise the effort that I’ve been to. Including the five hours of swearing and sweating in the paddock the day before.