Thursday, 21 August 2014

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a pig surprise.

Dreak day today on Budle Bay Croft - feels unseasonably autumnal. So thought you might like to meet some of the animals here on the croft as photos of wet mucking out are not that interesting!

Probably the cottage guests'  favourites are our rescued rare-breed Kune Kune pigs, Harry Trotter (the one with a Potter like flash on his head) and George Kluney Kluney (the better looking one).

Now there are many things we did not know about pigs when we became bumbling small holders. The first thing is that they eat grass - lots of it - they graze like sheep. We found this out when the neighbouring farm was sold and the seller left his herd of Kune Kune's for the new owners - surprise! Now, as equine folks, they wanted their land, purchased at market price, for pony grazing - understandably so!  You can imagine the shock when they wandered through their pastures to hear grunts and oinks looking for food!  

We agreed to take their pigs, thinking we had managed sheep so we should be able to manage pigs - I mean, how hard can it be??? Well actually it is very different. The first thing we noticed was they eat their weight in grass on a daily basis (it seemed so anyway). From a lush paddock, our bottom field became barren overnight.  So, after much re-homing advertising, and a trip to the abattoir (more about that later) for some of them, we reduced the herd down to our two pet pigs Harry and George.  

The next thing we noticed was the massive amount of red tape associated with keeping pigs following the 2001 disastrous foot and mouth disease outbreak, which was started by pigs being fed untreated catering waste. 2000 farms were affected by the epizootic, with 10 million sheep and cattle killed in attempts to curb the disease. It was estimated to cost the UK £8bn, massively affecting the animals, the farms and the agricultural and tourism industries.  So, to keep pigs, you have to have a County Parish Holding number (needed for sheep too); a herd number; be available for unannounced DEFRA inspections; keep a medicines record; have a licence to transport them; tag them; and ensure they are fed only what they need to be - professional animal feed mixes and domestic raw fruit and vegetables, but not anything that has been stored in a fridge with meat in it. Phew! 

However, you also need a sense of humour (ever tried to catch an escaped pig? You need to chase it, catch it, put it into a handstand and walk it back to the paddock - sight for sore eyes…), tickling fingers (do you know you can send a pig to sleep just by tickling them?), long wellies (they make a right muddy mess in winter) and plenty of grazing land. Pigs love the grass but they equally enjoy rooting through the woods too. In fact, woodland is the pigs' favourite. Our pigs roam free, creating new paths through the magical maze as they munch their way through the ground cover.  Pigs also like free running water, and our two enjoy slurping in the burn. Which is usually fine. But requires me to wade in up to the waist, with a rope lasso and a couple of burly farmers to help get them out when there is sudden torrential rainfall...

Now back to the abattoir. We did not have enough land for all of the abandoned pigs due to the number of sheep we had at the time.  We could only re-home a couple of them as these lovely natured animals are not commercially viable for pig farmers - they are too fatty for the current UK palate.  So, off some of them went on their final journey, transported by a dear friend with a licence, and brought back to us in the back of a pick up.  All jointed but not bagged up, the boxes of pork started to ooze blood. My dear friend reversed towards our house and our big freezer just as new cottage guests arrived, who immediately gave us very scared glances. Picture it, if you will. The wind was blowing a gale. The rain was lashing down - well actually it was almost horizontal. It was a very dark winter evening. It probably looked like a scene from the Hillbillys! Still, there was so much meat, the local villages were fed free of charge for 3 months!

Would we eat Harry and George? Not a chance - they are our pet pigs and will gracefully see their (balding) days out on the croft, enjoying pineapple, peaches, broccoli (in-fact anything but Brussels sprouts - they hate Brussels sprouts) and tickles. We will however probably eat Snooty and Flossy - our meat pigs in Hogswarts that sleep in Piggleywinks. But you can meet them properly another time.

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