When a pair of city dwellers de­cided on a whim to move to Avey­ron, a re­mote part of south­ern France, it wasn’t to live off the land – they had never even had a pet. But they ac­quired a dog and four black hens, and then it struck them that a cou­ple of pigs

We don’t want to make them cute or lov­able, we just want to tell them apart, so we call them ‘Big Pig’ and ‘Lit­tle Pig’

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - OUT OF MIND -

Here they come. The van is bounc­ing down the track; the trailer bounc­ing be­hind. I watch Benoît ma­noeu­vre deftly across the ruts and tufts to bring the back of the ve­hi­cle close. It’s an open trailer and I can see both of the wean­ers, side by side, their noses raised. They are stocky, about the size of a small­ish Labrador, with wide backs and small, bright eyes; their ears flap for­ward and the un­der­sides area soft, leath­ery grey­ish brown.

They look around, tus­sle and nudge, look again, cu­ri­ous and ea­ger; they keep up a quiet cho­rus of grunts and chat­ters, but don’t seem par­tic­u­larly put out by their jour­ney.

Benoît leans over the side of the trailer and grabs the first weaner by the hind legs, then swings it above the bars, tucks it un­der his arm and car­ries it through the or­chard door, step­ping over the string of the elec­tric fence and plac­ing it in­side the en­clo­sure. It squeals en­er­get­i­cally, as you would ex­pect a pig to, and squeals more mourn­fully when it’s left mo­men­tar­ily alone while the whole op­er­a­tion is re­peated with the sec­ond weaner. But as soon as they’re to­gether, they be­come qui­eter, just chat­ter­ing to­gether in low grunts. They stand still on a lit­tle patch of soil and ivy be­tween slen­der tree trunks, puz­zled and wary, look­ing about them. They don’t like to move, that’s clear. They don’t trust this place, this ground.

Benoît, too, looks about. He tests the so­lid­ity of the elec­tric fence, walks the length of it, push­ing at posts and wires. He sug­gests that we put in some ad­di­tional posts to strengthen it at the cor­ners.

They’ll push, he ex­plains, and test all the bound­aries. He is me­thod­i­cal, busi­nesslike. There’s no chit-chat or pig pleas­antry: he checks the pigs will be se­cure, fed, warm – that’s all.

Then he leaves. The wean­ers lis­ten hard to the sound of the van and trailer driv­ing away. Still they move only their heads; their trot­ters are planted. They don’t risk even a step.

We take a close look at what we’ve got. These are beau­ti­ful an­i­mals. Each has a thick dark hide like an ele­phant’s, with long black hairs that lie flat on its rump and shoul­ders, but come to­gether in a kind of bristly mane along the length of its back. They have a fluffy fringe on their brows, which sweeps rak­ishly be­tween the ears. They have squat, soft sn outs, wrin­kled too, leather y to the touch; knob­bly knees; and won­der­fully smooth, ten­sile tails, strong and ac­tive, al­ways on the move – some­times held straight like a rat, some­times curled.

We put down some grain for them, di­rectly onto the ground. It’s a cou­ple of yards from where they’re stand­ing, so now they have to move if they want to eat. They sniff, hes­i­tate. They look at us, weigh­ing us up, their faces ap­par­ently un­chang­ing, and yet some­how full of ex­pres­sion. In t he slight dip of their heads and their in­tense black stares, in the twitch of their ears, they give away their re­luc­tance to move, their as­ton­ish­ment at the way the morn­ing is un­fold­ing, their be­wil­der­ment. For long min­utes they watch us un­easily, mak­ing no noise. But they sniff again, their noses work­ing hard, tak­ing in the com­fort­ing ce­real smell of the dry grain. And ‘pigs + food’ is a re­li­able equa­tion. In the end, they can’t re­sist.

One of them takes a step, and then an­other step, quickly now, des­per­ate to be first. In an in­stant, the dif­fi­dence has van­ished: all of a sud­den this pig seems to have made up his mind; all of a sud­den this is a com­pet­i­tive pig, ac­tive and hun­gry and fo­cused. And be­fore he’s even reached the food, the other re­sponds. They’re barg­ing and tus­sling. They each head for the same side and splash their noses through the grain, bring­ing them up white and floury like Sher­bet Dip Dabs. The strange­ness and me­nace of ar­rival seem for­got­ten in the fa­mil­iar de­light of eat­ing to­gether, shoul­der to shoul­der. It’s not easy to tell them apart. One weaner’s head is a lit­tle longer and nar­row er than the other’ s, and their frames, too, are slightly dif­fer­ent: one is broader, shorter, lower to the ground. As they grow, these vari­a­tions in build will be­come more ev­i­dent – in the months to come we will dis­cover that the pigs have con­tra sting char­ac­ters, too–but these two small black an­i­mals for­ag­ing in front of us have a long way to go, and for now you could be for­given for think­ing they are iden­ti­cal.

We give them names. We need to be able to iden­tify them, one from the other, so that we can know which pig is do­ing what, which pig is fat­ten­ing bet­ter, which pig is sick or lost. It ’s a prag­matic de­ci­sion and we’ re very care­ful: we don’t give them pet names or in­dulge in any­thing fan­ci­ful. We don’t want to make them cute or lov­able; we sim­ply want to be able to tell them apart. We de­cide the mi­nor vari­a­tion in physique will be enough to de­fine them, so we just call them ‘Big Pig’ and ‘Lit­tle Pig’.

Big Pig and Lit­tle Pig are set­tling in. They test the elec­tric fence, which shocks them just enough to elicit a squeal. They are com­fort­able in their shel­ter and, with ex­treme care, they’ve moved the straw around to their own lik­ing. When­ever I take a new bag­ful to re­fresh the bed they spend a great deal of time nos­ing it into place, work­ing it into the cor­ners of the shel­ter and cre­at­ing mini wind­breaks against the draughts. I re­alise that they’re bet­ter at such house­keep­ing than I am, and af­ter a few days, in­stead of in­ter­fer­ing, I get into the habit of leav­ing the straw in a pile just out­side the shel­ter. When I re­turn later, ever y scrap is gath­ered up and tucked away. The shapes of two small pigs are still worn into the bed, but the new straw has been piled up around the dents: day by day they cre­ate a deeper, softer nest for them­selves, shaped to their forms as per­fectly as any mem­ory- foam mat­tress. They are

scrupu­lously clean, and keep their bed­ding clean, too: they make sure to ex­crete as far away as they can, des­ig­nat­ing an agreed toi­let area in a corner of the en­clo­sure, near the wall.

As well as neigh­bours, Big Pig and Lit­tle Pig meet our dog, Mo. Mo has been part of the prepa­ra­tions; he’s been here while we’ve been clear­ing the land and build­ing the shel­ter. But now he finds two pigs. He’s dis­grun­tled but cu­ri­ous; af­ter a minute or so he gath­ers his courage and comes to­wards the wire, edg­ing to­wards the pigs, star­ing. In turn, Big Pig and Lit­tle Pig are equally cu­ri­ous. They shuf­fle a step or two and then make their way to­wards him in a wide cir­cle, clos­ing in slowly. Fi­nally, they sneak to the fence, to­gether, side by side. Mo is at the fence too. Big Pig: Lit­tle Pig: Dog. They all stand re­gard­ing each other qui­etly but in­tently. Noses twitch, much sniff­ing goes on. And in time, some­how, some­thing is agreed: this is all right, they con­cede; this is ac­cept­able.

And this is prob­a­bly the first time I re­ally be­come aware of the pigs as dif­fer­ent from each other. It’s not only their re­spec­tive sizes, I re­alise, that de­fine them. What re­ally sets them apart, one from the other, is the way they re­act to things. It’s Lit­tle Pig, I no­tice, who runs fur­ther when Mo ar­rives; it’s Lit­tle Pig who trem­bles and makes more noise. He’s a scaredy-cat and per­haps also some­thing of an ex­hi­bi­tion­ist, a drama queen. Big Pig is calmer. He has a stead­ier gaze; he is wary and sur­prised, but rea­son­ably unf lus­tered. Big Pig is the brave one.

But then Lit­tle Pig gath­ers his courage and re­turns to his po­si­tion at the wire, and while Big Pig moves away, Lit­tle Pig stays. It’s as though he wants to make friends with Mo. He wants to be so­cia­ble. There’ s an af­fa­bil­ity about him; he’s open to the idea of an­other com­pan­ion, charmed by an­other po­ten­tial play­mate. It’s only the fear that Big Pig has un­earthed a se­cret cache of tasty bugs some­where on the other side of the shel­ter that fi­nally pulls him away. So then, al­ready, Big Pig is not just Big; Lit­tle Pig is other than Lit­tle. We’ve got an ex­tro­vert and an in­tro­vert. I’m taken with the dis­cov­ery.

There’s some­thing calm­ing about the way they go about things, their rhyth­mic, un­ruf­fled search for food, their con­fi­dence in find­ing it; there’s a plea­sure in watch­ing these sturdy, shapely beasts am­bling be­tween the trees. They are con­tin­u­ally busy, in a slow way, per­pet­u­ally oc­cu­pied, mov­ing steadily, cov­er­ing ground. I al­ways knew that an­i­mals re­quired space to prop­erly thrive, and I’ve al­ways bought free-range pork and poul­try when I can. But watch­ing the pigs shuf­fle and dig and grub, see­ing the con­stant ac­tiv­ity that oc­cu­pies their day, has brought home to me how mis­er­able it is to con­fine a pig, any pig, so that it has no room to move, noth­ing to do, nowhere to go. Pigs need land to roam, soil to turn, work to do, as much as they need the ba­sics of food and wa­ter. I can’t imag­ine Big Pig and Lit­tle Pig in a cage.

Be­fore my eyes they grow. And as I watch them, in­evitably, I some­times think about their deaths. Ed and I rarely talk about killing the pigs. I know Ed is quite happy with the ar­range­ments; he un­der­stands that we’ll need to slaugh­ter them. That there will be no choice.

I shy away even from the thought of it. I con­tinue to re­mind my­self, as I must, that these an­i­mals are here for a rea­son. Pigs for meat, that’s what I re­mind my­self. Spe­cial pigs but not pet pigs. Lov­able pigs that must not be loved. Or not too much. Be­cause too much would mean I could never kill them, and what would hap­pen then?

It’s time for Big Pig and Lit­tle Pig to go to a new home, to the big­ger patch of oak wood­land and scruffy meadow that will tide them through the rest of their lives. They will have shade there for the sum­mer, a wa­ter sup­ply, good sources of wild food; they will clear the land and re­ju­ve­nate it. Early April, we have cal­cu­lated, is the per­fect time to move them on and get them set­tled be­fore the weather turns warm.

But it’s a dis­tance of per­haps a mile to the new land, and we al­ready have about 220lb of an­i­mal: bois­ter­ous, spir­ited, in­de­pen­dent. This is too much pig to fit in our car, and we don’t have a trailer.

We will walk the pigs. It sounds sim­ple: we’ll lead them from the patch of or­chard, along the rut­ted track to the stone cross, over the lane, down a grassy path to the edge of the next ham­let – turn­ing by the fig tree and an­other stone cross– over an­other lane and through a field to the new ter­rain. But it’s no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to walk a pig. They tend to move slowly, but they can also show a sur­pris­ing and sud­den turn of speed if they feel they want to; their en­thu­si­asm for nuts and berries, in­sects and leaves means there’s al­ways some­thing tempt­ing just a sniff away; their cu­rios­ity about new things lures them off track; their ten­dency to take fright at sud­den noise scan have them veer­ing aside in a panic. They don’t fol­low a herd­ing in­stinct, like cat­tle or sheep, and if you slip a rope around their necks, dog-lead fash­ion, they protest nois­ily and are likely to haul you away or sim­ply refuse to move.

I have some con­fi­dence in Big Pig. He’ll be sen­si­ble, as far as a pig can be, and pru­dent. Lit­tle Pig I’m less sure of. He’s nat­u­rally more scatty, more sus­cep­ti­ble to panic. The ex­pe­di­tion might test his met­tle. But his greed is surely in our favour: he’ll do any­thing for food.

It’s mid­week, mid-morn­ing, a time of still­ness. A bright day with birds cir­cling high, the hay grow­ing thickly and scent­ing the dew, the light al­ready hard­en­ing to­wards sum­mer. The verges are speck­led with camp ion, pop­pies, mall ow, bindweed, daisies, scabi­ous, thyme,f ever few, sax­ifrage, stitchwo rt–and all the bugs, bee­tle sand hop­pers that skit­ter among them. It feels like a cheer­ful day for mov­ing pigs and we set off to the or­chard in high spir­its, each with a bucket of acorns.

We leave the buck­ets out­side the lit­tle white door and go into the en­clo­sure. Big Pig is truf­fling at the far end un­der the plum saplings, his nose deep in soil. Lit­tle Pig is ly­ing on the straw in

Lit­tle Pig is a scaredy-cat and per­haps also some­thing of an ex­hi­bi­tion­ist, a drama queen. Big Pig is calmer

the sun, lazy, but he’s the first to see us and he squirms to his feet with a grunt and rushes over for food. Big Pig raises his head, shakes the earth from his skin and trots over to join us. Ed turns off the bat­tery that runs the elec­tric fence. We re­move the three posts near­est the door and drop the wire, pulling it out to cre­ate a wide pas­sage. The pigs watch. We step back to­wards the door and en­cour­age them through the gap. ‘Come on, then! Come on.’ They stand res­o­lutely still, ex­actly at the line where the fence was, ex­actly where they usu­ally do. We fetch the buck­ets and rat­tle the acorns. They know the sound; they want the treat. But they daren’t cross the line they’ve learnt. They’re fright­ened of a shock, of pain.

I step back and for th to prove that things have changed. The pigs eye me sus­pi­ciously. Ed r at t le s t he acor ns a nd moves away wit h t he bucket to­wards the door. ‘Come on. Last chance!’ They ’re de sper­ate now. They want the acorns more than any­thing. But they can’t bring them­selves to risk it. They dis­cov­ered the sting of the fence as tiny wean­ers, and ever since they’ve re­spected its author­ity. Quite sen­si­bly, they don’t want to get hurt. Even for a big bucket of acorns.

So it’s an im­passe, a stale­mate. We can’t drag or push them out; they’re sim­ply too heavy and de­ter­mined. They’ll have to do this for them­selves. We put both buck­ets on the g round a few feet from the door. I kneel by one and rum­mage in­side it, pre­sum­ably throw­ing up a de­light­ful aroma of oak mast. We take a hand­ful or two of acorns and scat­ter them in a trail from the en­clo­sure. The pigs can now see the po­ten­tial feast, as well as hear and smell it. We sit with our backs to the wall, the stone crum­bling over our over­alls, and we wait. Fi­nally, war­ily, Big Pig makes the move. Lit­tle Pig may be greedy, but Big Pig is brave. More thought­ful, too, if that’s pos­si­ble.

He fixes his at­ten­tion on the buck­ets, stead­ies him­self, and takes a sin­gle, slow step over the imag­i­nary line. He seems still to ex­pect to be zapped; when noth­ing hap­pens, he col­lects him­self and gin­gerly takes an­other step. ‘Well done. Good pig.’ He’s ex t remely caut ious, but he’s ap­proach­ing t he acor ns. Lit­tle Pig, ap­par­ently ter­ri­fied and fu­ri­ous in equal mea­sure, stands stiffly be­hind the non-fence and glares.

Big Pig is grow­ing in con­fi­dence. He’s worked his way along the trail of acorns and it’s ob­vi­ous that he’s en­joy­ing him­self. His tail swishes hap­pily from side to side, his snout is lively, twitch­ing; he’s trot­ting to­wards the buck­ets. We pick them up and step away and, just as planned, he fol­lows. But Lit­tle Pig is still hes­i­tat­ing. He wants to come, he’s des­per­ate to come, but he can’t yet bring him­self to take t he plu nge. We wheed le a nd en­cour­age, Big Pig is f launt­ing his feast­ing and his free­dom, and in the end, in­evitably, Lit­tle Pig comes, too. In a bus­tle of un­ease, he crosses the line, still afraid of a shock but much more afraid, fi­nally, of los­ing out or be­ing left be­hind.

So: we have two pigs, at last. We can be­gin. At a merry am­ble and with the con­stant brisk jig­gle of acorns, we set off to­gether through the lit­tle door, into a new world. I’m at the front of the pro­ces­sion with a bucket in each hand, go­ing on slowly. I have one pig to each side of me, slightly be­hind me, am­bling. Ed is a pace or two fur­ther back, wield­ing the drover’s staff. We don’t talk much – we’re con­cen­trat­ing on the pigs – but still it feels spe­cial, this mo­ment to­gether, in­ti­mate, slightly fes­tive. It’s per­haps both the st rangest thing we’ve done since we’ve been mar­ried, and the most beau­ti­ful.

From time to time, one or other of the pigs will pause to snuf­fle at some­thing. Lit­tle Pig: nose in the hedge. Big Pig: deep in

the de­bris at the foot of an oak. There are acorns, of course, buried and de­li­cious. There are new leaves, in­sects, gen­eral bits of tasty this and that. But on the whole they’re as in­ter­ested in the jour­ney as they are in what they can scav­enge, and one rat­tle of the bucket has their at­ten­tion. They look up, they remember: ah, yes, that’s right, we’re on the move.

They sense more dis­cov­er­ies, or hope for them. And they’re off again, the pace quick­en­ing.

We man­age the road. The pigs are unim­pressed by the dis­cov­ery of tar mac. But they love the nar­row, grassy path that comes next. It’s damp and shady, soaked with smells, lit­tered with the fruit and nuts of past sum­mers. Big Pig trots past me with con­fi­dence on the trail of some par­tic­u­lar scent. Lit­tle Pig buries his head in at an­gle of un­der­growth. We come toast and still. The rat­tle of the acorn bucket has no ef­fect. There are bet­ter things here, just now, than last year’ s dried-out acorns. And we’ve been walk­ing for 15 min­utes or more: the pigs seem to want a rest.

I ex­pected the pig walk to be anx­ious and stress­ful, a chore, and in­stead it’s turned out to be a thing of great plea­sure and ro­mance. I’d like the ex­pe­ri­ence to last. I’d like to re­main here on this path with the pigs and Ed, cra­dled in green shad­ows, ad­mit­ted to this non-place, se­duced by this non-time. But we have to get to the new en­clo­sure. We have to get the pigs set­tled and se­cure.

In the time it’s taken to make our way with a rat­tle and a snuf­fle from one en­clo­sure to an­other, my re­la­tion­ship with the pigs has changed. I knew they had dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters: in the or­chard pen, I could see that they had grown to be unique an­i­mals. It was a cu­rios­ity. It was set­ting out on to the tracks and lanes that tested the pigs, gave them the op­por­tu­nity to be them­selves, pro­voked them, teased them, and con­firmed them com­pletely, ab­so­lutely, as two dis­tinct an­i­mals. Yes, Big Pig is the level-headed one, but he’s bold, too, and loyal. Lit­tle Pig’s cu­rios­ity makes him f lighty; his ex­u­ber­ance and joy in life mean he’s quicker to act and re­act, more eas­ily dis­tracted. He seems to care about us less. And now this re­al­i­sa­tion in­volves me, too, be­cause as I’ve come to know both of the pigs, I’ve come to treat them dif­fer­ently. I trust Big Pig; I like him. I ap­pre­ci­ate his so­lid­ity. I find I think of him as wise. Whereas my re­la­tion­ship with Lit­tle Pig is more fid­gety, slightly wary: I’m fond of his open­ness but sus­pi­cious of his an­tics. I think of him as self­ish, per­haps even spite­ful. I keep a closer eye on him, al­low him fewer free­doms.

I’ve formed a bond; well, two bonds. And isn’t this like an ex­e­cu­tioner falling for some­one on death row? These are pigs for meat: Big Pig and Lit­tle Pig, not pets, not com­pan­ions. We haven’t even hinted at any change of plan – nei­ther Ed nor I have so much as raised a doubt. We’re thor­oughly en­joy­ing the pigs, but when the time comes, as it must, we’ll kill them, our­selves, at home. That’s the in­ten­tion, still, un­al­tered. Ex­tracted from Big Pig, Lit­tle Pig by Jac­que­line Yal­lop, pub­lished by Fig Tree at £14.99. © Jac­que­line Yal­lop, 2017. To or­der the book for £12.99 plus p&p, call 0844-871 1514 or visit books.tele­graph.co.uk

Top Jac­que­line Yal­lop be­side the pig shel­ter she built her­self. Above Big Pig (right) and Lit­tle Pig

The pigs at home in their sec­ond en­clo­sure

Lit­tle Pig at nine months old

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.