This little piggy. . .
Intelligent, adaptable and affectionate, our native pig deserves a place in the Suffolk animal hall of fame
This year I will have been fattening pigs in our garden, for our own consumption, for 40 years. Over the years I have grown attached to the nearest Suffolk has to an indigenous breed, the large black.
We were warned that the black skin has black follicles, which means you are almost certain to get your own pig back from the butcher, as they can’t sell pigs whose skin is covered in little black spots. They also have floppy ears which almost cover their eyes, so they can’t see where they are going and thus tend not to run very fast. Rare breed enthusiasts refer to the ‘Suffolk Trio’, meaning the Suffolk Punch horse, Suffolk black faced sheep, and Suffolk red poll cattle. They forget that we also have an indigenous pig, and it is feeling a tad left put in the cold.
On a recent visit to my longsuffering GP, a conversation started about keeping pigs, triggered by my excellent cholesterol levels. I said I put it down to eating good bacon, and he agreed. Having discovered that he too kept pigs, until banned by his wife, we spent a few brief moments sharing stories, until our laughter drew his colleague from the next room to see if we were alright. He told two wonderful anecdotes, the first involved a great escape. It was harvest time and it was getting dark by the time he got back from his surgery. There were no pigs in the run. They had escaped. He ran out into the fields, walking up and down the tram lines you get in fields these days whispering “piggies”, getting progressively louder as he gained confidence that no one was listening in on this unusual behaviour. Nothing. He went to bed, anxious that his beloved pigs were roughing it in some ditch, maybe with their little trotters pointing skywards. Next morning, he woke up early, determined to continue the search. “Piggies!” he cried out at the top of his voice. Nothing happened until a startled hare ran towards him, stopped in its tracks and gave him a long, hard stare. Apparently, this lasted a few minutes, but maybe it was only a few seconds. My GP is convinced that the hare then nodded towards a hole in the hedge, as if to say ‘They went that way’. He then received an irate mobile call which led him through the hedge and on to the next village. There the recalcitrant animals had ripped up the watering system in someone’s garden along with their newly laid lawn.
His second story involved a swimming pig. One day, he went home early as his children had invited friends round to a pool party. The screams he heard on getting out of his car, however, were more of anxiety than delight. He hurried over to see his best gilt doing doggy (piggy?) paddle up and down the pool with perfect poise. But as pigs can’t raise their heads, the look was more one of determined Channel swimmer than the delight of a cool dip. There was only one thing for it – he donned a cozzie and jumped in to rescue the pig. He was only able to assist it out of the pool by using its ears, upon which the pig, much relieved, projectile defecated a tremendous volume of poo, putting paid to the pool party, but causing much merriment.
They say you can house-train a pig more easily than you can a dog. I’ve never tried, but there was once a persistent rumour that the organist at a local church kept one under her kitchen table to keep her warm. You can get very close to a tame pig. You can tickle their tummies and they’ll roll over on their backs. Once used to you they’ll let you lie with them in their pens (don’t try this at home). They will eat anything, and nutritionists say that pigs fed on raw vegetable matter alone produce fat high in polyunsaturates.
I once asked a pig farmer about keeping pigs. He told me that, commercially, they carted pigs off to the cheapest abattoir they could find, no matter how far or how stressful the journey. When I asked him about pork for his own consumption he told me, with a wistful smile, how he kept his own pigs in small family groups, avoided using antibiotics and then, with minimum fuss, took them quietly to the nearest slaughter house, insisting they were killed quickly. The difference, he said, is detectable in both the texture and flavour of the meat. I can only agree. N [email protected]mans.co.uk
‘He went to bed, anxious that his beloved pigs were roughing it in some ditch’
ABOVE: The large black is the nearest Suffolk has to an indigenous pig breed