Friday, 23 November 2007

Eric and Ernie

Listening to: Christine (Siouxsie and the Banshees)
Drinking: very cold Heineken
What's for tea?: Lamb and chickpea curry
Weather: quiet and bright today, wind getting up tonight

I've just stumbled back indoors after spending the best part of an hour with the pigs. It's become a small ritual to end the "working" day and it has become one of my favourite times.

The lads get their tea around 4pm and I check they have clean water and enough straw. I tidy up any droppings and dirty straw adding it to the pile in the corner which I clear out every week (leaving it all in one place encourages them to keep everywhere else clean).

Then I lean back against the wall and watch them. I don't do a lot apart from give them a scratch behind the ear or a back rub. Eric likes that kind of attention better than Ernie and leans against my legs snuffling happily. Ernie has always been the more skittish of the two and is especially so since being mugged by Spike last week. Nevertheless he was happy enough to let me have a look at and clean his injured leg today.

They're nice animals and Eric, especially, is turning into a terrific pig. He has deep red hair and is a good six inches to a foot longer than his brother. His hams and shoulders are developing well and he is growing impressively.

There's nothing much wrong with Ernie who is much the leaner of the two, but he is still a good size for his 13 weeks.

Of course, this all brings us to the prickly subject of attachment. It has been suggested that I'm getting a little too close to the lads (see?) and that, being generally "softer than a soft thing" (R. Pither Feb 2007) I'm going to struggle when "the time" comes.

It's something I've been aware of from the moment I decided this pig farming thing might be a good idea. I know a dairy farmer in Devon who has a herd of 200-plus cattle and is generally as tough as old boots, but he was devastated when he sent the two pigs they kept in the back garden to slaughter and has vowed never to keep them again. Pigs can get youn like that.

I was told umpteen times not to name them, but I did. The truth is that I would have named them in my head anyway. So, I reasoned, I may as well go public. It's more fun and, I hope, if I'm having fun the pigs may be that little bit better cared for.

But I have always tried hard not to lose sight of what they are for. They are farm animals who exist only to be converted into meat. When I'm giving them a fuss and a back rub, I'm also checking out the state of their shoulders, backs and hams. Sure, it's going to be hard when they go to be killed, but I'm determined to see it through.

I love looking after the pigs and I was on the phone this afternoon planning to bring in another half-dozen early next year with a view to starting a breeding programme by the end of 2008. They will all get the same treatment and care. A porker's life may be brutally short (Eric and Ernie will go to slaughter some time in March), but their existence doesn't need to be brutal. That's the whole point.

13 comments:

dinahmow said...

Hello! I hopped across from FN's blog.This is a lovely place.
I'll be back later to back read and visit some of the Orkney links.

Georgie said...

Don't worry Malc I have just named the spit 'Wise'which should suit Eric and Ernie right up the middle.

Amy said...

Malc, it must be difficult not to get attached to your pigs - here you are watching after them, caring for them, feeding and cleaning them... at least they have a good life. Your mention of Siouxsie has swept me down memory lane.
(nikkipolani.wordpress.com)

The Birdwatcher said...

Of course you get attached to them, and give them names. It will make the meat taste sweeter. (This from someone who couldn't watch the goat being butchered on Long Way Down.)

Malc said...

Dinahmow

Hi. See you again soon, but wrap up warm. Freezing rain this morning.

Georgie

Snag is spit and pigs are 600 miles apart. Does this mean you're planning a visit next spring?

Amy

Anyone with a soul or a shred of decency gets attached to animals as you look after them.

I had such a crush on Siouxsie.

BW

I reckon, my squeamish friend, the taste has more to do with the food you give them and making sure they have no stress (by not letting dogs in and so on).

Dyna Girl said...

Well, I bet that is really tough. They are so smart. But, at the very least, they are not being raised like their counterparts in misery. They have the best piggie life for now.

I heart Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Dave said...

As a lover of pig products, I certainly can't object to their ultimate death. What you are doing for them is what we would hope that any farmer would do.

If, when the time comes, you find you can't face eating their meat, feel free to send a large box of sausages to me.

fiwa said...

I think you're doing it right. Treat them well, make sure the end is humane. Of course you can't help but become fond of them.

ziggi said...

I'm glad they're have such a happy time with you, and as a meat eater I can't object to what you're doing, in fact I think it's really great that their short time is happy, (Spike aside). I just know that I couldn't eat any of the animals I care for on a daily basis. (Maybe in famine conditions if the family were starving!) (Could you contemplate eating one of your dogs?)
I used to keep chickens and I found I couldn't eat them, I couldn't even send them to be eaten. Ridiculous though it sounds they became family members, in the end I took care of them long after they were productive and they eventually died of old age!
I wish you luck though, because all 'meat' should have a happy albeit short life.

Malc said...

Dyna

A lot of meat is produced in appalling conditions. I like to think that we will all start to think more about where we buy meat from.

Siouxsie *sigh*

Dave

Don't think it will be a problem, but I'll keep you posted.

Fiwa

Thanks. I hope I'm doing my best.

Ziggi

The dog/pig thing has occurred to me. No I wouldn't eat one of the dogs. That may because they live inside with us or because it's just the way I've been brought up. There is a definite line in my mind that separates pets and farm animals. Fortunately Mrs Trainee Pig Farmer (an out-and-out townie) agrees. I expected her to be upset when the hen died, but she was very matter-of-fact about it.

Z said...

I think I've got a pretty clear line in my mind about pets and animals you eat. However, I'm not in favour of having a pig, as my son wants. I think they are too endearing. If he insists, I'd rather have a sow, that will become a pet, and raise the piglets for meat. But that's a whole lot more work.

Luckily, at present he has his sights set on bees.

elizabethm said...

I think you shouldn't eat meat if you can't contemplate rearing it and killing it/having it slaughtered. the thing that matters to me is that the animals are properly cared for in life, killed humanely and eaten with gratitude - sorry, coming across a bit weird now. You sound to be doing just great.

Malc said...

Z

A lot of people end up having a sow or two to dote on, but getting a couple of weaners (never one on its own - pigs are social animals) is the logical first step. I'm glad I've had the chance to learn a lot about pigs before moving on to a breeding programme.
Bees are an excellent idea, although the crackling's not as good.

Elizabeth

I think we're singing off much the same hymnsheet.