I’ve always been very fond of pigs.
My grandmother was to blame. No opportunity for a porcine encounter was allowed to pass her by. Ergo, I spent a significant part of my formative years in or near a pig pen. So when, a few years ago, we were renting the cottage on the farm, it was a very great day indeed when the shepherd announced that he had acquired a pair of Gloucester Old Spot sows.
There was much debate over names. The shepherd liked to keep things simple and easy to remember. One of the sows was slightly larger than the other… so BigUn and Littl’Un it was.
They were housed in an old stone barn on the far side of the farm. Mike and I walked up to see them each evening. He was still working then and found it the ultimate de-stressor.
First, he would run the gauntlet of the geese..
Then within a very few minutes the business suit was off, the wellies were on, and we were on our way.
It became so much of a habit that after a while we were given responsibility for evening feeds.
BigUn and Littl’Un simply adored their pig nuts. The challenge was to get the nuts spread onto the ground before both the bucket and the handler could be upended in the mud. Our technique was finely honed. It worked best if we’d managed to catch the pigs snoozing.. which happened pretty often to be fair. Pigs have a largely laid back attitude to life.
The approach to the barn had to be silent. The tricky bit was loading up the nuts. The misplacement of even a single pig nut onto the ground would be enough to wake them up. One of us would then climb, carefully, over their electric fence and leg it up the field. There was just enough time to empty the bucket before the pigs caught up.
Then came the memorable evening when it was raining very hard. We’d debated whether to go at all: two large fields to traverse, there and back. But what if the shepherd came home very late and the pigs didn’t get fed? The obligation could not be set aside lightly. In the gateway to the first field the earth had become very soft. “Mike, what do you think made these tracks?”
He peered out from under his umbrella. “Bigger than sheep…”
As we made our way up the field we kept seeing more. Definitely not sheep. Or deer. Wider. And heavier.
At the stone barn it was obvious. The pig pen was empty. Mike put his hand cautiously on the electric fence. No jolt. The battery that supplied it was flat. Worse was to come. They had found their way into the food store. The dustbin that held the entire stock of pig nuts was lying on its side on the floor.
But that wasn’t the biggest problem, oh no.. Just where were the pigs?