Pigs. They enrich your life. They’re strangely fascinating, rather intelligent, brutally destructive, and pretty hilarious in their mannerisms, for some reason.
But the time has come for my pigs, named (understandably, now) Prosciutto and Cassoulet, to go to the cutting shop. They’ve torn up the muddy ground. They’ve become so big they can unseat their drinking trough with a mere nudge. And I fattened them for the pot, not for their entertainment value.
So I have to organise transport to the abattoir. I don’t fancy killing a pig at home, despite numerous Italian expats telling me that’s what I should do. For some reason, none of them are free to lend a hand on the day.
My pigs have about 1/4 an acre to play in. They rub against trees. Create a wallow if it’s hot. They sleep together in a converted apple box that has a tin roof, and their mother and father also live happy, free-range lives not far from here. They’re the antithesis of factory-farmed pigs, where the mothers barely get to walk or turn around, and the porkers are fattened out of the way of sunlight.
These pigs grow slower, mature slower, and cost a lot more to feed. Pigs, unlike cows or sheep, need grain to keep them alive, and grain costs money. Lots of money as grain prices have increased markedly in the last couple of years. But by all accounts, and from my own experience, meat from these pigs – many would say happier pigs – is a far superior product.
But first, the pigs, like all animals that are bred for meat, must die.
Small abattoirs are an endangered breed. There used to be one next door to Puggle Farm, where now a mud brick cottage stands. The local abattoir, just five minutes up the road, is run by people who want to help smallholders. Who understand you may only have one sheep, one pig to kill at a time. They make it easier for people who want to rear their own animals to trust their own meat, to get it killed legally and affordably. If there’s one thing I’m happy about with the death of my pigs, it’s that the abattoir at Cradoc Hill will do the right thing by them. I don’t have to transport them far. I can drop them off only hours before they are killed, and there’s a personal connection between the people who run the abattoir and me, the person who’s grown the pigs.
Which doesn’t make it easy to say goodbye. The practicalities of putting a 70kg porker in a trailer takes your mind off things, however. My inability to reverse park a trailer at the gate at Cradoc helps me focus on other things and get past the reality of what is about to occur.
The thing is, the farm feels emptier, feels lesser without the pigs. While I do get more time to myself instead of worrying about twice a day feeds, and hand-carting litres of water to the trough and wallow, I miss them.
When I see their carcases hanging at the local butcher, sisters who’ve spent their whole lives sleeping, eating and playing together, I feel remorse. But I have chosen to eat meat. To rear as much of the meat I eat myself as I can, and I know these pigs lived as close to an instinctual life as is possible in captivity. I know they were born and reared to be eaten, that their old breed, Wessex Saddleback, only exists because people use them for food. And I’m hoping that they taste really good because the whole point has been to produce something I can trust, of superior quality and jam packed full of flavour, so then I can actually eat less meat.