The Hodge March 21: Pig Tales

‘Dogs look up to you,
Cats look down on you,
Pigs is equal’

Old Gloucestershire saying

A Berkshire Pig

This month, I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story and happened to a friend of mine who is, sadly, no longer with us. Peter had a smallholding in Warwickshire where he kept assorted sheep and a small pedigree herd of pedigree Berkshire pigs. Berkshires were very rare then and to encourage other small-scale keepers to breed pure, he accepted visiting sows to come and visit his boar.

Having received an enquiry about the availability of his boar, Peter was expecting the arrival of a sow from someone new to him. To those who are not familiar with our various pig breeds, the Berkshire is black with six white points – a blaze on the face, a white tail tip and four white feet – and a perky expression enhanced by pricked (upright) ears.

Right on time, a saloon car towing a small trailer arrived and after the usual exchanges, the porcine visitor was unloaded and introduced to the boar’s pen. The pen was a well-fenced area of grass with a pig ark (metal shelter) nestled within it. All went well and the visitors drove off leaving nature to take its course.

The next morning, Peter arrived to feed his stock and was surprised to find the boar sleeping outside with the sow fully ensconced in the ark. He entered the pen and the boar awoke and came snuffling over to Peter at the trough. Before he could empty the feed bucket, there came a roar from the ark and the sow rushed madly towards them. Both man and boar saw what was coming and took evasive action. With yellow teeth bared, the sow went straight to the trough and guzzled the contents with precious little left for the male of the species.

Sows come on heat (become ready for mating) every three weeks and according to her owners it would be less than a week before her next heat was due. Frightened by the sow’s aggressive behaviour, Peter did consider phoning her owners and demanding her removal, if only for the safety of his boar. Following breakfast, the sow headed straight back to the ark with no sign of allowing its previous occupant any access. During the day, she maintained her aloof air and if the boar came anywhere near her, her aggressive nature reappeared. Peter remained outside the pen.

Late afternoon and with a second bucket of pig nuts, Peter gingerly entered the pen. The sow was nowhere to be seen and the boar quickly came over to the feed trough and started eating. From behind the ark, there came a loud grunting bark, and the sow emerged at full tilt and barged the boar out of the way as she set about guzzling the second meal. Peter stepped forward to push her to one end so that the boar might feed as well but she turned on him and he dashed for the gate.

This sequence of events continued for another two days until, at last, she came on heat and her attitude changed. Peter was concerned now that the boar might be mentally scarred and would not function as intended but he overcame her bullying and fulfilled his role – several times over the next twenty-four hours – and Peter phoned her owners to confirm that she was ready to be collected. (This was before the days of 20 day standstills, for any purists out there).

The owners arrived and Peter related the events of the past few days, fearing the sow might have a tumour or other affliction that affected her mental state. The owners looked at each other, hesitated, then told Peter the likely cause of her moods. They owned a busy pub and collected all the ullage (spilled beer from the pumps) and the remains of all the glasses into a bucket and fed her once a day on this alcoholic soup, which she loved. She had spent over a year on this diet and must have been in a permanent stupor and, like any alcoholic, its sudden deprivation gave her a hangover without relief and she suffered (as did Peter and the boar) accordingly. Peter hoped that she would farrow a litter successfully and not return.

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