21. Food, Glorious Food – 14 October 2012

I’m often asked what pigs eat. The answer I give depends on the nature of the questioner. If it’s an aggravating, small boy who is trying to take Snout’s eye out with a stick, I answer, “You”. This normally stalls them just long enough for me to continue, “Pigs eat human flesh. Just look at how the Mafia dispose of their enemies: they bump them off and then feed the bodies to the pigs”. Result: aggravating, small boy disappears at speed. But the sensible and boring answer is grass, fruit and veg and pignuts.

Snout and Crackling have two meals a day plus foraging in the park if a walk is on the agenda. If a walk is not an option because of time constraints, we let them roam around the whole garden and it is only then that one can see the vagaries of a pig’s appetite.

In our enthusiasm to cultivate a garden full of fruits and flowers, we spent several happy hours last autumn in Chessington Garden Centre choosing bulbs, perennials and packets of seeds. I helped the children plant carrots, dahlias, gladioli and all sorts in a special flowerbed that we had designed to be pig proof. It had trellis and barbed wire around three sides and a sturdy brick wall on the fourth. The bulbs were buried, the seeds sewn and the whole flowerbed was fed with our own brilliant home brew of pig manure. And what joy it gave us as the months passed, to see the sprouting and flowering of all these different plants.

In the interim, Snowy went off to B & Q and bought a plum tree, a pear tree and several azaleas that promised to bring colour and excitement to the long bed on the right of our garden. But as soon as the azaleas were planted, Snout leapt straight over the brick wall that was guarding them and ate them all: flowers first and then the whole plant. Snippety-snippety, snap! We consoled ourselves with the fact that at least he had left the fruit trees standing. However, about a week later, when trying to herd Snout back into his pen, we discovered that the young plum tree was no more and there was just a label, poking out of my pig’s mouth, saying “B & Q. Plum Tree. £20.00”.

So instead of a heady array of azaleas and fruit trees, we now have a bit of box hedge that is ignored by both Snout and Crackling and a buddleia or two that they sniff in a desultory way before foraging in the earth for berries and other excitements. The main thing is that the children’s flowerbed is safe. The barbed wire, trellis and brick wall has done the trick. We have eaten Sam’s carrots, marveled at Resa’s pink and orange dahlias and Emily’s flowers have adorned our kitchen table in a makeshift vase. Until recently.

Snout and Crackling are now both fifteen months old and the former has good, long legs and a spring in his step that would rival a wallaby. What his brother lacks in terms of agility, he makes up for in greed, which spurs him on to perform outrageous feats. And both my wretched pigs have, in the last three weeks, hoisted their trotters up onto the brick wall of the children’s flowerbed and before I have had time to launch myself out of the kitchen to grab them by the ears, have bundled into the our last remaining floral oasis.
I was so furious the first time this happened, that I grabbed Snout by one ear and pulled hard. Nothing happened at all. So I grabbed him by both ears and swearing like a navvy, leant backwards with all my strength. As I was doing this, I suddenly remembered a self-defence class that I had attended when I was about eleven years old, in which the instructor suggested that a good way to stop someone from assaulting you was to grab his ear and yank it off his head. Apparently ears are easy to separate from the head. The skin is thin. Having hauled the ear away from the attacker’s scalp, you were then meant to throw it into a bush; the idea being that the man would be too busy foraging in the undergrowth for his ear to continue attacking you.

I have never had to employ this particular technique in defence of anything or anyone until this September, whereupon I applied it with gusto. But mid ear-yank, I suddenly thought that the vet’s bills incurred in re-attaching my pigs’ ears to their bodies would surely far outweigh the cost of re-visiting Chessington Garden Centre. Releasing their ears, I grabbed a pig board and shoved and pushed and yelled and swore until they were ousted.

As a result of this final trespass, all remaining greenery is dead or dying. Snowy has been told to buy more barbed wire and design protective fencing to rival HMP Wormwood Scrubs and the children and I shall shortly be spending another day buying plants to welcome in 2013.

We have also had to address the fencing that divides one side of the pigs’ area from the other. Snout and Crackling are rotated from side to side every six weeks or so, which allows the ground to recover and the grass to grow. But throughout September, our neighbour’s plum tree has been dropping quantities of ripe fruit onto the recovering side. The pig wire fencing that divides the two areas is too tall even for Snout to jump over but Crackling is a devious pig and he has quickly worked out how to go under the fencing rather than over. With his belly squished against the ground, Crackling hoists the pig wire up off the earth with his nose and then using all four trotters as paddles, performs a porcine military creep, dragging himself under the fence. Once on the other side, he shakes himself vigourously and then grazes on all the ripe and rotting plums.

Snowy and I gaze out of the kitchen window and despair at Crackling, who late into the evening, when it is dark and quiet, is still on the wrong side of the fence and is still eating. Snowy returns him to the right side but before he has had time to remove his wellies, Crackling is dragging his body back under the wire. Snout, unable to mimic his brother’s army manoeuvre, is furious. Whilst Crackling gorges, Snout can do nothing but stand and stare. However, order was restored last week, when our builder came and installed a much sturdier fence to divide the two sides, with the result that Crackling is no longer able to creep under and over-eat.


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