Half and acre of brambles, with the old slaughterhouse in the background
I grew up to the sound of pigs. On Tuesday mornings Mr Weatherhead delivered them to his small slaughter house, half way up the lane to Sparrowhawk Farm. I could hear their grunts and their hooves leaving the trailer from my bedroom. Later came the sound of the pigs being killed. Even though it wasn’t nice, I never dwelt on it. Besides, I loved pork pies too much. I would get them warm from Weatherhead’s butchers in the mornings and eat them for breakfast. They were part of every long walk in the dale and every car journey back to university. We had a pork pie wedding cake; a hundred and twenty pies (one for every guest), stacked high on a silver dish.
On a warm night, last summer, Megan and I had sat out late under the stars, amazed at how quiet the dale was. It had taken us a moment to realise that the lambs, who had been noisy in the fields all around us for months, were gone. They were off to market. The next day, I stopped eating meat. My last meal, which had hitherto been a pork pie, became something involving char-grilled artichoke hearts. My friends were surprised. I was a little surprised myself. I get a bit grumpy watching friends tuck into Mr Weatherhead’s finest, but in every other way being a vegetarian is brilliant.
Down the lane from Sparrowhawk Farm, opposite where the old slaughter house used to be, is a small field. We used to graze ponies on it, but that was over ten years ago. Today, the field is a half-acre jungle of brambles and willowherb (good pollinator plants, but not at the expense of everything else). My plan is to clear the central part of the field and sow it with wildflowers. I’m not going to use chemicals on the chaos, but nor am I going to attack it with brushcutter and shovel, as I have been doing elsewhere on the land. There are just far too many brambles. I didn’t know what to do, until a farmer suggested pigs. Stupidly, I asked what breed of pigs. ‘Them that root’, came the incredulous reply.
I had long heard rumours about pig intelligence, but until I stopped eating them I hadn’t wanted to face the truth. I’d closed the curtains, blanked out the noises down the lane and concentrated on those lovely pies. Every study into pigs finds them to be among the most intelligent animals on earth, at least as smart as dogs. And, as I’ve been discovering, they are also the best bramble and bracken destroyers out there. In Alderney and Wales, to give but two examples, pigs are being used to clear overgrown fields. Aside from not having to use chemicals, the bonus of pigs is that their rooting prepares the soil perfectly for sowing seeds. They’re careful rooters too; they tend not to eat wildflowers.
Since we moved up to Sparrowhawk Farm, Megan has been campaigning for us to get pigs (as well as chickens, goats and a donkey). She has given all of her future animals names already: Oatey the donkey (Donkeyoatey – geddit?!), Hypatia, Mimizola and Zeta the chickens, Darth and Vader the pigs and I forget the names for the goats. I was already caving in on Hypatia, Mimizola and Zeta, but was adamantly against Darth and Vader. Until now. My task for this week is to find pigs to hire and if that’s not possible, pigs to buy.
Pigs are coming back to Sparrowhawk Farm. Not to be slaughtered this time, but to be put to work by me (and pampered by Megan). She’s already talking about girlfriends for them; Maggie and Boudicca…