Again with the pigs? As a food writer by trade, I should write about food on the shelf, not on the hoof, but these little guys fascinate me. You have to admit: they are damn cute!
My brother Dick and his wife Jill have a farrow of eight Berkshire piglets racing around the enclosure in front of their house. Yes. Little pigs “race” as they play some sort of piggy tag, spindly tails straight out, whiplashing back and forth. And then they roll into each other, squealing and leaping, delighted to be alive. Big grin, big time.
After they frolic, they eat. After they eat, they sleep piled on top of each other, squirming to get a comfy spot, head to tail, belly to back, front to rear. Inside their pig pen, Dick built a small structure made from abandoned plywood and similar materials. Jill calls it the pigs’ favela, a shanty town of sorts to protect them from too much rain and a hot summer sun.
This year, Dick rigged up a waterer so that they always have access to cool, fresh water. He also installed an automatic feeder. Both will allow them to leave the little guys for a night or two without having to ask someone to water and feed them. Trouble is, the piglets tramp in the watering bucket, filling it with a layer of squishy mud. But, if you’re a pig, this might be as tasty as Kool-Aid or Juicy Juice.
Berkshires are a snazzy breed and recommended for what a lot of folks call hobby farms. They are easy to raise and their meat is splendid. Apparently, Oliver Cromwell’s men brought the tasty pigs to the attention of the greater English population after spending a cold winter in the shire of Berk near Reading. The pork was one of the few highlights during those snowy days and chilly nights. At that time the hogs had sandy hair, but after being deliberately crossbred with some Siamese and Chinese swine, they not only tasted better but developed their characteristic black and white markings.
Without doubt, Oliver C. would chafe at how blissfully the English aristocracy adopted these pigs as their swine-ish standard bearers. QueenVictoria is credited with breeding a magnificent male called Ace of Spades, who weighed in at 1,000 pounds and sired many a line of hogs. For generations, a drift (herd? team? all correct terms) of Berkshires grazed on the grounds of Windsor Castle. They say that the best of the lot was named “Windsor Castle.”
Dick says this is the last year he is going to raise pigs. Why? I don’t like to kill them, he says.
Who can argue with that? It’s not easy to send them off to their fate, but of course, these porkers are a lot more fortunate than most. They have plenty of room, fresh air, good food, and clean water. I have eaten a lot of meat in my lifetime and will undoubtedly eat a lot more, but it’s getting harder to swallow, the more I learn about factory farming.
Therefore, I am pleased to know these eight cuties. I will watch them grow as the summer progresses, knowing they are living in a kind of porcine heaven, and won’t fret too much over the inevitable. A full grown pig is not sweet and cuddly, E.B. White’s Wilbur notwithstanding. They are raised for one reason only and I accept that.
In the meantime, these little Berks are something to smile about.
copyright © Mary Goodbody
photos copyright © Richard Goodbody