Kate strikes a deal, and a Berkshire sow arrives at the farm

ne of the many joys of moving to the country was the discovery of a thriving ‘rural economy’. When our geese first started laying, I took an egg to my neighbour Judith and in return she gave me a jar of her spectacularly good runner bean chutney. We handed over a huge carrier bag full of walnuts from our tree to a stonemason down the road, and in return got some of them back, pickled in jars. We had a window fixed in return for a leg of our lamb and Ludo ‘paid’ for a yoga lesson with a couple of chickens. But perhaps the most unusual of these lovely, old-fashioned arrangements, was when I phoned a friend who works for a company that advertises holiday cottages. We’d just finished work on the cottage at the farm and hoped that it could start bringing in much-needed income. Nicola proved a mine of information, promised to come and see the cottage to assess it and said, ‘if it comes up to scratch and you can give my pig a home, we’ll put it on our website for free. She’s absolutely gorgeous and she’s called Myfanwy.’

Ludo, as ever, was cautious. ‘We can’t just agree to give a pig a home. We’re trying to run a business, not a rescue centre.’ I had to concede. Pigs are expensive to keep. We couldn’t just take one on that was going to be little more than a decorative mouth to feed. I turned, as I always do with anything piggy, to Bob Stevenson. Bob lives down the road from the farm and happily for us is one of the most eminent pig experts in the country. He had also agreed to teach our pig-keeping courses, so it was particularly important that he approve. “What is she?” he asked. ‘A Berkshire,” I replied. Bob let out a little sigh of pleasure. “I must confess I do have a weakness for Berkshires. Let’s go and see her.”

Bob, undeterred by knee-deep, welly-sucking mud, hopped over the electric fence and made encouraging noises to the large black pig who was making her stately way towards him. ‘Oh she’s rather lovely,’ he exclaimed, eliciting a beam of pride from Nicola. ‘Bit fat, though. When did she last have a litter?’ ‘Two years ago,’ Nicola replied. ‘Ahh’, said Bob, ‘That can be a problem. Sows do need to breed frequently, otherwise they have a tendency to get a little bit fat and comfortable, like this lady here, and it can be difficult to get them in pig again. She’s got a slightly wonky back foot, which we’ll need to keep an eye, but she’s got a beautiful head and a perfect temperament. What do you think Kate?’ I needed no persuading at all. I was smitten. ‘We’ll need to get her slimmed down a bit and then put her to the boar,’ said Bob. If she gets in pig, she’s worth keeping. If she doesn’t then we’ll all need to think about the next logical step.’ Nicola and I nodded in agreement and the deal was struck.

Myf lumbered off the ramp of the trailer and stood for a moment, nose up, sniffing her new surroundings. She made her way across the paddock, had a cursory glance at her ark, then wandered back until she found a spot to her liking. She stuck her snout deep into the spring grass, ploughed a hefty furrow, and lay down with a contented grunt to soak up the last of the evening sun. “She’s going to settle down very well, I think,” said Bob.

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