Here in Creuse, rural France, we have a smallholding with an ever-growing menagerie of animals. Our intention is to be as self-sufficient as possible in vegetables, eggs and meat. To that end, our newest additions have been a breeding trio (one boar, two sows) of Berkshire pigs.
Berkshires are an old English breed of pigs that nearly became extinct at one time. There are only a limited number of bloodlines still existing for that reason. Our pigs are from the splendidly-named Orlando and Freight Train lines, which were born and bred here in France. We looked into an old and local French breed of pigs, Cul Noirs (Black Bottoms), but they are a very slow-growing pig and also turned out to be rather more expensive than the Berkshires.
Oberon, Portia and Rosamunde spent their first month or so in the stable as we all got to know each other and, more importantly, while we constructed their pig field. These three lucky pigs now have about 1000 square metres to roam around in, and a very cosy horsebox – actually our llama transporter – as their mobile shelter. What luxury!
However, when moving day came they were loath to leave the stable. We rigged up a corridor with electric fence wire and plastic poles to get them to their new home from the barn, but they were deeply suspicious. Tempting them with food and herding them with pig boards didn’t work. Luckily the girls were still light enough to be carried.
They were transported in a slightly undignified style to the field where they immediately started exploring. But Oberon wouldn’t budge.
My husband Chris decided to wait it out with him. I took our youngest son off to the fête patronale in the local village, leaving Oberon snuffling around outside the closed stable door and Chris reading a book.
I came back nearly two hours later to find Oberon sitting down outside the stable door and Chris reading a book. We were in for a long battle of wills, it appeared.
However, eventually we decided enough was enough and with the help of our eldest strapping son, Oberon was dragged, very carefully, by his back legs into the field. He didn’t protest or put up a fight but resigned himself to being propelled backwards to his new home. I imagine the girls laughed at him!
The pigs love their field. They respect the two strands of electric fence wire after having had a few shocks in the early days and are living in piggy heaven. They spend their days eating, sleeping and rooting around, which is all a pig really wants to do.
Now that it’s warmer, there’s nothing they like more than a watering can full of cold water to be sprinkled over them. They squeal and get very silly, shake themselves and coat each other, and us, with muddy droplets. Then, if we’ve gone into the field with them, they try to eat our wellies. They leave bare legs, shoes and sandals alone, but wellies they can’t resist.
We’ll have to separate Oberon from the sows fairly soon now before putting them back together in November to produce the next generation. But we’ve got plenty of time to get ourselves organised for that…