Pigs as pets

Poppy the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig
Owner: Jill Eales, Washington, West Sussex

At six weeks old, Poppy the pot-bellied pig arrived in the Eales household in a cardboard box as a surprise present, and proceeded to take up residence in the dog bed, as well as mastering the art of the cat flap which she quickly outgrew. Jill Eales describes Poppy as a creature of habit, ‘completely free-range’. After waking up in the morning (always later if it’s raining), Poppy arrives at the back door for a breakfast of crusts. After ‘helping’ to muck out the horses, she then returns to the same spot for elevenses.

In the apple season, this is followed by a windfall check, and then the rest of the day is spent in the sunshine. Her favourite time of year is the harvest, as this involves a lot of ‘hoovering grain in the driveway and causing frequent traffic jams’ and a lot of effort also goes into getting herself shut in the grain-store, with more than 400 tons of grain. In winter, Poppy comes inside to sleep by the fire. ‘She’s very sociable,’ says Jill. ‘If anyone visits, she’s always there to say hello.

The postman loves her; she approaches him with the dogs every day to get her treat.’ Indeed, stories of Poppy and her many talents are seemingly endless. ‘She can sit on command and comes when called. She’s a good companion, very intelligent and probably one of the luckiest pigs in England.’

Pigs for painting

Babe and Holland, Kune Kunes
Owner: Clare Inksip, Wiltshire

Babe and Holland have lived in the heart of rural Wiltshire for four years, where they earn their keep as the subjects of Clare Inskip’s art classes. Originally a house present from daughter Victoria’s boyfriend, the two Kune Kunes were ‘just too sweet to refuse’.

The pair now live with the chickens in the garden, although originally they spent a lot of time in the house; Victoria remembers fondly ‘waking my lazy brother up by encouraging the pigs to join him and his dog in bed’. Babe and Holland also enjoy accompanying the family on occasional dog walks, ‘but they definitely aren’t that obedient’.

The best thing about them, says Clare, is that ‘they’re like dogs—just so easy and friendly. They grunt merrily all through the day’. Potential pig-keepers be warned, however ‘they can cause havoc. Kune Kunes are supposed to be very good pets (I don’t think they’re very tasty), but they’re extremely messy in the winter, and love a good mud bath whenever and wherever they can find one’.

Pig and family
Gertie the Gloucester Old Spot

Pigs for eating

Gertie the Gloucester Old Spot
Owner: the Graham-Watson family, Ashington, West Sussex

It was after a particularly hard-fought game of prep-school rugby that the idea of keeping pigs first cropped up in conversation for the Graham-Watsons. Spurred on by son Rory, they agreed to cross enemy lines and collect four Gloucester Old Spot piglets belonging to friends on the opposing team.

One, Gertie, has since had three litters and now lives with her daughter, Rose, at the bottom of the garden, where they like nothing better than ‘having a really good scratch’, playing with Brodie the Border terrier, sunbathing and wallowing in puddles. Cate Graham-Watson describes the sows as ‘an extension of the family’, declaring that the only drawback is that ‘they’re very good at lifting gates off the hinges with their noses’.

One of the huge advantages of these pigs is ‘the deliciously tender pork there’s always something in the freezer’, and Rory particularly enjoys making sausages and ham. The biggest surprise is how well the pigs get along with the ponies (pictured): ‘They sniff noses over the fence, but if Gertie’s in a bad mood, she only has to give a grunt and they know.’