She may be unanimously considered the most ornery of beasts, but, still, Susie the pig has now surpassed herself and we’re taken aback by the latest report. It’s not a case of what she’s done-it’s what she hasn’t. ‘She comes out, she eats, she goes back into the ark and she sleeps. All day. She doesn’t actually do anything.’ The voice on the tele-phone doesn’t beat about the bush: ‘She’s not earning her keep.’
For a few weeks, our gigantic sow has been living with people who wanted a patch of their land cleared. We were delighted and, on delivering her, we looked around before departing with a cheery ‘Oh, she’ll clear this in no time’. We also said that if, by chance, she happened to be pregnant, to let us know as soon as she showed signs of farrowing. In other words, she would be either a problem-free rotivator or a provider of piglets. The land-owners agreed: this was a win-win situation.
But the telephone call put us straight. She isn’t rootling, she isn’t digging, she’s not even grazing. She’s not, therefore, fulfilling her part of the bargain-for which she’s being given luxurious accommodation and generous food. And she’s certainly not pregnant.
We feel a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, we don’t like to hear our pig criticised. I’m not the one with the abnormal affection for Susie, but even I feel mildly hurt on her behalf by the comments. For a moment, Zam looks like one of those tricky parents who march in to school to complain about their child’s accurate if unflattering report. He wonders aloud if she’s being overfed, but he knows this is unfair and takes it back in an instant. We also feel mildly uneasy. Have we missold our pig, or rather her (only) virtue?
It’s true that the Middle White, with its squashed face and blunted nose, is less of a rootler than the longer-snouted breeds, but when she lived with us, she cleared a field of brambles until it looked like fertile pasture (although, it has to be said, she doesn’t like burdock) and reclaimed the ground in the orchard from weeds, dog roses and unwanted saplings. She spent all day digging and rootling. Now, she’s given up. Just when her life depends on it. Is she too old? She’s seven. Is she dep-ressed? She’s living alone, but she doesn’t like other pigs. Is she lazy and stubborn? No comment.
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We pay her a visit. We decide (although this now seems mad) to give her some rootling tips and dig about in the ground with our toes, showing her the delicious roots-as if she needs revision. (We may have revision on the brain -we’re in the middle of another long run up to A levels.) Susie ambles along with us, enjoys a scratch behind the ears, then retires to her ark for a rest. The patch looks exactly as it did when she arrived. That’s not true-it’s greener and more verdant.
We discuss the future in the car on the way home, but we both know our options are limited. To one. On the way, we stop off to see her daughter Betsy, who’s wandering round a field lit by the evening sun followed by a drift of piglets. Madame White Boots has also had a litter. All 12 piglets suckle from both sows. It looks pretty dreamy and we can’t help but admire them with their proud owner Jane, who looks unsurprised by the news of Susie’s latest expulsion.
Susie has given us three litters of the most delightful and delicious pedigree piglets. She’s been chatted to for hours by Zam. She’s escaped her enclosure from time to time when I’ve had to chase down the track rattling pignuts in a bucket. She’s upset all passing horses. She killed a tree. She’s never done anything to oblige anybody else, although I will defend her ability as a mother-until she started bullying Betsy. She’s cost nearly £3,000 in pignuts and has caused us more frustration than any animal we’ve known. But she’s had a good life.
‘We could release her into the New Forest,’ Zam says. I look to check he’s joking. ‘I’ll ring the abattoir in the morning.’
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