Spectator: The trials of moving a pig

OF all the words we wanted to hear on Friday night, ‘we think she’s building a nest’ were not on the list. Zam put down the telephone looking pale. Susie the elephantine pig appeared to be not only pregnant, but about to give birth, which would put the brakes on our plan to move her to a new home at the weekend.

‘Pregnant? Since when?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know. Max was making macaroni cheese-he didn’t sound in the mood to chat.’ In fact, he sounded thoroughly hacked off, verging on dep-ressed, because Susie has, yet again, outstayed her welcome by many, many months.

She’s been staying with our neighbours (she’s already been expelled from there once) where she’s been preventing her daughter Betsy and fellow pig Miss White Boots from sharing the food. Jane is kindly uncritical when she finally requests that we move her: ‘I just can’t have three pregnant pigs and potentially 30 piglets.’ We’ve now secured her a new home where her hosts need some land cleared.

Early on Saturday morning, it was hard to tell mother from daughter across the field. Both have the girth of ocean tankers, teeth to give you nightmares and a don’t-rush-me swagger.

We decide that, even if Susie is pregnant, she doesn’t look imminent and she wasn’t nest-building but digging a mud bath. She’s movable. In theory. We set about separating her from the two (nicer) pigs, who are happy to follow the pig nuts into stables, although, en route, Betsy knocked Max over and lay against him until we thought his ankle might snap.

Recommended videos for you

We attempt to back the trailer towards the field, but the brakes have seized from standing idle for six months-nothing that a hard knock with a hammer on any visible bolt can’t sort out. There’s an element of determination in the way Max is wielding the hammer that makes you realise a little issue like locked brakes isn’t going to prevent this pig from leaving.

This is when two days of pig-wrangling frustration really begins. You might think that a ton of hungry sow will follow the rattle of nuts in pretty much any direction, but forget it. There’s nothing that will make this one go in the opposite direction faster than the sight of a man standing with a bucket of food near an Ifor Williams trailer, even one so covered with straw that it looks like a bale
on wheels.

After three hours of singing and chatting and cooing and rattling, we hold another in the series of crisis meetings. These are the options: Susie might not be pregnant, so we could leave her; we could take one of the other (nicer) pigs; we could come back tomorrow and try again. ‘Let’s try that,’ say Jane and Max together.

Sunday. We moved Betsy and Miss White Boots. We backed up the bale on wheels. We rattled the nuts. We clicked and cajoled through clenched jaws. We borrowed metal hurdles from another neighbour (‘You’re trying to move Susie?’) to erect a pen around the trailer, thereby freeing up the field for Betsy, who might be getting stressed in the stable. She wasn’t the only one.

I went for a walk and came back to find a very different atmosphere. Zam and Max were so busy discussing the Outer Hebrides while flinging rotten apples (Max’s idea) towards the beast that they barely noticed she had followed a trail of fruit into the trailer.

Day two, hour seven and, almost unbelievably, she was loaded. ‘Why didn’t you try apples before?’ asked Anna. ‘You know she loves apples.’ Because Susie messes with our minds. At her new home she sauntered down the field, had a rootle and then lay in a contented heap on the freshly prepared straw. Anyone would think she’d had a tough couple of days. I turned to her new hosts: ‘How long do you want her for?’

* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter

* Subscribe to Country Life and save