Aug 31 2013

    Before I go undercover into intensive pig farms I decided I ought to meet some pigs that are a little closer to be farm animals – and yet still treated as individuals.  

    So I went to visit Gill Coleman, a woman just outside London who has three rare-breed pigs that she keeps on free-roaming land and which she leaves alone to just … be pigs. 

    Would these pigs like me any better than Snout and Crackling?

    Would I get a little closer to understanding what pigs ARE REALLY LIKE?

    Would I have a pig epiphany?

    Would I be attacked again?


    Three little piggies (that in fact weigh 75 stone in total)

    Gill Coleman keeps three fairly large pigs, of which two are Oxford Sandy and Blacks and the other is a Kunekune who, a little like Snout from my  last pig visit, took a bit of a dislike to me. See the video above.

    What is it with me and kunekunes?

    These pigs are kept with a lot of love – Gill  treats them for any ailment, washes them regularly, feeds them fresh vegetables and fruit and lets them have the run of some small forested land, rich in smells and texture. They are too old to be eaten and she keeps them purely for enjoyment. If I was to be a pig I’d want to live here.

    But I’m interested in the cross-over between animal as pet and as food.  Eating dogs is a huge taboo, at least in the West, just as eating horses is – see the recent horse-meat scandal. But how does someone who looks after pigs for the love of it feel about eating pork?

    Gill is not vegetarian, although she is a very conscientious meat-eater, only eating the best reared meat.  A while back Gill slaughtered one of her younger pigs and although she found it incredibly difficult it was not as distasteful as she thought:

    ‘At first it was awful. I cried and cried outside the slaughter house. But we have an image of the slaughter houses being so bad and actually this one was on an organic farm and It was over very quickly and I am sure as humanely as possible. I did try some of the pork but I can’t say I enjoyed it. But I don’t have a problem with eating meat occasionally as long as it is high welfare and organic.’

    I found this both reassuring and also a little confusing for my small moral mind. Gill is about as likeable and compassionate as a person can be, these pigs are incredibly well cared for, and yet I’m not sure how I would feel about slaughtering an animal I had got to know on a personal level. Nevetheless its clear, if we had more people like Gill, the world would be a much better place.

    After a short chat Gill left me alone with the pigs.

    Gill Coleman and one her three pigs that she keeps on some land outside of London

    Gill Coleman and one her three pigs that she keeps on some land outside of London


    Pigging out.

    I stayed with them for a number of hours and  did something I rarely do. I just sat. Doing nothing. Pigging out.

    When the pigs slept I stared at them, watching their bodies rise and fall, their heavy breathing disturbing the hay under their snouts.  I watched them like a baby sitter watches an infant in its bed.

    When they arose I followed them from a small distance as they explored for food using their snouts to inspect every square inch of the rough ground. I watches as they pushed up against a tree to scratch themselves. I watched as they looked for physical comfort and watched as they interacted with each other – sometimes lying face to face, sometimes getting mad at each other when they had to share the water bowl.


    What did I learn?

    I can safely say I made NO scientific discovery whatsoever about the life of pigs. They breathe, they eat, they sleep.

    But I found the process, nevertheless, strangely educational. Moving also.

    These pigs were alive just as I was alive and… that was that.

    They behaved very much like my dogs do when they are a little calmer and more tired and do not notice I am there. They behaved a little like I do on a Sunday morning, looking for food, snoozing, scratching. They behaved naturally.

    If I had never seen an animal before in my life and I met these pigs, aside from being fascinated and scared I believe I would consider them as a young child might, knowing that they are another being and that  should I stick a sharp stick in their back I would be causing them pain just as if I did the same to my own arm.

    One does not need to be an expert in nature to know this. But one needs to be a natural human to understand this. And sometimes I think we lose what is natural about us and relation to animals. There is a lot to said for just BEING with animals and accepting our shared experience. Breathing the same air so to speak. Oink to that.


    Jude sleeps:

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