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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    Aug 26 2013
    Antonia Pugh-Thomas with her two kunekune pigs, Crackling (left), Snout (right)

    Antonia Pugh-Thomas with her two kunekune pigs, Crackling (left), Snout (right)

    Antonia Pugh-Thomas is a typical middle-class West-Londoner:  well spoken, stylish, mother-of-three and when she’s not riding a motorbike she’s walking her two large pigs in the local park.

    ‘I have a full licence for Snout and Crackling. I carry it with me at all times when I’m out.’ she says.

    She walks her two adorable Kunekune pigs (which is Maori for ‘fat and round’)  using large dog leashes and a certain amount of determination. Both pigs weigh in at over 100kg and have an independent spirit.  ‘I have  toned arm muscles’ she says. Antonia is a likeable, lively pesonality.



    Antonia walks her pigs with a licence, regularly going to the local park


    I’m here to meet these two pigs because I want to understand the emotional life of pigs.

    If they are so intelligent, sensitive and emotional why don’t more people have them as pets?

    Will getting to know them make me more empathetic to them as a species?

    And can you even get to know a pig?

    ‘They make perfect companions’ says Antonia who keeps them in fenced area in the garden with fresh hay and a home-made shelter system. She has trained them to sit on command and she  feeds them fruit and fine vegetarian food.  They are both beautiful creatures, with fine, clean hair and an ease about them.

    ‘One of my favourite things is to come back from work, pour myself a beer and lie on top of them whilst reading the newspaper’.

    ‘On top of them?’

    ‘They love to be close’

    Snout (left) and Crackling (right) get very excited when they know they are going for a walk

    Snout (left) and Crackling (right) get very excited when they know they are going for a walk

    Antonia and Crackling clearly have a close relationship

    Antonia and Crackling clearly have a close relationship. But can I get I make my own emotional connection?


    Snout sits for food

    Snout sits for food

    Snout doesn’t like me too much

    While I’m taking photos Antonia is cautious to protect me.

    Crackling, the one with black spots is less of a problem but Snout, very regal and fine in his beige coat is more dominant and naturally wants to protect his area. He is keen to show me who is boss and regularly nuzzles me. No doubt I would be unsure if he also walked into my house too.

    ‘They have quite a bite so you have to be careful.’ I had no ideas pig BIT but I was soon to find out otherwise. Perhaps that’s why they clip pigs teeth in intensive farms (without anaesthetic) ‘But they are not aggressive creatures,’ she continues. ‘Snout got attacked in a park by a dog and  just squealed in fear and it took fifteen minutes to get the dog off. He needed many stitches. Pigs are hunted not hunters.’

    I find myself rather jealous of Antonia’s bond with her pigs. They seem very unimpressed by me. Not like a dog would be. But perhaps this is exactly why pigs are smarter than dogs – they don’t blindly accept strangers.

    Antonia and Snout in the back yard

    Antonia and Snout in her back yard / garden. Hay is one of the most effective ways to give a pig comfort and stimulation.





    ‘Do they show their emotions?’ I ask.

    ‘oh yes,’ says Antonia, ‘they recognise me when I come back, they get incredibly excited for food, they know when they are going for a walk and they are incredibly affectionate. Crackling looks like Gordon Brown when he is mad. But they are as personable as dogs. And I’ve had dogs with them too’


    Walking a pig turns you into a celebrity - of sorts

    Walking a pig turns you into a celebrity – of sorts

    You'll need a licence if you want to get your own pig to walk in the park.

    You’ll need a licence if you want to get your own pig to walk in the park.

    The pigs have a fairly strong will - and weight to back it ip

    The pigs have a fairly strong will – and weight to back it ip

    Snout ignoring the dogs and joggers in the park

    Snout ignoring the dogs and joggers in the park

    Walking the pigs

    The problem is that in a short amount of time it’s not easy to immediately…. connect with a pig. Clearly Antonia has a special bond, but the barrier to friendship is not as low as with a madly waggy tailed dog.

    Antonia walks down the middle of the road with her pigs, conscientiously cleaning up the kilos of poop and stopping to speak to every incredulous passer-by. I imagine this is what it is like to be famous – apart from the public crapping.

    She lets them off at the park and they run to the grass. Joggers stop, kids scream in delight, local dogs come and sniff but the two kunekune are oblivious, they just want to eat STUFF.

    ‘Could we take a photo over here?’ I ask Antonia

    Although the pigs didn't like me too much they were very happy to hang out with kids.

    Although the pigs didn’t like me too much they were very happy to hang out with kids.

    pigs in a passage

    Pigs in a passage. I have slightly knocked knees. Someone once said the only downside of this is that you ‘can’t stop a pig in a passage’

    Crackling has a mind of his own

    Crackling in the flowerbed – he has a mind of his own


    Crackling has a melt down

    ‘OK, maybe you could try and get Crackling’

    I reach for the leash and try and gently pull her over.  Crackling starts to resist and whine. I know not to put up wiht this from my dogs so I pull harder. Except its not that easy with 105 kilos of pig. Crackling starts to scream and pushes his face to the ground so that I can’t take him any further. People look at me like I’m a pig abuser.

    ‘Oh, he thinks you are taking him home. He knows it’s too soon, we’ll have to keep going forward’

    What I am witnessing is a pig STROP. I’ve read that pigs have the mental age of a three year old. I didn’t realise that at times they behave like one too. This is extraordinary. But I feel like I’m seeing something here – a little of their fears and desires.



    Walking picks requires very large bags

    Walking picks requires very large bags

    Later on I make the mistake of trying to pose with both pigs. I feel that at 100kg myself I should be able to manage their weight. How wrong I am. I am tied in knots as they pull in different direction and then walk circles round me.   I try and give Snout a firmer tug but he shows me he’s not to be pushed around and sinks one of his teeth into my leg. Ouch.

    This is not what I had hoped for but I certainly made a connection. Of sorts. These pigs are very much alive – independent, determined, emotional and smart. They know what they want: walks, emotional closeness, apples. They just don’t want me.


    Controlling 210KG on string is not easy

    Controlling 210KG on string is not easy

    Personality goes a long way

    In the movie Pulp Fiction the character of Jules claims he wouldn’t eat dog because  ‘a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way’.

    Vincent replies ‘Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true? Jules then says, ‘Well, we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig.’

    Antonia is a special breed of human – she sees that these creatures as so much more than units of production and rather as emotionally rewarding individuals. But as smart and likeable as they are I don’t feel immediately charmed. However, this is less to do with the pigs and more to do with my own expectations. Why should an animal have to dance like a puppy to win us over?  I’ve no doubt if I spent more time with both animals I would bond infinitely more.

    I need to spend more time with pigs…perhaps I need to be the one charming them

    NEXT: I’m off to a small pig sanctuary outside London to ….just hang out. 


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