We were not quite sure when Thelma and Louise’s piglets were due, despite the mathematical knowledge that they should appear 3 months 3 weeks and 3 days after conception. They have, however, now both given birth. Louise was first and began to farrow outside before Simon, our farm manager, and Jake who works with him, got her and the piglets inside. Eight of her progeny survived. For the first few days she was rather fierce if anyone, including Thelma, came anywhere near her.
We had bought two rather smart pigsties and placed them a little way apart so I wondered how the next excitement was going to pan out. A few days later Thelma also produced eight piglets. I walked down to see if I could have a peek inside and jiggled a bucket of food to attract both mothers’ attention and then distract them. Louise appeared out of one pigsty and then, to my amazement, Thelma put her snout out of the same pigsty too.
Neither pig is exactly small and I have no idea how they can both fit, plus babies, without squidging someone but it is the most charming turn of events. As long as any piglet does not squeal, neither mother minds and turns towards us. It does seem to be very much a shared crèche approach.
Pigs are highly social and intelligent animals, often depicted in folklore as bringing fertility, life and abundance. What is so sweet is how the piglets play, clambering over logs, nipping each other, burrowing their noses in the mud just like their mothers. They are protective animals, bonding, making nests, and relaxing in the sun.
One of my favourite fictional characters is the character Piglet, in Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. Piglet does worry and is often frightened but repeatedly faces his challenges which is what makes him so brave and valiant. Courage resides in everyone, even in the most unlikely of characters:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?’
‘Supposing it didn’t,’ said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.”
Pigs have often made amazing fictional characters, leaping from the pages of books onto the big screen. Babe is one of the most well known. Before Downton Abbey, however, Highclere Castle played the fictional “Totleigh Towers from P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books. One of the best known plot lines, which threaded its way through many of the books, was about the renowned award winning pig, the Empress of Blandings, owned by Lord Emsworth. Famous for winning several titles in the ‘Fat Big’ division of the local agricultural show, the Empress had several adventures in the novels, often due to her fondness for food or some dastardly scheme to kidnap her by Sir Gregory Parsloe Parsloe, whose own sow, the Pride of Matchingham, was the Empress’s great rival at the local shows.
Rather like in Jeeves and Wooster, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon also kept and bred prize pigs, specifically Old Berkshires.
Despite this history though, when I was trying to decide what breed to choose, I opted instead for the British Lop Eared Pig as they are an endangered breed but also, and importantly, gentle by reputation. Brought in to clear a compacted and overgrown part behind the old walled garden, Thelma and Louise have done an amazing job. I will very much enjoy the next few months with this little tribe and I know I have a few girlfriends queuing up to hold piglets!