Out the back of the farmhouse was a scruffy orchard. It was through the east facing garden, then over an awkward cobbled together fence. The orchard was an L-shape with a soggy wet depression in the middle. The trees at the top end of the orchard had long since gone by the time of my childhood. The lower part of the orchard was populated with the most venerable but neglected cider apple trees. Never pruned with that crusty, mossy look of years of struggle against the elements.
There was no money in growing cider apples in the 1960s and besides the ones that still stood were probably originally grown for homemade home consumed cider. The orchard was a piggery. Several well-made timber pig huts stood in the field. Except for one. In a corner there was strange construction made of used railway sleepers, arranged vertically, and covered with a round tin roof. It was the only hut that was not moveable. A rough concrete floor kept the railway sleepers in place.
Now, that was a good set-up. There’s a thing that most pigs like and it’s ripe cider apples. Trouble is that they don’t know when to stop. So, when they fell, we had to find something to do with them by the bucket load. For us boys, that wasn’t a problem. Cider apple wars were a feature of the autumn.
If I’d taken a shine to farming in those early years, it would have been keeping pigs. That orchard was always as carved up as a fresh battle ground. Nothing more satisfying to a happy pig than rooting through the dirt. In good weather making our way across the ground was easy. In bad weather getting stuck in the sticky clay mud was guaranteed. The thick mud was ideal in the summer. Wallows would form so the pigs could do what they do best when it gets hot.
All that said, I can’t imagine domesticated pigs in any other setting than outdoors. As I drive around, it makes me pleased to see so many examples of outdoor reared animals. Pigs are inquisitive and intelligent animals that deserve the freedom to roam around in an open space.
At one time or another, I kept a British Saddleback, a Landrace, and a Large White pig. The Large White pigs could be a handful if the pig took a disliking to you. Saddlebacks were the best when it came to temperament. Agreeable, content, and excellent mothers.
My brothers and I were being tutored in animal husbandry from a young age. The principle aim was not to pamper a pet but to look after the pigs with the aim of having as big a litter of piglets as possible. That’s where profit lay. We kept records of the cost of the pig food, bedding needs and everything that went into our mini farming enterprises.
Encouraged by my parents, my brother and I were often in competition. I remember once sitting up late into the evening with a sow and being so proud of having helped 14 piglets into the world alive. This could be a hazardous business in a confined space of a small pig hut. The job was making sure the piglets found their way to their mother’s teat and didn’t get squashed on the way. If they let out a loud squeal the sow could move and could unwittingly squash one of the litter.
In my mind, Somerset cider is tied with pigs. The two go hand in hand.