For many reasons, pig keeping and the dream of self-sufficiency* go hand in hand. Tom and Barbara did it. Hugh did it. And so did we - as soon as we realised we were spending €700 a year on pork products at the local supermarket.
This money, we reckoned, could buy us pigs and feed them until time for slaughter. We could theoretically sell a pig, buy and feed more pigs, and keep ourselves in pork - forever.
For their part, the pigs would live in the woods, clear the land of unwanted vegetation, consume our meat-free food waste, turn weeds from the veggie beds into manure, and provide all the sausages, ham, bacon, lardons, roasts, salamis, filet mignons and more that we could possibly want.
(The €700 obviously excludes the set-up costs of fencing and housing, and the costs of slaughter if you’re using an abattoir, but you get the picture. Eventually, it would be a self-sustaining part of our lives.)
Now, for other reasons, we are looking again at this decision. In fact, there’s a distinct possibility that these two will be the last pigs we keep:
Partly, because carrying food and water hundreds of metres up and down the valley twice a day means we have very little freedom to do other things with our time. (If it’s too much to ask other people to do when we go away, isn’t it too much to ask of ourselves?)
Partly, because they are costing us more than that original estimate. These pigs, for example, will not go for slaughter until November when they’ll be over 1.5 years old. They cost us roughly €15 a week to feed. They’ll be too heavy for me to slaughter on the land and so will need to be taken to the abattoir.
Partly, because they’ve done their job of clearing the woods. If they stay there any longer there won’t be any woods - they’re that good at clearing them! They also damage the soil structure so severely that the land takes years to recover.
Partly, because since watching “Forks over knives” recently, we’ve all started eating much less meat. (It’s a film that describes the benefits of eating a veggie or vegan diet and I highly recommend watching it. Some of the points will genuinely surprise you and it might even save your life.)
Add a couple of these partlys together and we can look forward to spending €15 a week on veggie seeds or produce in the local market. We still have chickens, rabbits and geese for when we feel the need or desire for meat but, if we do the almost unimaginable and make the jump to a vegetable-based diet, we can sell these animals to other people and actually Make Some Money to buy these veggie seeds and products.
Which is a long-winded and largely unedited way of saying: We’re changing. One thing this challenging, exciting and enlivening (yet ironically, financially impoverished) lifestyle does is present you with the opportunity to grow, develop, play and explore new ideas.
On a personal level, I have never enjoyed taking the life of an animal, even though I can argue that the animal was always intended to feed me and my family. I have always been thankful to the animal, but could never shake the thought that ending a life is spiritually... an abomination (seems a bit much but it’s the word that feels appropriate).
Yes, it will be nice not to kill any more.
*We are so far from the reality of being self-sufficient it’s not even funny. I remember seeing a couple talking about being self-sufficient after about 15 years of constant work. It seemed a long time at the time, but now I think it’s reasonable.