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“A pig is a jolly companion”

This week we have a delightful guest blog from our cherished author and award-winning artist, Celia Lewis, who discloses how life really is living with a pig or two.

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“Mum, there’s a pig at the front door” is not necessarily what you want to hear when you’ve just changed and are about to go out to dinner. “A” pig rather than “a couple of pigs” is even more tiresome as it means one is missing. Never give your pigs names you are advised, if they are going into the freezer – this is fine advice until it comes to calling them when they are lost.

Pigs can be kept on very little land or a great deal of land. If you give them as large an area as you possibly can, with plenty of room to root, they will follow their natural instincts.

The pig at the front door is very happy to trot back down to its field with the help of a bucket of nuts, but then there is the problem of finding out where its strong snout has managed to lift up the fence in order to squeeze under. It is quite remarkable how small a gap a large pig can slip through.

Gloucestershire Old Spot sow. The Gloucestershire Old Spot is a pig well suited to the smallholder with a bit of land as they are hardy and excellent foragers.

Finding the lost pig is another matter. We are lucky enough to live on the edge of a huge area of heathland and one feels awfully foolish wandering about shouting “piggy piggy piggy”. Dog walkers are rather surprised, though not half as much as when they meet a large spotted pig trotting merrily along the footpath towards them. Our pigs never went far, however, and were always overjoyed to see you when found.

A healthy snout is cold and moist. The snout is used to dig into the soil to find food and is a very acute sense organ.

The field where our pigs live has a hill right in the middle, which necessitates a long walk all the way round if the pigs aren’t visible, so I taught them to come to a whistle which also saves a lot of calling. The only problem is that lop-eared pigs have trouble locating where a sound is coming from, not to mention being unable to see because their ears hang over their eyes – they hear the whistle and run, but frequently in the wrong direction. Stop, look about, I whistle again and they hurtle in a different direction. Eventually they see me and come running, ears flying – their funny stiff gait always making me laugh. Pigs have the reputation for being intelligent but mine never seemed to learn that when I whistled I was always by their ark where they were fed.

Gone are the days where you could feed your pigs with scraps or kitchen waste. But you may feed fruit and vegetables from your garden and your pigs will certainly appreciate it - windfall apples are a perfect example.

Pigs are characterful creatures that become extremely tame and I did rather regret the way they trotted happily and trustingly up the path and into the stable to start their journey to the abattoir. These two were lucky pigs though, that had five acres to root up – which indeed they did.

Celia Lewis and her Gloucestershire Old Spots.

Celia Lewis is the author and artist of the wonderful Illustrated Guide to series, which are delightfully illustrated and informative books ideal for anyone interested in keeping pigs or chickens who wants to choose the most suitable breed for their circumstances.

There are two published titles in the series so far: the best-selling The Illustrated Guide to Chickens and, brand new this month, The Illustrated Guide to Pigs.

Celia is currently hard at work writing and painting for her next title in this series The Illustrated Guide to Ducks and Geese, due to publish in summer 2012.

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Guest post on chickens

Chickens always seem to have been around in my life.  My grandmother kept them along with geese (Hilary, the gander, terrorised small children with bare legs) and my mother kept Rhode Island Reds.  I have kept hens on and off for the last thirty years, the ‘off’ being after a visit from a fox.

At the moment I keep silver-laced Wyandottes and Welsummers.  I also had Anconas but these are flighty birds to say the least.  They are beautiful black birds with white mottling that lay pure white eggs – however they prefer to roost up trees and there being some holly bushes in my run, this was were they went.  As winter approached I felt they would do better if trained to live in the house with the others – the way to achieve this is to catch them up at night when hens are usually docile and put them in the house, when you’ve done this once or twice they generally get the message.  However these two were not in the least docile and flew straight over the 8 foot fencing out of the run – impossible to find in the dark, sadly all that was left in the morning was a pile of feathers.

The Ancona is a tough, hardy bird that originated in the Italian port of its name;

The Ancona is a tough, hardy bird that originated in the Italian port of its name

The Wyandottes are gorgeous birds, calm and beautiful though do tend to spend a lot of the year broody – fine if you want to hatch chicks, but if you have more than one cock then you must separate them and wait at least four weeks until you can be sure the eggs have been fertilised by the right bird.

Wyandotte: a superb and showy dual-purpose bird with a strong character to match

All these birds feature in my book The Illustrated Guide to Chickens and are just some of the 200 or so watercolour paintings.  What to do with them all?  My answer is to hold an exhibition and with two friends that is what I am doing.  STRICTLY FOR THE BIRDS is being held in Haslemere Museum, Surrey from 8th – 22nd May 2010 and features not only my paintings but unusual hand-carved birds and fish by renowned wood carver Judith Nicoll and the unique and affordable jewellery of Catriona Godson.

Celia Lewis

The Illustrated Guide to Chickens

Available from A&C Black

www.celialewis.co.uk

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