This isn’t really my story, but it’s one I thought I ought to share. It concerns a friend of mine so I’ll keep things carefully anonymous. Just in case.
A mate of mine worked with pigs early in his career. He then went on to do engineering and become respectable, but at least he started out with his wellies firmly in the muck. The business he worked for was a mainly arable farm, situated on the edge of a commuter village, and the farm just happened to have a pig unit. The owner always reckoned that the system worked well in that when grain prices were low and buyers were looking for excuses to drive them down even more, his arable business just sold the poorer grain to his pig unit. Pigs were far more forgiving than grain buyers with regard to quality. In his more bitter moments he was known to comment that pigs had better conversation and higher ethical standards than most grain buyers as well.
On the pig unit they had a herd of sows for producing young piglets and a finishing unit for fattening the weaned piglets. The whole operation was run sensibly with ‘just enough’ investment to keep things running properly.
One example of the ‘just enough’ investment was displayed to the world when it came to moving the newly weaned piglets into the finishing building. Doubtless lesser men, more susceptible to the blandishments of those who sell such things, would have had a race in place. But here improvisation won out. The arable side of the business produced a lot of straw. This was used to bed the pigs. So when they needed to move the young piglets all that happened was they made a race of straw bales (all small bales back then). Each wall of the race was two bales thick and three tall. A day was spent building the race, and it was taken down over the next week or so as the straw was used for bedding.
The boss would gather his staff, plus a couple of the most sensible lads from the village. (This is where my mate came into the picture as one of said more sensible lads.) They would shut all the yard gates, and then they would, by judicious use of pig boards, gather up the weaned piglets, and quietly and gently walk them down the straw race into the next building. Sadly, on the occasion I’m talking about a rep turned up. He was a big man with a booming voice from one agricultural supply company or another. He drove into the yard, leaving the gate open behind him. He looked round, saw the straw race, leaned over one wall, saw the piglets approaching him and boomed, “Is there anybody about?”
The piglets panicked, the flow backed up as piglets climbed over each other to get away from the terrifying apparition. At some point the straw wall collapsed and suddenly there were piglets everywhere. At this point the rep disappeared never to be seen again. (There were rumours that the pigs had eaten him but they’re unlikely to have eaten a Ford Cortina as well.)
For days afterwards, well dressed ladies, some in twinset and pearls, would drive into the yard and hand to whoever was about at the time a piglet. This was normally swathed tightly in a towel to act as both restraint and nappy. The conversation was restricted to, “I found this in my garden/utility room/lounge, and no, I don’t want the towel back.”
As an aside, I’ve just published another collection of stories. Not agricultural as such but I hope you’d rather like them.
Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter and other stories.