Pigs – Do You Think They Know?

September 25, 2013

pigcloseup“Do you think the pigs know they’re going for slaughter?”

It’s a question several people have asked me since our young pigs were delivered. With the wisdom of those who know everything, others have casually mentioned:

“they know what’s in store for them you know”

Well how can they know, unless pigs can read our minds?? How can they possibly know that they won’t be living long, happy lives routing around in our little copse, but instead will be taken on a hair-raising journey in the back of a bumpy trailer, before being dispatched to pig heaven in the next day or so (or to be more precise, our freezer).

Saddleback pigs in April

Saddleback pigs in April

After our cute little saddleback piglets arrived here ready to roam outside back in April I thought I’d be writing several posts sharing tales of their escapades and antics. I hadn’t expected that being a Pig Herder (my official Department of Agriculture name) would be so uneventful!

Saddleback PigsOver the years we’ve cared for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chickens, dogs, cats, ducks, pet rats, kittens and horses but I can honestly say of all of those, our pigs have been the easiest to mind. They’ve been such good-natured, amusing animals, they’ve been a pleasure to look after.

Pigs are clean (they use one area to ‘do their business’ in), they’re tidy (they often rearrange the straw bedding in their house until it’s ‘just right’) and they’re friendly (they grunt and wag their curly tails when we head in to feed them).

Organic Land Clearance

Pigs – Organic Land Clearance

Pigs have the most incredibly strong snouts judging by the size of the rocks they’ve unearthed, so large I can’t budge them no matter how hard I try to and they’re the best way of clearing land organically in a surprisingly short space of time. They’ve also dug up a beautiful selection of glass bottles and pipes that had been discarded many years ago that we didn’t know existed – no wonder they’re known to be such good truffle hunters!

Glass bottlesBut this is the week, the one we’re planning to take Rashers and Sausages to the slaughterhouse.

They’re at their ideal weight, the arrangements have been made with a small, registered, local butcher that won’t involve a long, stressful journey and we’ve fed them lots of apples in the hope they’ll take on the flavour (yes really…)

As the time gets closer I’ve surprised myself that I’m planning to watch our pigs go through the process. This is me, the woman who still can’t eat a chicken drumstick or pick the meat of a carcass without feeling queezy, steeling herself to watch an animal she’s grown to admire being murdered, as my children like to call it. And then cooking it.

pigseatingIsn’t it right that if we’re to eat these fine creatures, that out of respect to them we should be able to look them in the eye before we send them off to their maker? I’m not ashamed to say I’m a meat eater. I’ve always enjoyed eating it and can argue the toss about why humans do. However, rearing our own has made me question my beliefs, has at times made me gag when I’ve cut a ham in two as I’ve pictured slicing through one of our ‘boys’ whilst I’m doing it, and really made me think about whether we should be eating meat at all when we have so many other food choices before us.

Saddlebacks in September

Pigs have dismantled the bridge

I don’t know how I’ll feel about eating meat over the next couple of weeks while ours is curing in the butchers. I sure as hell know I’ll never take another chop, chicken or piece of beef for granted having gone through this process. Who knows, maybe I will eat less meat from now on in, or even give it up altogether.

The experience has made me think that if all us meat eaters were to see their food alive and well before being butchered, pre packed and stacked in a freezer in a supermarket, we might not be so quick to pick up the cheap, intensively farmed meat on offer everywhere.

Saddleback PigsBut back to my original question, do you think pigs know?

Well we’re planning to take ours on their last journey this Friday and today they dismantled the footbridge that lets us humans access them easily. I’ve also had to fix the fence in two places today, neither of which has happened in the previous six months we’ve had them.

What do you think? Do they know?

Note: Since writing this post the pigs have had a slight reprieve.  Due to problems with the trailer we had to cancel and now have to wait two or three weeks until the abattoir is ‘doing pigs’ again.


  • Reply Ena Ronayne September 25, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Oh god rather you than me! It takes a brave soul to watch an animal of any type die, especially those you have reared even if for consumption. For me that would be the worst part if you can get through that eating their bodily parts afterwards wouldn’t be a breeze. But if I was to answer the question you posed, would you still go thru with watching Rashers and Sausages getting slaughtered?

    • Reply greensideupveg September 25, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      Good question Ena, think we have to at this stage, couldn’t afford to keep feeding them!! However, in answer to your own question, if I thought they did know I’d never eat meat again.

  • Reply Maggieg September 25, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I feel for you. I’ve been there but…… your pigs lived the way nature intended and have had a better life than lots of humans. For this reason I wouldn’t feel in the slightest bit guilty. However I do think they know when they get to the abattoir. The smell is in the air….. just organise it to be fast.

    • Reply greensideupveg September 25, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      It’s why I want to be there Maggie – I hope they allow it but I feel if I’m there watching maybe they’ll take more care to ensure its quick. We do love eating pork though so imagine that will carry us through and better to eat it knowing the creatures have had such a good, happy life and not one of misery or suffering.

  • Reply Mary Gethings September 25, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    ‘Slicing through one of our boys’ has just sent shivers through me. Oh gosh I just couldn’t do it but I understand why you have made the decision to rear your own…..and that’s coming from a vegetarian of 20+ years! To answer the question you asked … yes, I truly believe they do know and I feel from reading the post you believe this too.. the last paragraph says it all!

    • Reply greensideupveg September 25, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      I think they can sense something’s bothering me Mary, whether they know or not I’m not so sure. Odd that they’re appearing to make more of an effort to escape but cut off my easy access first!

  • Reply Lily de Sylva September 26, 2013 at 1:01 am

    A well-asked question Dee, and I so agree with you that if we eat meat, we should at least be thinking about it even if we can’t raise our own animals. It’s a big responsibility.
    Having kept all sorts of pigs in all sorts of set-ups over the years, I would say that at the moment, as they dig their way around your plot then no, they don’t know. The reason that they are getting a bit destructive, and trying to break out, is because they’ve used up the space they are in… you can see from the bare earth. That just goes to show that you’ve chosen the perfect time to take them to the butcher.
    I would say though, that on the day that you take them, they probably will know… not exactly what’s going to happen, but that something is amiss. After all, they don’t go for a ride in the trailer every day! They will probably get a bit restless when they pick up the smell at the butcher too.
    But, if you’re calm, that will help them to stay calm. They know you and they will pick up on your mood. So breathe easy and remember that you’ve given them a great life and you’re giving them a humane death… the best you could possibly do.
    I really hope it goes well for you, and that you enjoy the results!

    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Lily thank you for that good advice which I’ll do my best to remember on the day. Yes you’re right, not a blade of grass left in there and it’s definitely greener on the other side!

  • Reply Annie Flowers September 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

    Dear Dee, how I feel for you! Its hard to answer any of your questions but its great that you are asking them. Have wondered the same myself and know I could never rear an animal to eat it but if you can it is definitely the right thing for all concerned. We finally stopped eating meat altogether about a year and a half ago for exactly the reasons you say, I can’t bear to see them die on my behalf. BUT everyone has to make their own choice. We are a bit of a strange household 🙂 we don’t eat meat but feed our dogs raw meat, which we feel is the right thing for them, but twice a day I think of the animal that gave its life so my dogs could have theirs.

    When all is said and done, I think Lily has given a great answer, they probably don’t know and the time is right now. I hope it all goes right for you too.

    • Reply Lily de Sylva September 26, 2013 at 8:58 am

      Thanks Annie! And fair play for making a strong choice 🙂

    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      You have it in a nutshell Annie, we should treat the animals we eat with respect and be thankful of them. Well done in standing by your convictions and making that choice.

  • Reply Small Plot, Big Ideas September 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    A great blog which resonates for me as we plan to take our first 2 Tamworth weaners off in a couple of months. Please supply more updates after the event so I can get a better idea of what to expect!

    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks Richard and yes, I plan to update everyone on how it all goes. Did you see the video in the first post I wrote about our pigs arrival (linked in this post)? I watch it occasionally to remind me why we’re doing this 🙂

  • Reply ayearinredwood September 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Dee a question I am asked often is am I not sad when the pigs go ‘off’. And I know I’m in slightly different situation – I’d imagine it’s tougher when there is just the two… but as others have said when you know the animals have had an exceedingly good life and been treated well it is somewhat ‘easier’.

    Perhaps our worst time was having to have Clarence put down because of his arthritis – but again we couldn’t watch him suffer and he was in so much pain.

    To answer your original question ‘do they know’? I would say most definitely not. You’ve just been so lucky (as have the pigs) that they’ve had a beautiful copse with lots to keep them amused… they’ve only now started to get bored and see the “other man’s grass” – hence the escape antics!!! The time is right.


    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      Thanks for that Margaret and yes, I’m sure you’re correct that it’s worse because of just having the two. I keep chanting in my head ‘I’m a farmer, I’m a farmer’ (even though I don’t consider myself to be really) it kind of helps.

      I can imagine your sadness about Clarence as knowing he wasn’t heading ‘off’ you could allow yourselves to get closer to him. I’m sure that must have been a real delight 🙂

      • Reply Alfie McCaffrey September 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm

        should have eaten Clarence…

        • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm

          Alfie!!!! Though you probably have the right attitude lol

  • Reply Catherine September 26, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Dee I’m full of admiration. I think you are taking a very ethical stance and more of us need to think about how our meat is reared and killed. But do they know? I believe they do, that they have a consciousness like us. Being an awful coward I don’t like to think about it, but when I do I wonder about how I can eat meat at all……..but like you I do and I love it. And worst of all? My favourite meat is lovely cute, cuddly LAMB!!!

    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      I’m sure I shouldn’t have laughed at that Catherine! Mine is beef so not quite as cuddly 😉 agree that the trick is to not think about it too much and just try to make the best food choices we’re possibly able to at the time.

  • Reply Brian September 26, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    An honest post and as one can see from the previous comments very thought provoking. I know I could not do it as I become attached to our own animals all to quickly. I hope that for both you and your pigs the last journey is as easy as possible.

    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Thank you Brian, I may write about it, we’ll see. I hope for their sake it’s quick and uneventful too.

  • Reply Alfie McCaffrey September 26, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    If you raise the meat for your table , the most humane way is to kill it and butcher it yourself..
    If you eat meat, in reality you should be able to kill it, and that is the true cost of food as it is directly linked to you through your actions. By doing this you become aware of the gift of food that animal gave you and your family,and this should increase your awareness and respect for mother nature and the gifts that are Life and Death
    .The only way to appreciate life is to be aware of death.
    Death of an animal for food means a continuation of life . that is the order of survival.The same holds true for vegetables and fruit, digging or picking them
    kills them
    .Supermarkets remove the personality and truth from food, grow it yourself and rediscover what our grandparents knew and held to be worthwhile.

    Great blog Dee. when you get pigs in trailer, a six pack of strong cider will work wonders for them.

    • Reply greensideupveg September 26, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to laugh at that either Alfie and am sure you’re probably right 😉 You’ve said everything in a couple of paragraphs that I was trying to convey in my post. Couldn’t agree more with you. How quickly we’ve become detached from the food we eat in just a couple of generations whether it’s meat, fruit or vegetables.

      We’re doing this as much for our own children as anything and hope that by exposing them to ‘real’ food, however harsh it seems at the time in their protected little 21st century ‘1st world’ lives, we’ll give them the gift of understanding and knowledge for essential life skills.

  • Reply lornagannon September 27, 2013 at 9:37 am

    A really thought-provoking article … as you can see from the responses.
    Really agree with what Alfie had to say.

    • Reply greensideupveg September 27, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Yes Lorna, Alfie hit it spot on. I’m glad it’s making people think – my intention wasn’t to shock or offend anyone but perhaps spend a few moments reflecting and hopefully make some changes with their food choices. Thanks for taking the time to comment too 🙂

  • Reply Lorna September 27, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I’m sure they do know when they get to the factory / abbatoir and yes, i feel sorry for them too. but they have had a good life and they will taste yummy. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have survived past birth. Some dairy farmers shoot male calves and I really don’t like that. Their lives may be short but at least they should have time out in the open.
    We’ve killed sheep and chickens for our own consumption and the male goats. We’ve sold cattle we’ve been fond of too and I totally get where you are coming from. I was always amused at my daughter though, she loves lamb and when her pet lamb Matilda was little, she was looking forward to her growing so she could be yummy in her tummy!! We actually sent Henry to the butcher and let Matilda have lambs for a few years 🙂

    • Reply greensideupveg September 27, 2013 at 8:30 pm

      That’s such a good attitude Lorna and why I so want our children to grow up with it in their lives. Well done, you’re obviously doing something right.

      We’ll hide our own feelings as much as we can from them. From being aghast at the thought of it earlier in the year, they’re now all looking forward to a freezer full of rashers and roasts – something we’ve bought barely none of this year!

  • Reply lavina September 30, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Your blog has inspired such thoughtful and thought-provoking dialogue. It brought to mind two books that you might like to read (if you haven’t already) –
    Animals in Translation – Temple Grandin
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Reply greensideupveg October 1, 2013 at 12:05 am

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Lavina. I hadn’t expects the dialogue but am very glad the post has made people stop and think, just as having the pigs has done for us. I haven’t read either book and will make a note – have just googled them and both look very interesting. Thank you for sharing too 🙂

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