Friday, September 28, 2007

Dick King-Smith's Recollections of Pig Farming

In his autobiography Chewing the Cud (2001), Dick King-Smith recalls his experiences as an "amateurish" pig farmer at his Woodlands Farm outside of Bristol, England from the late 1940s through the 1960s. As he writes, "The pigs suffered more than the other livestock from my love of trying to do things on the cheap" (82), such as converting an old barn into a piggery and using old chicken houses as farrowing units for his sows. King-Smith kept his pigs outside in a three-acre wooded area that he skillfully fenced with wire and coffin boards. After about five years of buying pigs from Mr. Hamper, a local breeder who was only "distinguishable from his larger pigs by virtue of wearing clothes and standing on his hind legs" (87), King-Smith started breeding his own pigs. He kept up to ten Saddleback sows, all serviced by a Large White boar named Monty who came to a tragic end in 1959 after gorging on dirt and mud. He also talks of the challenges of keeping newborn piglets alive, many of whom were squashed accidentally by their mothers. Interestingly, he notes that "the times when we never lost babies were when a sow farrowed completely naturally out in the Wood" (95). Most of the pigs were sold at market, although "once a year the butcher came and killed a bacon pig for our own needs" (98).

King-Smith really enjoyed his pigs and complains about how the pig is "linked always with gluttony, obesity, and squalor" (82). He is a big believer in porcine intelligence, something one can see by looking into a pig's eye. As he concludes, "The expression in the eye of a dog is trusting, of a cat supercilious, of a cow ruminative, of a sheep, vacuous. But the look in the eye of a pig is, quite simply, knowing. Other beasts think, This human is looking at me. The pig thinks, I am looking at this human. There is all the difference in the world" (82).

King-Smith got the idea for The Sheep-Pig (1983) while tending the Guess-the-Weight-of-the-Pig stall at the village fair. As he recalls it, "I must, I suppose, have thought as I stood upon the village green, recording people's guesses and taking their money, that it was a shame that such a lovely little pink pig should end up, once he was big enough, in the deep freeze. Suppose fate had something quite different in store for him? Suppose he should go and live on a farm, with a sheep-dog as his foster mother? Suppose he should want to do what she did? He couldn't be a sheep-dog. But he could be a sheep-pig" (6-7). King-Smith's book won the Guardian Award for Children's Fiction (he used the £250 prize to buy a new armchair) and later was adapted into the popular film Babe (1995) by director Chris Noonan.

The picture on the book jacket is of King-Smith with Monty, his "pig of pigs."

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