Being a smallholder is a lifestyle to which many of us aspire. Growing vegetables and fruit is fairly easy - even with a small garden – and housing a few chickens is perhaps the next step. Acquiring pigs, though, seems a few steps on from what most people might expect to achieve with limited land at their disposal. But even if keeping pigs remains a distant aspiration, Celia Lewis’ book is an utterly charming and entertaining read for the pig-curious. So amusing is the book, It has garnered the support of HRH The Princess Royal, who in the foreword, sets the agenda firmly as one that is a ‘true celebration of these intelligent and endearing creatures.’
Lewis is an award-winning watercolourist and it is her fine artwork that brings this book alive. While a smallholding guide with regular photography can be a rather straightforward affair, Lewis’ artwork, popping up on every page, lifts the aesthetic out of the ordinary. Pigs, as she reveals in this guide, are not too dissimilar to humans. They are smart. Their heart valves (in specially bred pigs) are ‘successfully used in human heart transplants while pigs’ pancreas glands provide a source of insulin for diabetics.’ Whereas a photograph shows a precise reality, it does not have the artist’s eye for character, and that is precisely what Lewis’ watercolour sketches do for the pigs. Their raw, charming, humorous – and very human-like - character is on full display, and it’s impossible to turn the pages without a smile. This book is a pig-lover’s dream, and Lewis’ affection for these animals doesn’t show in the artwork alone. It‘s a practical book, serving as an introduction to anyone who wishes to keep pigs. Moreover, it deals with the nitty-gritty of their upkeep, and lets newcomers know exactly what they’ll be in for.
The chapters follow the step-by-step processes involved in keeping pigs. First you decide the reason you want to keep a pig in the first place; whether meat or just keeping your own stock, which then leads you to certain breed choices. Then you must choose an ark or sty, and decide how much land you will need to devote to them, depending on the size of the breed you select. Once you have seen to its accommodation, you’ll need to work out a way of keeping your pig in, which is not an easy task considering the fact that ‘pigs are ace escapees and if kept in a small area will spend a lot of their time thinking of ways to get out of it.’ Lewis advises on how to acquire stock, how to transport it home, and even, wonderfully, how to understand pigspeak. (For the curious, a ‘breathy in-out he hon he hon he hon’ means ‘I know you and I’m pleased to see you’).
While tongue in cheek in places, The Illustrated Guide to Pigs remains a serious introduction that covers all sorts of essentials, such as the fact that it is no longer legal in the UK to feed pigs with scraps or kitchen waste due to the risk of foot-and-mouth disease, thus preventing pigs from what they did so well – turning waste into meat. There are also chapters covering common ailments, from sunstroke to mange, as well as farrowing and caring for an in-pig sow and what happens during the birth. No illustrated guide of any kind would be complete without a catalogue and here, accompanied by Lewis’ sublime watercolours paintings, each of the breeds are shown in the perfect light, and from some wonderfully unflattering angles.
Ultimately, of course, there is a reason why most people who do so keep pigs, and that is to consume the meat it produces, as has been the way for millennia. Sausages were a favourite food of the Romans, as Lewis explains, and the earliest mention of them was in Homer’s Odyssey. Here Lewis lists a wealth of recipes from sausages to salamis - including a guide for curing your own meat - that is enough to satisfy the most carnivorous of appetites. Pig fancying and recipes aside, the real point of the book is getting across the serious message that is this is how animals should be treated before they become sausages - with genuine care for their welfare. It is a notion most people carelessly ignore as they reach for their bacon sandwich.
The Illustrated Guide to Pigs: How to Choose Them – How to Keep Them by Celia Lewis (£16.99, A & C Black Publishers Ltd) is available from Amazon
Mark Newton has a degree in Environmental Science and is a genre novelist for Pan Macmillan. He blogs about all sorts of things at markcnewton.com, or you can find him on Twitter at twitter.com/MarkCN
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