Until the advent of the industrial age, most people lived a relatively agricultural life. In Ireland before the potato famine, cottagers who may not have been able to afford a riding horse or beef cattle would at very least keep a few pigs. They were usually housed close to the main dwelling, and sometimes in a wing attached to the house by a covered breezeway.
Not only did this help keep the pigs (and often a milk cow and laying flock) warm and safe from predators, it was more convenient access for feeding kitchen scraps and collecting manure so very necessary for growing healthy crops.
Pigs were butchered in the fall, around St. Martin’s in November. This meant that the animals wouldn’t need scarce fodder over the winter (stocking up enough hay was tedious and land-intensive for a small-holder) but also that cooler weather would slow down spoilage until the salted meat could cure. Cottagers would preserve enough ham, bacon, sausage & lard to see them through they year, and sell the rest to the butcher, providing enough cash to pay the annual rent, hence the phrase “the gentleman who pays the rent”.
The current economic woes are helping to bring about a resurgence of backyard pig-keeping in Ireland:
“The “pig in the parlor” stereotype of Ireland came from the system landlords imposed more than three centuries ago of charging peasants extra rent for pig houses. The poor country people found that as a pig is a clean and intelligent animal, it could share a clay cabin without soiling it if allowed to come and go. Until recent times there was a tradition in rural Ireland of keeping one pig in the yard to eat the scraps and provide an extra source of food. They could even be found in Dublin where a quarter of the land is garden. The practice came to be associated with poverty and died out with the coming of supermarkets.”
Our piggies won’t come anywhere near that sort of beneficence, but we are definitely looking forward to trying our hand at making our own bacon (and sausage and ham), not to mention sharing with friends & family.
Link Stinky (the little black one) and Patty are settling in nicely. They rode home in our impromptu pig hauler, were ignominiously carted over to their new digs, and promptly started rooting. They play, eat, sleep & root in the dirt, scandalizing hens and terrifying Gemini. Both little guys nestle so deeply in the straw bedding that the only sign of inhabitance is the rise and fall of it as they snore.
Nothing phased him, not paparazzi, not gravel trucks, not even the white-striped crosswalk he jumped over just in case it might somehow make him trip. But pigs….oh no. Gemini just says no to pigs. He spent most of the first day running to & fro and snorting his outrage, even when said porcines were fast asleep in the ham palace.