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Pigs in the Wood: "We've got something really unique here."

The founder of Pigs in the Wood, a small pig sanctuary in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, shares the story of Pigs in the Wood, and talks about veganism, activism and the annual Pig Gig.

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Volunteers and Harry at the 2021 Pig Gig

On my first visit to Pigs in the Wood in 2021, I felt immediately that I had discovered something special. Secreted away in a patch of dense woodland, it is home to twenty pigs who roam freely through the trees. The wooden steps that cut a path through the woods, alongside the buildings and structures from which visitors can buy cakes and drinks, are built by a team of dedicated volunteers, and the entire operation has a welcoming, community-oriented feel.

Visitors to the sanctuary can interact freely with the pigs and very quickly learn of their unique and distinct personalities - from the sweet and gentle George to the mischievous sisters Saffron and Patsy and the charming and confident Harry. And just this year, some surprising new residents arrived at the woods – two friendly goats name Steve and Pete.

Snoop Hog

Snoop Hog

Having spent many wonderful days out at the sanctuary, I was keen to find out more. After enjoying afternoon tea in the woods at their Platinum Jubilee event, I sat in the tranquil memorial garden with founder Jac Haggata for an honest chat about all things Pigs in the Wood.

Could you tell us a little bit about how Pigs in the Wood came to be, and what your involvement has been so far?

Well, it wasn't our intention to become a sanctuary initially, it was just to find somewhere for our six pigs that we brought over from Cornwall! This came up for auction, and we managed to get it. With it being an ancient woodland and Greenbelt land, there wasn't much demand. A bit excessive for six pigs, having ten acres of woodland!

Then, one by one, we would get contacted about pigs that needed rescuing. The first one to come was George - and being a little pig, we thought, that's fine. And then we felt he was lonely, because the other six grouped together, so then Day’Z came along, and then Savvi, and then word got about, really!

I think we would have carried on rescuing pigs until DEFRA said to us, actually, you can only have twenty. This is because they're meant to have half an acre each – which, when you look at factory farmed pigs, and how crammed they are in their small spaces, is a bit ironic really.

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George

A lot of DEFRA’s regulations were nonsense - like birthing crates. I wouldn't dream of having a birthing crate - it's just not necessary. If pigs elsewhere had the space and were in the right environment, you wouldn't need to have birthing crates, and you wouldn't need to dock their tails, or cut their teeth, because they wouldn't be so stressed.

I think we were a bit of an anomaly to DEFRA. They didn't quite know what to do with us.

So, we had to stop at twenty, but we fostered a couple out, and then we started our rehoming page. So now we've got a rehoming team that exclusively rehome pigs all over the country.

In the last year or so, we've rescued and rehomed 200 pigs - so we've managed to find another way to give the pigs a better environment. I believe that this is the right environment for pigs – it’s where they originate from as boars in a woodland environment. The whole ethos here is to show people how pigs behave naturally, and about their characters and personalities, and to dispel some of the myths about pigs. People can have this cognitive dissonance where a ‘farm animal’ is considered different to a pet dog – but when you get to meet the pigs, you see that they are very intelligent, and they are sentient beings.

Pigs in the Wood have some really exciting events coming up in the near future, including the annual Pig Gig. What can people expect from the Pig Gig?

This is the fourth year we’ve put on the Pig Gig now, and it's built and grown each year. It's a two-day music event, with a variety of bands and musicians playing each day throughout the day. We've got a bar with draught beer, and we've got hot food, and lots of different stalls.

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Mabel

It's very laid back and we generally have a lot of fun. People get up and dance as well, and then the pigs join in and mingle around! One year, Harry pushed me off my seat when I was holding a bowl of chilli, and it went all over my head, but other than that they’re pretty well behaved!

Anyone can come to the Pig Gig, and it's just a good environment to be in. The pigs are used to visitors, and they always benefit from the extra attention and treats!

And do the pigs enjoy the music? How do they generally respond?

Well, we've got some videos of Harry from last year, standing at the front - and we were sure that he was wagging his tail and just watching the musicians! But, generally, the pigs do seem more laid back, actually.

People and pigs (and now goats, too!) all have a good time!

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Steve

And how do you think PITW’s advocacy for veganism ties into the work that you do?

In lots of ways! I think the danger is to exclude people, because what we want is as many people who are not vegan or vegetarian coming here as possible, so they can make that connection.

At the moment, we're doing an investigation into so called “free range” pigs. Ralph, a pig we recently rescued, sadly died because he had pneumonia and sepsis. He was from a “free range” pig farm, and he kept going for a week. The fight was incredible, he really wanted to live.

When I put the pictures up on social media of Ralph when he was coughing, we actually got a comment saying that it was ‘distasteful’. Well, it's not distasteful. It's horrendous, and I'm sorry if it offends somebody, but that's how it is.

If you're aware of what's going on, you can't not do anything about it. We’d be hypocrites if we didn't try to help.

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Patsy and Saffron

I think vegans are just so heavily burdened with this information and seeing these horrific pictures. We're aware of it, we know. I think it's about reaching out to those who are not aware, who need to be informed.

You can sometimes tell the people who come here that are not vegan - you know, they'll roll their eyes, or they'll look up at the sky when you're talking. They can't quite look you in the eye. But I think once you make a connection with a pig, you find out that that pig is no different - because you can't differentiate them from a pig in a factory farm. They're all sentient beings, and we've got pigs here that have been in that factory farm environment.

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Raph

All our cakes and all the drinks and everything we serve is vegan. And we also do outreach work - we'll talk to schoolchildren, show them slides about the pigs behaving naturally, and then we'll contrast that with the factory farm pigs so they can see the difference.

Everyone can do what they can do, and every little bit matters. People often say that it’ll make no difference, but it does. If you don't eat meat for a week, or you cut down, it makes a huge difference.

Aside from attending events, how can people help to support the work that you do here?

There are lots of ways!

For a sanctuary of our size, we have a quite big team and we've got different groups of volunteers that do different things. We've got a welfare team, for example, that focus on the welfare needs. And then we've got a maintenance team who do all the woodwork, and we've got an event team. We're always in need of more volunteers!

People fundraise for us and maybe have a stall, or a little event; we've had schoolchildren helping to raise money. Donations are also extremely helpful - we do adoption certificates, and we have merchandise like t shirts and tote bags. And we have some people that subscribe to give a donation on a monthly basis.

We're always coming up with different ways of raising money, because our vet bills every month are around £1000. And then there’s the cost of maintaining the woods, purchasing the pig feed, and the costs associated with the campaigning and rehoming work. If every weekend we have two tours each day, that covers just one weeks’ worth of pig feed. So there are continual costs, which means that donations are always appreciated!

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Angel

What is the future for Pigs in the Wood? Any long term goals?

Yes! My goal is for Pigs in the Wood to become an educational centre, as well as being open for visitors. We’d like to have groups of children coming at various ages, so we can talk about animal welfare, the environment, the woodland, and so on.

I'd love to expand into the fields adjacent to the woodland, and not only rescue pigs but educate people about all animals; whether it's cows, chickens, or sheep. They all experience horrendous lives as a result of farming and are not valued as they should be.

We’d also like to build some shepherd huts, so people can come and stay and help out.

I often learn from going to other sanctuaries how they do things – I recently stayed at Retreat for a week and it was a really good learning experience, and it made me more determined to keep going. I feel we've got something really unique here - I've not been to another sanctuary where the animals are not in confined areas. They've usually got more space, but they haven't got that freedom.

I think we're really fortunate. We’re so privileged to have this, and to see the animals living happily and free.

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