COLIN Harris is an enthusiast for pigs. A third generation smallholder, whose father was the last farmer in Lincolnshire still using horses into the 1970s, a stockman and long-time breeder of prize-winning rare Middle White and Large Black pigs.

Colin now runs training courses on his 10-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest smallholding in Norfolk intended to encourage a revival of cottage pig-keeping. His latest project focuses on everything that happens between the carcase leaving the laughterhouse and the meat reaching your table. It's called "Putting Away the Pig". I asked him why.

"In my younger days, when I lived in Lincolnshire with my father, that's what they would call it, Putting Away the Pig. It used to be a social event. There'd be a group of about 20 or so, family, friends and neighbours. Each family would kill its pig at a different time when the cold weather came - no fridges for the meat, you see - and they'd all get together to cut up the carcase, cook and make everything they needed. Then afterwards they'd share out the food - this one would take some sausages and this one would take some ham and so on. The flavour was better than anything you can buy, and there'd be so much enjoyment on the day. You'd get early, put the copper on for boiling water"

Another motivation for the Putting Away the Pig course is the effect of earlier courses he has given on Pig Keeping for Beginners.

"Since then, people have been coming up to me and saying 'Right, I've got the pig. What do I do now?'"

Where to start, for Colin, is for would-be pig-keepers to decide what is it they like to cook and to eat, as well as how much space they have to spare.

The traditional way of raising cottage or backyard weaners (you should, of course, always keep at least two, as they are social animals) is in a shelter 1.8m x 1.8m (6ft x 6ft) within a run 1.8m x 3m (6ft x10 ft), with some shade, and keeping dry straw underfoot which you muck out every two weeks. If you have a bit more space, though, for them to wander and root in, so much the better.

"Your pig is your great gardener. They'll turn over every bit of earth, up to a metre deep and have up every root, every nettle, every blade of grass," he says.

The straw, of course, goes for compost on the garden. Pigs will midden (that is, designate one part of the pen as their latrine), always in the darkest area they can find, so, provided they get plenty of clean straw and are cleaned out regularly, they are not particularly smelly.

He is passionate about rare breeds himself, has won prizes for breeding them, and laments the extinction of traditional pigs like the wonderfully-named Lincolnshire Curly-coat and the Dorset Gold-tip, which disappeared as recently as the 1970's (what were people thinking of?) However, he wouldn't necessarily advise everyone interested in keeping a couple of pigs to go for rare breeds.

"The traditional breeds tend to carry a bit more fat round the meat. That's how people used to like it - they didn't get fat on it themselves because they were mostly out working a twelve-hour day. If you feed the pig right so it doesn't grow too fast, if it's out rooting around and getting exercise, then it's slow growing, and the flavour is like nothing else. But, if nobody in the family will eat it, if you're going to be chucking it away, there's no point."

In that case, he advises, better go with a standard breed or a cross, and not let them get too big, taking them to be killed when they weigh about 66 kg (145lbs), which should give about 45 kg (100lbs) of meat. The total cost, he reckons, if you "Put Away the Pig" yourself or with friends, is about £75.

The first essentials are to get your "Pig Pack" of paperwork from DEFRA, check which vets locally know about pigs (some vetinary practices see predominantly cats and dogs) and find out about your local abattoir: where they are, how to get there, and when they do pigs - it's one day a week for many of them. Most will, for a fee, cut up and process your pig for you to your specifications, but he believes it's always better to do it at home if you can.

"You know what you're getting, you know where it all comes from, what the pig's been eating, any medicine it has had."

That is, of course, provided you get your own pig back: mix-ups do sometimes happen, and Colin advises getting your pigs' ears notched with an identifying mark - and telling the abattoir that you have done so when you book them in.

The first day of the two-day Putting Away the Pig course will focus entirely on equipment, essential hygiene in the kitchen, and jointing the carcase, which is divided up into 5 pieces. If you know where the joints and knuckles are, he claims, you can find the right places to split the carcase and the sections simply fall apart. This sounds alarming for the beginner, but, he says, "It is a science, but it isn't rocket science." If people are still daunted after the course, he will mentor them with their first pig carcase if need be.

How you cut the meat after that depends again on what you like to eat and how many you are likely to be catering for: whether you want joints for roasting, racks, chops, or slices for smaller portions and for freezing. Colin demonstrates how to tie a joint, how to bone the meat, and how to de-rind for sausage meat, even how to render down trotters to make the jelly for pork pies.

The only parts of the pig he is not keen to encourage people to use are the brain and the guts, which are removed before the carcase is returned. You can even (if you insist) ask for the pig's blood from the abattoir on the day of slaughter, taking a whisk to keep it liquid, if you want to make your own black puddings.

The second day will be all about how to prepare, store and cook the by-products: everything from pate to pies, scratchings to sausage meat. Colin waxes lyrical about brawn and haslets, which you seldom see on sale these days, and traditional dishes such as pigs fry, collared rine (a Lincolnshire dish made from the meat of the pig's jaw), even the pig's ear! (As my father used to say, the only part of a pig you can't use is the squeal). Of course, the curing of bacon and ham are a big part of it: dry curing for preference.

"There's so much value, so many things you can do with it! Even the bones, you make pork soup with it, the more times you cook it up the better it tastes. Nothing's wasted: you can give the bone to the dog when you've finished with it."

Amongst other curing recipes, Colin makes jamon, a Spanish style of ham which takes a full year to cure. He showed us a couple of meat safes, which hang from the eaves on the north side (the coldest side) of his converted barn house, and a smaller safe which was designed to hang inside a well - the coolest place, in the days before fridges - underneath the cover.

Besides the pigs, Colin's holding has geese and hens, fruit and vegetables, which his daughter Jo makes into wines, cordials, jams, chutneys and preserves. They are planning for a house cow, too. "There's nothing better than going out on a Sunday morning saying, I'll just pick a few Brussels sprouts, or a cabbage, or some fresh peas."

With interest growing in living off the plot, growing your own, and providing good, local, traceable food, the whole "life beyond the supermarket" movement is turning more towards what Colin has been doing his whole life. As he says, "The big reason I'm doing this is for all that not to be lost forever. If I can spread that across a few families I'll have done well."