Raising pigs is always an adventure, but raising heritage pigs can be an epic adventure on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey. The trouble is, despite their lack of table manners and their slovenly deportment, pigs are just too darn smart!
We have a red wattle sow by the name of Roxy. Roxy is a great big puppy dog of a 400lb pig. She has been with us for almost two years now and is as gentle as her size will allow. She is a pleasure to work with, cooperative. and docile. If the phrase “beautiful creature” can be applied to any pig, it is her. Roxy exemplifies the old blind date cliché, “She’s got a great personality….”
We also have a young red wattle boar that goes by the name of Hampton. Hampton’s lot in life is to be Roxy’s mate, as soon as he is tall enough to do the job. Hampton lacks some of Roxy’s finer personality traits, but overall he is a pretty good pig.
A barrow hog of questionable lineage rounds out our current complement of pigs at the homestead. He was purchased as a feeder to grow out and butcher. So far, he has refused to grow. We suspect that someone may have slipped us a Vietnamese potbellied pig. He is healthy and plump, but he just won’t grow the way we want him to! We call him Gump because we originally interpreted his failure to do what we want him to do as stupid. We now believe him to be the smartest and most calculating pig in the bunch.
A few months back we got a bright idea. We decided it would be nice to get Roxy bred before Hampton was ready, kind of jump start our pig farming operation and usher in the day when we would be rolling in an endless bounty of bacon…yum, bacon! As it happens, we had a buck goat that was between jobs (all the does in the herd being bred already). Some friends of ours had a pair of nannies that needed freshening, but lacked a buck to do the deed. They did, however, have a full grown American mule foot boar hog, also between gigs. Great minds came together, and we decided on a swap. Transportation was arranged and the two out of work gigolos traded locations.
In preparation for the arrival of our visiting boar, we put together a new pen for Hampton and Gump. We selected a nice area of about a half-acre with a good mixture of pasture and woods, set up a watering station (we like to use the turtle sandboxes you find at Walmart. We pick them up at yard sales), and moved them across the driveway to give Roxy and her new beau some privacy.
When Lucky, the visiting boar, arrived, we got a surprise. He was a rangy, disheveled mess, complete with three inch tusks intact. He looked more like a wild boar at the end of the summer, before the acorns fall, than anything that had spent 10 seconds of its life domesticated! His demeanor was in keeping with his appearance. Sadly, our friend was on his way out of town and we were to be stuck with Lucky for three months.
Everything went reasonably well for the first week or so. Then, pigs decided to be pigs. Hampton and Gump developed a terrible homesickness and missed their buddy Roxy. They put their little pig heads together and came to the conclusion that it was time to go home. They probed their perimeter for weaknesses, located a chink, and pulled off their great escape. We discovered them at about the mid-point of their plan’s execution; they had made the break but had not yet regained the confines of their original pen. Much running and shouting and pig chasing ensued. Our six dogs joined the game, reveling in the opportunity for sanctioned livestock chasing, normally a big taboo. Ultimately the two runaways ducked under the pig fence and when the dust settled, they were back with Roxy. All pigs were happy. All dogs were happy (“Great chase, Boss, when we gonna do it again?”). All humans were resigned to the fact that we had been soundly defeated. Gump and Hampton were home.
A few nights later, Lucky broke out. At about 11:30 pm, a large dog/other animal ruckus was heard over by the goat pen, where two new babies were sleeping comfortably with their mom and the rest of the herd. My son alerted me to the situation and I ran out on the back porch, thinking we had a coyote. I looked towards the goat pen and there goes Lucky, fleeing the scene with all six dogs in hot pursuit. I ran to the front porch to grab my boots. After retrieving my footwear, I headed straight for the goat pen to check the kids, the rest of the herd having scattered to the outer reaches of the pasture. The kids were fine and sleeping in their hut like nothing had happened. Meanwhile, Lucky had vanished. I checked all the places my pigs would go, but he was nowhere to be found. I finally went to the pig pen to see if the rest of the pigs were still there. They were. So was Lucky. I guess with the dog mob, and not knowing where to look for the grain barrels, he figured the pig pen was the best place to be. I spent the next hour and a half calming the goats and getting them home. I’m still not sure where he got out, but I beefed up a couple potential weak spots and he hasn’t made a break for it again.
Fast forward a couple of days. I was getting ready for the Lebanon farmer’s market when I heard all manner of pig screaming coming from the pen. I thought someone was being killed (actually, I figured Lucky was killing one of the little pigs), so I ran to the pen and its Lucky making all the noise. The term “squealing like a stuck pig” didn’t come about by accident. Lucky had somehow managed to get a tusk hung up in the eye of a power pole stay cable that anchors in the pig pen. He was stuck. I had no idea what to do. If he would have taken one step forward he would have walked right out of his predicament, but all he wanted to do was pull back. I wasn’t sure what would happen first, his tusk pulling out or the power pole pulling down. The pole was swaying as if it was in a hurricane, and I was afraid I might have to shoot Lucky to save the pole. Finally, my daughter and I got bamboo canes and whacked him in the right direction until he took the one step forward to freedom. I’m sure that he has a terrible toothache and I am probably going to have to call the power company to re-anchor the pole. Fun to be a farmer, isn’t it?
Well, it seems that Lucky has resigned himself to life in the pig pen, but Gump is having second thoughts about going home. Lucky is big and nasty and well-armed with those tusks of his, and he picks on the other pigs at feeding time and at random intervals. Due to Gump’s failure to grow, and his ridiculous intelligence, he is adept at finding spots to weasel his way under the electric wire. I think that he has come to the conclusion that a little zap on the back is a reasonable trade to be free of Lucky.
Gump is now breaking out about five times a day. He doesn’t cause any trouble on the outside. He grazes in the yard, roots along the fences, and mostly just looks for someone to hang out with. When he is done eating, he plays with the dogs and plays with the kids. Last Tuesday, I found him playing soccer with my youngest daughter, who is also the chief pig feeder, in the front yard. He is a pig who definitely knows who to suck up to.
I have given up trying to keep Gump where he belongs, I just let him do his thing and he goes home when he gets bored. I am very unsure how I will handle butchering day. How do you shoot one of your daughter’s soccer buddies?
In hindsight, I’m not sure if the whole “breed Roxy early” idea was such a great one. I can’t wait for Lucky to go home!