Dan and I have done this many times before. Driven to a farm with a little red pick up truck with hay in the back and come home with two to six piglets in the back. In fact we have done it so much and are so comfortable with the ins and outs that dan’s father and mother have even gone to pick the piggies up. But today Dan and I drove together because he is heading away from the farm for two weeks and we needed some time together to talk. And we were going to a friend’s farm that we had yet to see, even though we have known each other for many years.
We had a great time talking about life and farming with Sonia and Dave. Some farmers are businessmen first and last, they know how each item on their farm plays out on the expense/profit sheet. Others are milking cows or raising cattle because it was what their parents did. And another set believe in something, a way of living, a way of raising animals and crops that provides them and their customers with superior food. At its core that is what farming is about. Food. Dave and Sonia are the last type. I confess, so are we.
What does this have to do with pigs? I am not sure, but bear with me. Once we saw Dave and Sonia’s piglets I knew we were going to have to make some changes to the fenced area that we had set up for them. First, they were not outside. Second, they had never been trained to an electric fence. Third, they were not accustomed to coming over close to the person who was bringing their food.
In fact, quite the opposite they were so terrified of us trying to pick them up that they jumped the four foot high wooden dividers in the barn! Once we had them back home, they waited in the back of the truck while we went to work putting two electric chicken fences around their measly two wire strand electric fence. Then Dan and I carried the screaming 25 lb piglets by their hind legs over to the port-a-hut and shut the door behind each one.
The amazing part about a pig’s ear splitting scream is the dead silence as soon as they stop. And they stop as soon as you release them. So they stayed in the house for a few minutes to get their bearings. Isaac was antsy and Patrick had some questions for me about an order so we headed over to the store while Lucia was left in charge of watching the piglets to emerge from their new home.
A few minutes later, Lucia found me and reported that the four of them had come out and had been shocked a few times. A big smile on her face showed that she knew that this meant they were learning to stay in the fence line. We walked over to watch them together. They looked great. But something happened that made them a little too nervous and before I knew it all four of them were out of the fence and heading up the hill away from the tidy little enclosure we had built for them.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched them pour out of the fence. I was trapped in the sheep fence trying to fix a post that had popped up out of the ground. As quickly as I could, I scrambled out of my enclosure and headed up the the steepest hill on our farm in a dead run. Lucia called to me asking if she should go get help. I yelled yes and thank you. Isaac moved as quickly as his little legs could carry him but he was quickly out of sight behind me and the pigs were just barely in sight in front of me.
One of my first thoughts as I tore up the hill was how much light we would have to chase after them. By my estimate, less than two hours of daylight remained. They made it through three of our pastures and were into a wooded area within a matter of minutes. I could hear Dan feeding the cows at the bottom of the hill and yelled to him that one was headed towards him.
It was getting worse. In the beginning at least they moved as a pack of four. Now they had divided and we were being conquered. We were going to have to catch them one at a time. As I ran my feet slipped on mossy rocks and my head bobbed to avoid having an eye plucked out by pricker bushes and I tried to imagine exactly how we would catch them: a net? We had no nets of appropriate size. Herd them? There is no herding pigs. It just cannot be done. Herding animals never split up. They have no individual brain. This is where the intelligence of pigs is more advanced than that of a cow or sheep. So what then?
The answer is less graceful than you might imagine. You throw yourself on to them in a classic football tackle. Dan and Patrick cornered and caught the first one soon after I saw them speed down the road after it. It took Dan a few more minutes to tie her legs and put her in the back of the 4 wheeler. By then Isaac had made it all the way across three fields on his own and met up with me and Dan’s dad on his 4 wheeler. We had two more surrounded in the middle of the field. Patrick was headed up the hill. I was beginning to feel like perhaps this wasn’t going to take as long as I thought.
But they got nervous, ran up the hill and then split up again. The black one headed down the hill and the red one across the hill to the barn. Dan had driven to where we were and began chasing the black one on foot. Isaac and I hopped in the 4 wheeler and headed down the hill to the road. Patrick took off after the red one on his own. Isaac and I saw Dan running the black one down the hill and we headed it off on the driveway. But she turned around and before I knew it Isaac was heading in to the safety of Grandma’s house and the black pig was across the road with me and dan chasing close behind it.
Dan chased that pig for another 10 minutes. I parked the 4 wheeler and set out on foot as well to try and corner it somehow. But pigs being forrest animals slide by rose bushes and hawthorn trees, fallen stumps, rock walls, and low branches as if they are covered in butter. It seemed as if there were a never ending amount of obstacles for us to jump over, duck under, run around and snag our clothes.
Finally, I saw the little pig slip. Its hind leg got caught in a hole or something. I felt like I was watching a scene in a nature movie where the antelope makes one mistake and then the lion is upon her. Dan was down, the pig was under him. He pulled off his belt and tied her up for transport to the pig hut. One more caught. Winded and worn we drove the two escapees back to the fence area.
Dan’s dad was there and explained to us that he had had one cornered trying to get back into the fence and had lost her. ‘She headed that way’ He pointed along the creek past the tents. Dan and I were on our way before he got the words out. We split up. Came upon Patrick who had been tracking the fourth one, but lost her. Then came upon the one that Peter had sent us after. We chased her back towards the fence line. Then she headed up the hill (that very steep one from the beginning) and over the two pastures. Dan headed out on his dad’s 4 wheeler. I was on foot.
I couldn’t see her, but I had a sense that she would have gone the same route as the first time. Then I heard the cows. They sounded like they were calling to me. Not the normal, ‘we’re hungry where is our hay’ that we normally hear. And then I heard Rose, our young livestock guard dog, barking. Dan drove down the hill to me and I told him of the noise and suggested we check it out. “I bet they have the pig over there”
Sure enough, as we drove up the entire herd of cows was standing in a line staring at a little shaking red pig. Rose, thinking she had a new playmate, leaped back and forth trying to get the tired pig to move. Of course the pig had chosen a great place to rest: Against a rock wall guarded with so many briars and prickers that we could barely move. I tried talking loudly to distract her, encouraging Rose’s antics and keeping the cows interested in what was going on. All the while Dan was trying to inch closer from behind.
Soon it was all too much for the piglet and she bolted into the herd of cows. Almost being trampled (Cows are wary of anything so small, that moves in such a random way) she darted through the field with Rose and then Dan on her heels. I confess, I stayed back to yell cautionary warnings to Dan and see how the whole thing would play out. I felt like the cows would be okay with one human and a dog and a pig running around their home, but two humans would put them over the edge. One too many random darting objects. And I did not want to be trampled.
Dan dashed among the cows as they bellowed at the piglet. The piglet was kicked by hooves a few times but never quite stomped to the ground. Dan darted in and out of the scrambling cows as I yelled warnings of caution. Their are two bulls in there after all. Dan dove once - caught her leg, but she slipped away. He threw his wadded coat at her to try to slow her down - no effect. Finally the piglet seemed to tire and the chase ended when Dan dove on the her. Her squeals scared the cows away. Patrick brought dan some baling twine and I drove the 4 wheeler to the fence opening to pick him up - piglet in hand. We drove back and decided to keep the three we had found locked up for the night. It was almost dark. Yes, one got away. There is now a little red pig out in our woods. Only three little pigs on the farm. Dan drove to town to get some bourbon so we could nurse our sore bodies a little bit. I headed to Grandma’s to retrieve Lucia and Isaac. Then the three of us walked up the hill to our little house where a chicken stew was waiting for us.