We got them! We got the pigs. Let me spoil the story for you right off the bat and let you know that the pigs are home, fence-trained, and absolutely thriving in the corner of the old vineyard that is closest to the barn and house. Even with the spoiler right there in the second sentence of this post, buckle up and get ready for a doozie of a story about these pigs and our glorious induction into the world of livestock farming.
We decided to commit to purchasing these pigs so last minute because they were exactly what we were looking for! They are a little bit older, meaning that we will have finished pork for sale before the end of the summer. They are a cross between two heritage breeds of pig, the Mangalitsa and Berkshire, both known for the exceptional culinary quality of their meat and lard. Added perks: they fare extremely well on pasture and are quite hardy, both absolute musts for anything that we plan to raise up here on the hill. More on the breed specs later.
Ready or not, Sunday came after a wild week of frantic preparation for the arrival of these little porkers. We made arrangements for my parents to take care of Cora for the day, so we were free as birds to head on down to the farm to pick up the pigs. We drove all the way down to a small farm just south of Pittsburgh, which is a detail that lots of people have had a hard time wrapping their heads around so far. I can't tell you how many times we've heard people exclaim "but they're just PIGS!" in a fit of exasperation. They're not just pigs. They're the PERFECT pigs. Moving on. We load the pigs into the back of the pickup, fashioned with the classic wooden slats around the edge of the bed like something out of a Norman Rockwell piece. On a thick bed of hay, the piggies snoozed in a pig pile almost the entire way home. We were feeling irrationally confident when we arrived back at our farm, thinking that a group of pigs that could nap through three and a half hours of highway driving had to be a pretty mellow through and through. I can't express to you how wrong we were.
So we pull into the driveway. The sun was shining and there wasn't a breath of wind. We left the pigs to nap in the bed of the truck while we readied their makeshift shelter and double-triple checked that the two strands of electric fence around their first paddock was tight and hot. (We should have known that some serious drama was coming. Our new fence tester was faulty, so the only way to know for sure that the fence was hot was for Ron to grab it. He grabbed it. It was H-O-T hot. The shock buckled his knees. We both had a good laugh and moved on. He's a great sport.) The next step was to back the truck up to the fence and offload the sleepy swine. Problem number one of many: The yard was too wet to drive over. Our only option was to turn the electric fence off and take the neighboring paddock fence down to drive the shortest (and least-mucky) distance to get to the nearest corner of the pig enclosure. In our rookie farmer minds, having the fence off for a moment while we tossed pigs from the bed of the truck would be a non-issue. Turns out it was a HUGE issue.
We hoisted the first pig into the paddock, which was still partially covered in snow. Another detail that we should have considered was that these pigs had been in a barn for most of their lives in a location that was far, far south of the snowbelt. The odds that they had seen snow before were slim. Now these are hardy, hardy pigs. They would most often rather be frolicking and rooting around in the snow than anything else, but hardy or not, the first time your belly touches snow, you're going to have a reaction of some sort. The first pig froze in place where she landed. We took this as a green light to grab pig two and lift her off of the truck. The minute pig two touches the snow, she bolts toward the driveway, right over the dead fence. Cue the rampant expletives. If you've ever tried to catch a pig, surely you understand what a nightmare the next several minutes were. If you haven't tried your hand at pig catching, imagine trying to lay hands on the fastest, most agile, densely-muscled miniature linebacker who is dead set only on NOT being caught. Somehow we managed to grab her and toss her further into the paddock, thinking that it would buy us time to offload the rest of the pigs and turn the fence back on. One by one, the pigs came off the truck...and one by one, the pigs slipped under the dead electric fence before we could even think about doing anything to stop them.
Watching this three-ring circus might have been one of the most entertaining things imaginable, but being one of two people responsible for making sure that these frantic 60-pound meat torpedoes didn't run into the road or into the woods (and likely disappear forever) was one of the least fun things I've ever done. Over the course of the next two or three hours in the quickly-waning daylight, we watched as pig after pig continued to escape through our electric fence even though it had been turned on. In hindsight, there were a couple of factors that compromised the charge of the fence. Once those issues were addressed, all but one very large and very persistent sow, were contained within the fence for good. After many attempts at capturing this big girl, she waded into a deep snowbank, which slowed her down enough for Ron to catch her. Needless to say, she slept by herself in the pile of hay in the back of the truck for the night. She was calmly and seamlessly moved to the paddock in the morning, a job made significantly easier by daylight.
We now know what not to do when introducing a new batch of pigs to a brand new farm. We both woke up the next morning feeling like we'd been hit by trucks, but very thankful that the pigs were calmly and happily milling about their new vineyard home. Did I mention that I'm 21 weeks pregnant? That little detail made this entire run-around all the more colorful. Considering that the pigs are fine and nobody got hurt, we'll chalk this one up to a win. And a fine story this will be to tell the grandkids someday.
All the best,
Four Hands Farm