Starting From Scratch
How I was outsmarted, by some Yorkshire piglets
Newborn piglets at Oxbow Farm in Dublin enjoy mother's milk.
A newborn piglet discovers a tomato plant at Oxbow Farm in Dublin.
‘Hi there! Sorry, I’m not a pig farmer,” I heard a lady say, cheerfully one Sunday morning as she walked on the road, past our farm. Farmer Jim and I were beside the barn working on fencing and realized that the passerby was in fact speaking to our four little pigs, which had ventured out onto the road in search of their breakfast.
Seriously, this was getting old. These four little pigs, were continuously breaking free of their fencing, usually twice a day, specifically at feeding times. I guess they thought it was just polite to greet the tractor as it entered the field? I have never been fond of this greeting, but when they were really young they were cute and they could get away with it. Now they were getting bigger and slightly more aggressive, depending on how hungry they were or how slow you were in dumping their bucket into the pen. Yorkshires, this breed of pigs, are known to be mouthy, meaning they like to nip at pant legs and boots. This is not something I enjoy or tolerate. The last thing I need in a few months is a 150-pound pig trying to nibble my kneecaps.
It turns out they didn’t really care about getting a shock from the electric fence. They figured out that if they root their nose under it quickly and shoot out like a bullet, they can escape with little harm. I must confess that sometimes the fence was not turned on — from lack of discipline on our part — and they were not “trained” to the fence properly from the beginning.
To solve the problem of escaping pigs, I spent the good part of a morning erecting hog panels, or long metal fencing, the length of one side of their pen. This was the side that they shot out under. This created a permanent structure that they couldn’t penetrate. This worked for a few days until they clued in that their whole enclosure wasn’t surrounded by metal.
“Hey,” they thought, “if we move two feet to the right, we can go under the fence here.” Pigs are not dumb, so who should be wearing the dunce hat? Once they were through the fence, they visited the sheep, rooted around in the wet soil and obviously greeted walkers and runners with their little curled tails wagging. They even decided to let the other, more mature, big black sows in on the fun by knocking down their fencing. These ladies are usually very content to stay within the confines of their fencing, unless someone opens the gate and entices them with green pastures that are not their own.
So, wearing big, high rubber boots, Farmer Jim went to meet the drove and brought them to the barn where they could be secured until we figured out what our next move would be.
I shooed some chickens out of a stall and placed a tub on the floor for their water. The pigs came into the barn willingly, following a bucket of slops. If you have ever housed pigs inside a barn or inside a structure of any kind, you will know how quickly everything gets pretty disgusting. They dump their water over for who knows what reason, and their food gets mixed in with it and everything else in the stall. The whole barn eventually starts to smell, the liquid starts to ooze out from under the door and they pigs’ appearances are completely opposite from that of Wilbur on the day of the fair.
Since that day, we have erected new fencing in a holding pen that has a much higher voltage of electric fence. We plan on keeping the pigs there for a few weeks until they get trained to it properly. Hopefully they will learn to respect it. As long as they can stay within their confines until the end of November, when they go for processing, I will be happy.
On that day when they were first secured in the barn, Farmer Jim and I discussed at length where we house them for the next few months, how to pay for fencing, who was going to install it, etc. With the sounds of happy grunting in the background as the pigs ate their bucket of leftover veggies, I commented, “I think I’m done with pigs. They are too much trouble.”
I soon realized that this remark was made about the same time as one of our big black sows was giving birth to nine little piglets in the field, all on her own.
Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.