It’s one of those days. You’ve been invited to chill at a neighbor’s bonfire, the chores still need to be done, it’s been a busy day at Farmstead, and you would really just like to sit down and put your feet up…when the pigs decide it’s the best time to escape.
Not really an all out run away escape—this is the let’s tear down some fence and make some mischief kind of escapade. You know you’ve been meaning to move the hogs to a new pen, but this new behavior triggered by procine boredom is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s time to build the new pig pen and move them onto fresh grass NOW before real havoc begins (like the pigs taking themselves on a tour of the farm, terrorizing the garden and the ducklings in the process).
Kara and the interns worked most of the afternoon, pounding fence posts, stringing wire, moving feeders, and getting the new lush spot with succulent lamb’s quarter as tall as me ready for the new hog playpen. It looked like paradise for a pig—lots of places to explore, new roots to dig up, a lovely shade shelter, and more space for romping. But the pigs were not impressed.
In fact, they were even less than not impressed. Those little buggers changed their minds and decided they were no longer interested in leaving their old pens! Wait a minute, just a moment ago you wanted out, and now you won’t go??? That’s a pig for you!
“You sassy pigs,” our intern Sanora scolds. “Shoo! Come on piggies, the fence is open, just GO!” The white mischievous one with long wispy lashes looks at us out of the corner of her beady eye. She rocks from side to side, looking for a way to escape to the far corner of the rutted up old pen.
“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I am scary!” Clara, our other intern, spreads her arms wide as we walk slowly in a semi-circle around the pig, trying to convince her to move on to the next paddock. We stomp our feet, clap our hands, and holler “Hup, hup!” If this were any other situation, folks might think we were more than just a little bit strange…or crazy.
The pig is not convinced and darts past my left leg towards the safety of her old three-sided house, then doubles back to hide in their muddy whaller by the water spigot. She knows it’s a safe spot because the mud is so deep we don’t dare enter—boots or more could simply disappear in the unstable muck, and then you’d be little more than a pig chew-toy!
“Laura,” my sister cries, “Get some goodies from the Café!” I hurry back on our ever-trusty blue utility golf cart to Farmstead Creamery and snatch up the liner from the bin where we save kitchen scraps for the pigs and chickens. A whir of wheels, and I’m back at the pen. Tossing one at a time, we try bating the obstinate pigs with bits of bread, banana peals, and egg shells.
“Come on you guys, move it!”
A few have become brave explorers, happy to trounce through the tall weeds and explore the contents of the moved feeders. Their jowly lips smack noisily as they devour the kitchen slop, rooting it around in search of the tastiest morsels. The bait helps, but a few pigs are still staying stubborn.
There is always one. Usually, it’s a smart little black pig that seems to be able to read your mind. This time, it’s the sassy white one, determined not to cooperate with us, even though we’re just trying to help her. “Life will be better on the other side of the fence!” we explain, but English doesn’t always work on a pig.
Then, it starts to drizzle. I can feel the warm mugginess of it slowly plastering the T-shirt I’m wearing to my back. The dim darkness is settling in on the farm, and I still haven’t even started on evening chores. The chickens are going to express their displeasure with extra vigor tonight—where have you been, dinner is late!
Mom drives up from finishing tending the aquaponics greenhouse. “Hurry!” Kara implores. “Come help us!”
It starts to become a joke as to how many people it takes to move a pig. Here’s Mom, Kara, and I, as well as Clara and Sanora, all in our tall rubber farm boots, arms outstretched, trying to move a sassy pig into a new pen. No wonder some folks think we’re more than a little nuts.
Pigs are too compact and muscular to wrestle into where you want them to go. They won’t lead like a sheep or donkey, and you can’t just pick them and carry them like a chicken or a duck—at least not when they weigh close to 200 pounds. A pig requires convincing in order to move, which is just as much psychological as anything else.
If the pigs had been trying to escape because they were either hungry or thirsty, then the move into the new pen would have been much simpler. Open the fence, offer the desired item on the other side, and at least most of them would have willingly walked through. But since the cause of the problem was porcine boredom, the cure was not as convincing. Little Miss Sassy was probably more concerned that the biting electric fence was going to get her than she was curious about the new pen. “I’m not going!” you could see those little eyes say. “No sir-ee.”
Finally, it was time to use some force. Lashing a hog panel to a wooden post, we formed a chute into the new pen. A few times of walking and clapping our hands, and the secured swing panel convinced most of the hogs to saunter through. But not Miss Sassy white one. Slowly, slowly, we crept up behind her until she entered the corral, then swiftly bowed the hog panel into a large U, so she could not escape back to the old pen.
She gave it a good tussle, trying to push through or lift the fence with her muscular nose, but we held on tight. A few seconds of real struggle, and then she seemed to just shrug and walk in like it wasn’t even a problem at all. Sassy pig. Really? Did the simple task of moving into a new pen really have to be this difficult for you?
We shake our heads, scrape the well-pigged mud off our boots, and have a good laugh at the little adventures agrarian life throws you once in a while. Then, it’s off to do evening chores. Guess we’ll have to enjoy a bonfire another night. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com