Category Archives: Pigs

Due Dates

Our rent-a-ram Zeus first “serviced” the ewes on December 14, which means if any of them got knocked up that first day, we’re looking at a due date of May 10, with a “be on the lookout” range of May 1 through May 22.  If any of them got pregnant on his last day at the farm, the due date is July 5.  Meaning our window for lambing is May 1 through July 17.  That sounds like a really long time to be at the ready.

Given Barney the Boar’s recent exploits, we could have piglets on June 20.

oh.my.god.

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An email from my husband

This was just too good not to share verbatim.

Barney got into the ladies today. He could not have been in there more than 2 hours before I got him back into his pen and shut tight.

He did try to mount them all though.

He also hurt his nose, I think the ring got caught on the fence as he was scooting under it. Some blood and torn flesh.

I tried to clip the thing off but he screamed and ran, I should have waited until it healed. He’s depressed now.

What do other people do when they have a cold?

Love ya,

-W

Meet the boar

While I chronicled Barney’s arrival, I never did post a proper picture, so consider this his formal introduction.


As you can see, he looks much more like a wild hog, with his elongated snout, than the girls.  He also has a “humane ring” in his nose to keep him from rooting.  We’re going to remove it, although I must say he does a pretty good jobs tearing up the ground in spite of it.


He’s very friendly, and Scout appears quite taken with him, hanging out by his enclosure all day instead of her usual post on the back porch.  Now that the ladies are located next to him, he makes these odd grunts that Will describes as a Harley Davidson idling, but what must be the pork equivalent of pillow talk.  And now, filed under the category of too much information, is a shot of just how absurdly large his balls are.


I know, right?

Moving day

This weekend reminded us of how lucky we are to have such good friends, especially of the “sure, I can help” variety.

In preparation for early vegetable planting, it was time to relocate the pigs from the lower yard below the pond to the wooded area at the top of the pasture.  There were two major obstacles.  The first was hitching the pig house to the truck and dragging it up the driveway, through the cattle gate, under the pine tree and across the pasture without damaging our property or the structure.  The second was getting the pigs from their electric fence enclosure to their new enclosure without them getting loose between the lower yard and the pasture where there is no fencing to inhibit their escape.

Dilemma No.1 went smoothly.  The house held up fine, and fit through the gate without much trouble.  The driveway only has minimal skid marks in the gravel and the pasture is much less torn up from the dragging than I expected.  Will and our three fabulous helpers (and my father – my folks were down visiting) rigged up two wires of electric fencing to establish the new enclosure.  Now to get the residents.

Dilemma No. 2 was much more problematic, so I’ll break it down into the various tactics attempted.  A few things worth noting before I get started… tamworths are one of the few breeds of domestic pig that were never crossed with Chinese pigs, making them the closest in temperament to a wild pig (read: not docile).  Also, these gilts are at least 150 pounds at this point.

Take a pig for a walk: Will and I got rather hooked on the BBC series River Cottage, and in one episode Hugh took his prize pig to the fair.  He was able to show him around by walking next to the pig with a board on one side (to block the pig’s field of vision) and a stick on the other that he’d use to tap at the pig to get him to move forward.  It appeared so civilized, like a dog show.

Will modified this a bit for our first attempt.  He’d get the pigs to stay still by filling their feed bucket, get a rope around one’s neck like a leash while two helpers got on either side of the pig with boards of plywood we had lying around and a third helper with a bucket of food would lead the pig towards her new home.


It turns out our pigs aren’t very fond of the leash concept.  Also, desire for food does not trump the desire for freedom, even in a pig.


The team plugged away at this effort long after I would have thrown in the towel.  We couldn’t even control the pig long enough to walk it forward more than 5 feet, so there was no way we’d be able to make the football field-length journey without a jail break.

Truck and a ramp: Time to justify the 4 wheel drive pickup.  Will gathered all the plywood sheets and some 2 x 8’s and constructed a makeshift ramp.  We placed the food bucket in the bed of the truck and scattered apples along the length of the ramp.  We even added bedding to the ramp to make it seem more appealing.  Needless to say, no one took the bait.


We tried leading them up with apples, sitting on the ramp to walk up with them, holding the boards to the side of the ramp so no one would fall off, but we never got more than the front hooves on the ramp before the pigs would retreat backwards.

Wrestle ’em: At this point, I looked at Will and said “You’re just going to have to catch them and toss ’em in the back of the truck.”   When he asked how I proposed he catch them, I replied “tackle.”  After some brainstorming, everyone decided to chase the pigs around a bit to tire them out.  And so it began…

First chase…


Then go in for the tackle…


Attempt tackle…


Gather the troops to get control of the animal…


Tie up her legs so no one gets kicked…


Pick her up and carry her to the truck…


Place her in the truck bed and untie her…


Line the sides of the bed with plywood so she doesn’t jump out and drive her to the pasture…


And finally, use the plywood to make an off-ramp and coax her out of the truck and into her new home.


Repeat… two more times.

Then I ply everyone with beers and sandwiches as my way of doing something other than just taking pictures the whole time.  It’s a feeble thank you, one that we’ll someday supplement with some house-cured bacon almost a year from now.

Have I mentioned what amazing friends we have?

I’m happy to report that the girls are all settled in nicely now and seem to have forgiven us for the trauma of Saturday.

He’s not a “Fred”

On Tuesday, Will drove down to Roanoke to pick up our new boar.  The drive was beautiful, but longer than he expected.

Upon arrival, there were two pigs to choose from.  The first was very lean, but with a nice arch to his back and a tight curl to his tail, all qualities we’ve read are desirable.  The other hog had a shorter tail and wasn’t quite as arched (he sat lower to the ground).  Now for the goods – the first pig had more “even” testicles, and the second pig appear to have one ball larger than the other.  However, Will ultimately choose the second pig, as the hams on him was much fuller and bigger, and his temperament was calmer.  Thinking in terms of breeding for meat vs. for show, the second, fuller pig seemed like a better bet in terms of yield.  Testicles be damned.

He went straight into the back of the truck, easy as pie.  However, the longer drive did impact the day’s schedule, as Will made it home just in time to hop in the car and drive to preschool to pick up Alston (which is about an hour round trip), leaving the new hog in the back of the pickup.

After parking Alston in front of the TV (notice a theme around here?), Will headed up to the newly fenced in enclosure in the woods to let the boar into his new home.  He built a make shift ramp off the back of the cab and opened the gate, and the boar didn’t budge.  Will started to push him from behind and he just started shaking.  He tried a food bribe and still no forward movement.  Then Will got self-conscious about the ramp, and after some additional fortification tried to motivate the boar again.  Still nothing.  So Will took the goat carrier cage off the back of the truck (it’s bottomless) and hopped in with the pig.

At which point, Alston comes running up the hill (the show must have ended), fighting with Lady over his beloved stuffed giraffe.  Thank god the child is obsessed with trucks, as Will was able to stash him in the cab of the pickup and he pretended to drive while the rest of the adventure ensued.

First Will tried pulling on his front legs, no luck.  The pig was facing the wrong way so he grabbed him from behind to swing him in the right direction and then proceeded to push at the boar to coax him towards the edge.  Because we’re talking about a 200 pound animal, this “pushing” probably looked a bit more like dry humping, as Will had to thrust all of his weight against the back of the pig to inch him forward.  Once the boar reached the ramp and placed a foot on it, he ran down into his enclosure.  Mission accomplished.

Unfortunately, Will’s victory lap was quickly deflated when he opened the cab of the truck only to be hit by a wall of stink that was unmistakably toddler diarrhea, and every object from the glove compartment was strewn about the seats.

***

Upon hearing this story, I asked my husband “So, what did you name him?”

“Barney – he’s not a Fred.”

Did somebody say leftovers?

The pigs couldn’t be more pleased about our recent cider-pressing foray, as they get to dine on the apple pulp.


We’ve also started getting the leftover whey from a local goat cheese maker, which is a great, free, healthy source of calories for the pigs.  One man’s trash, aye?

Boar or Turkey Baster?

We’ve located a Tamworth boar we could buy to knock up Wilma and Betty (don’t worry, we haven’t eaten Blossom… yet), but there’s no option to rent, so to speak.  Are we ready for a boar or should we just go with artificial insemination?

On the pro-boar side, we’d have a limitless (okay, so at least for a couple of years) supply of piglet potion – no need to buy pig semen, pay a vet to do the deed, or have to learn to perform the procedure ourselves (and buy the necessary gear).

On the pro-AI side, we simply don’t have that much land, which means we don’t have enough space to keep the mister separated from the gals.  Translation: we’ll be all piglets, all the time… which runs us back against the space issue.  We can’t sustain more than 20 pigs on this farm (even that’s an optimistic guess), and Tamworths average 8 piglets per litter but can pop out as many as 12.  Compounding the issue, pigs raised for bacon are kept 2 or more months longer than “porkers” (8-10 months vs. 6-8 months), so with a gestation of 3 month+, our gals will likely pop out the next batch before the first piglets are ready for processing.  (And we’d have to worry about papa knocking up his now of age female progeny.)  It already smells enough like pig here with 3.  And we simply don’t need that much bacon.

The other downside is that, unlike all our other animals, we can’t just change our mind on a boar and send him to the abattoir.  Meat from an uncastrated male pig has a funky flavor referred to as boar taint.  So if he doesn’t work out, I just bought some really expensive future dog food.

However.  Instead of raising all our piglets for consumption, we could sell them as weaners to other farmers (just like how we procured our gals in the first place as 8 week olds).  At $125 a weaner, that may have a nicer profit margin than raising the pig as a “bacon-er” when you calc in all that feed.  So now we’re back to considering the boar, assuming we can drum up enough potential buyers.