Raise Pigs Three Little Pigs

Several years ago, about midway through our homesteading life, we decided to embark on a new adventure: raising pigs.  We were well on our way with a garden, goats, and rabbits.  It was time for something different.  I read all of the articles about pigs that I could find, asked questions on the pig forums, talked to anyone I could think of, and tried really hard to remember everything that my grandparents talked about.  For months I researched, and while researching, I searched for pigs that were for sale.  Finally, just when I didn’t think there were any pigs available in my state, there they were, four hours away.

I made the phone call, and the farmer said that they were his last litter and were ready to go.  He also told me that he had already had several calls about them. If I wanted these pigs, I needed to hurry. Thinking that I was prepared and ready, I agreed to come the next day.  Little did I know that I didn’t know anything when it came to pigs.

I guess my first clue should have been when the crate wouldn’t fit in the back of my car.  Why the car, you ask?  Well, because when I agreed you pick up the pigs, I didn’t even consider the fact that our truck was in need of repairs that rendered it useless for the long drive.  So, the car was pressed into service because I wasn’t going to miss the only piglets for sale in the whole state.  However, the crate would not fit into the backseat of the car.  One thing I have learned living this life is that a person must have a good sense of creativity.  My husband often says that I have too much of that, but this time it came in handy.  I covered the whole backseat of the car in feed sacks and then on top of that, I put some old cheap fabric that I had lying around in my sewing stash.  Convinced this would work, I headed down the road with thoughts of bacon and smoked hams dancing in my head.

Since I took the scenic route (read: got lost), I was running late but made it to the farm just before dark.  The farm chores were already done and the farmer was in the house for the evening, no doubt looking forward to supper.  He saw me pulling into the driveway and came out to meet me at the car with a slightly gruff, “Follow me.”  I followed him down a slightly rutted and worn-out dirt path to two livestock trailers.  One trailer had the biggest hogs I had ever seen.  My only “hog” experience so far in life had been with small pet potbelly pigs.  I was in awe.  I also had a brief moment of reservation and “What am I doing?” crossed my mind. Then I looked into the other trailer and saw the tiniest, cutest little piglets I had ever seen. Much cuter than potbellies. This first glance at these adorable little porkers banished all hesitation from ever crossing my brain again. The fact that they were so adorable should have been my second clue that I was not prepared for this new venture in homesteading.  It was truly love at first sight.

The farmer asked how many I wanted and if I had a crate to put them in.  He kindly turned aside to hide his laughter when I asked if he could just put them in the backseat and, shaking his head, walked over to the trailer.  This is where my next clue took place that should have told me I was woefully unprepared for raising pigs.  I had read that pigs were loud when they were caught, but there truly were no words that could prepare me for the sound that those pigs made as the farmer snatched them up one by one.  It was beyond deafening and I think folks three counties over probably heard those pigs.  How could something about the size of a Jack Russell terrier make so much noise?!

The farmer kept talking to me the whole time he was loading pigs in my car, but I couldn’t tell you what he said.  I just continued to nod my head yes and hoped that sufficed as an answer to his conversation.  At that point, the only thing running through my mind was how I was going to make it home if they insisted on screaming the whole way there.  I didn’t want to appear as if I didn’t know what I was doing, so I paid and thanked the farmer, climbed in my car, and headed out the driveway.  By the time I hit the road, all my fears of screaming piglets were gone, as they piled up in the middle of the backseat and went sound asleep. For the entire four-hour ride home the only thing coming from the backseat was the few little snorts and grunts of sleeping piglets.

I received my next clue that I was unprepared for this new adventure when I looked at the kidding stall in which I had all good intentions of housing the pigs for the night.  There were gaps, lots of gaps.  Those gaps would provide the perfect escape route not only out of the stall but out of the barn.  Once again, I had to pull on those creative strings and look around for where I could keep the pigs for the night.  No way were they coming in the house, much to my children’s disappointment.  The next best thing was my art studio.

I gathered a couple of pieces of plywood and made a baby pigpen in one corner of my studio.  I then placed feedbags and straw on the floor so that, with hope,  any mess would be easily cleaned up and not lend a permanent odor to my working space.  Next, I turned on the air conditioner and called it a night.  Needless to say, my learning curve had really just begun.

The next morning, I fed the pigs in the studio so I could go and double-check the fence.  I thought I had done a good job of preparing this fence for holding pigs.  I really had done a good job, but only if they were bigger—say Australian-shepherd size.  As it was, they were toy-poodle size.  As small as they were, I was once again woefully unprepared.

The pigs were moved into their pasture where they were quite content for the next several days.  By that time they had settled in well and realized that I was the feed lady.  So, every time I came out to the garden to do some work, they would stand at the garden gate and squeal.  If I ignored them, it would not be long before I would turn around to find a cute little piggy “helping” me garden.  Then I had to find the escape route so that it could be fixed.  This took place every single day for weeks.

One thing I learned during those weeks was that pigs’ noses are extremely strong, and if they could push their noses under the fence, they were out.  So those “hog rings” that old-time farmers used were not just a pretty piece of jewelry, they actually had a purpose.  I was not interested in such medieval torture devices though.  I stapled the fence into the ground with landscape staples.  It worked just fine until they learned to lift up the garden gate and move it just enough to squeeze through.  It took multiple tries to make the gate impenetrable.

It really was quite a joke around our house about the pigs getting out.  It didn’t seem to be too big of a big deal, because when they did escape they always came to where I was.  However, I was totally unprepared for the fact that pigs quickly tire of old games and work feverishly at night to come up with new games and adventures in which to partake.

Our first evidence of this was early one morning when we were processing a goat.  One of the horses started running around the pasture, blowing and snorting, and staring off toward the neighbor’s house.  We didn’t see anything, so continued with our work.  It wasn’t long before I heard the first squeal.  I saw three little pigs coming up the hill out of the woods that bordered the fence—three little pigs running for dear life.  Off I went to put the pigs back and fix the escape route… again.

We were good for a few weeks, and I thought we had all escape problems solved.  Little did I know that as my little pigs were growing in size they were also growing in strength.  One side of the fence for the pig pasture had some boards that were getting old and had loosened.  That newfound pig strength came in handy one day when the pigs decided they wanted to go play in my neighbor’s lake, or better yet, the mud next to the lake.  They created a hole in the fence, once again, just big enough to squeeze through.  I didn’t know they were gone until I brought scraps from a morning spent canning tomatoes and beans.  I ran and got my husband, and we started looking.  I was sure that they were gone for good this time as there was absolutely no sign of them anywhere and no little pigs came running to the sound of the feed bucket.

After about an hour of searching, we headed back through the woods on my neighbor’s land toward one of his small lakes. Lo and behold, there were three little mud-covered things that looked as if they had once been pigs.  Though they were covered head to tail in black mud, they looked like the happiest pigs on the planet.  Once again the pigs were secured in their pasture.

As the pigs grew, there were fewer escapes because they simply could not fit through small spaces anymore, and after all this time that pasture was the Fort Knox for pigs.  They ate and ate, and grew and grew.  Some days it seemed like all I did was gather and fix food for the pigs.  We had an abundance of pears, but since the pigs quickly tired of raw pears and would only eat them cooked, I simmered a 5-gallon bucket of pears every day for about two months.  When acorns started falling the pigs ate quite a few, then tired of them until I started rendering the acorns.  By cooking acorns to remove the tannins, I completely ruined a pot.  These were some spoiled pigs.  I simply couldn’t believe how much they ate and how much they acted like they were starving.  Pigs, I learned, can be very particular about what they eat and how they eat it.  The one thing that they are not particular about is how much they eat.  They want lots of it no matter what it is.

I think the biggest thing that I was not prepared for is how attached I would get to our future meat supply.  The pigs really got close to my heart, and as time got closer and closer to their destiny, the sadder I got.  I would dump their food in the trough and then clean out their water barrel.  While they gobbled food they would run over for a scratch behind the ears, or better yet, a scratch on the rear end.  It was as if they were saying thank you for the delightful meal.

Even as big as they were, they always wanted to be where I was and involved in what I was doing.  They were much more like hungry dogs than I expected them to be.  They loved to “help” with whatever I happened to be working on in their pasture.  When they outgrew their shelter, I had to get something up so they had someplace to stay dry in the rain and warm in the cold. So, as I put up the tarp and was trying to secure it to the posts, my pigs decided to help by grabbing the tarp and running off with it.  This led to a delightful game of chase in which I finally got the tarp and secured it to the post.  Nobody ever told me that pigs would wiggle and squeal their way into one’s heart like this.

I couldn’t watch when my friends were put down.  However, I said many thanks over many meals for the sacrifice they made and the delight they brought to my days.  Even after all of these years, I still miss the pigs and I find myself wondering if I want to travel down that adventurous road again.  Sometimes thinking of them brings tears to my eyes, but my one consolation is the happy life that those little pigs had while they were on our farm.  It was a life full of adventure, mud, scratches, and food.  I think I am better prepared now to raise pigs as far as all their need.  However, I am just not sure if I am prepared for the heartbreak.  That is something that I can’t prepare for.   All I know is that it was worth it in the end.  I learned a lot and am thankful for the three little pigs that taught me so much.

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