Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

A Pig Pen.

Posted on | February 20, 2013 | 6 Comments

I suppose this story starts with the weather forecast.  As I drove home from night shift, the radio DJ announced that we were in for some sunshine and an afternoon high of 50 degrees.  Which seemed like just the break in the weather that I needed to get my new pigs into the garden.  And since it was my day to pack lunches, get the kids to school, and do the morning barn chores, I couldn’t expect a lot of sleep anyway.  So I made the decision to push through for the day—to stay up after the chores were done, make the movable pig pen in the garden, and transfer the pigs to their new, rototilling position.

It’s the kind of decision you make when you know you need to get the greenhouse cleaned out and summer seedlings started in their pellets by February 22nd (2nd quarter moon in Cancer) and the kidding barn back to kidding use by March 9th (Brianna’s and Vixen’s due dates).  Time waits for no woman, not even a tired one.  And a pig pen in the kidding barn takes no time at all to get stinky and messy.  Never mind that if much more time passed, the piglets would have successfully dug under the barn wall into the backyard.  Where the puppies were simultaneously trying to dig under into the barn.  That was not a meeting I intended to let happen.  Not unless I had time to make another natural-garden-tilling plan after carrying out two piggy funerals.

It’s also the kind of decision you make when the caffeine hits.  Because as everyone knows, when…

Caffeine is my shepherd; I shall not doze.
It maketh me to wake in green pastures:
It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses.
It restoreth my buzz:
It leadeth me in the paths of consciousness for its name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal:
For thou art with me; thy cream and thy sugar they comfort me.
Thou preparest a carafe before me in the presence of The Starbucks:
Thou anointest my day with pep; my mug runneth over.
Surely richness and taste shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the House of Mochas forever.

That’s a cute poem, but I didn’t write it.  No one knows who wrote it.  I’m betting they forgot to sign their name before dashing off to the millions of other things the caffeine buzz inspired in them.  ‘Cause there’s nothing like a good cup of coffee (or 2) (or 3) (or however many that carafe makes and we all know it isn’t 12 unless you’re using shot glasses) to make all things seem possible.

And, as it turns out, the movable pig pen wasn’t that hard.  The Other Half had already stacked several 16’ cattle panels by the garden for me.  I put in some leftover T-posts and garden stakes on either side of the raised bed and attached the cattle panels.  Then I attached another cattle panel on one end and some short sided sections of a metal dog crate on the opposite end.  I wanted a low side that could be stepped over so I didn’t have to go in and out a gate.  I zip tied everything in place.  Then I used a folded tarp that was just sitting on the roof of the chicken tractor (and even had bungee cords still attached because I am lazy brilliant like that!) to make a sheltered area they could hang out in if they needed shade or if it was raining.  Reasonably cheap, just sturdy enough for piglets, and constructed in under an hour.  I figured cutting the zip ties and moving the posts was all that was needed to put it in a new spot.

Emboldened by my success, sleeplessness, and the winter sunshine, I decided to immediately go get the piglets.  Earlier, a friend had offered to help me move them if I just gave her a call.  Over breakfast, Pretty had offered to help me move them when she got home from school.  But I decided that it was just as well if I went and got them by myself.  After all, I had been the one petting them and complimenting them over their meals for the last few days. We were bonded.  Probably.  Maybe.  We’ll see.

I nixed my various ideas of wheelbarrows, or truck beds, or crate methods of transport.  I decided to keep it simple.  Grab a pig, carry her down to the garden, and plop her in the pen.  I unlatched all the gates between the kidding barn and the garden (assuming I would be one-handed), went into the pig pen, and began stroking the girls a bit.  Which was good.  Then I reached under the tummy of Penny and tried to heft her up.  That was bad.  Because she was ridiculously heavy, unreasonably squirmy, very squealy, and, to top it off, I had one foot planted inside the pen and one on the outside.  Straddle position over a fence is not a healthy means to lift a healthy pig.  One cannot possibly shift one’s weight while maintaining one’s balance while holding the pig.  End result:  groin pull, dropped pig, farmer falling into pig pen with images of killer boar scene from Old Yeller flashing through her mind, and pigs trying to push frantically under barn wall into backyard where puppies are whining and scratching hungrily, waiting to snatch them up.  Basically, 4 days of friendliness destroyed in 4 seconds of grabbiness.

But here’s the upside of coffee.  First of all, I was able to get back on my feet so fast that mud didn’t even have a chance to soak into my pants.  I think if you had been standing there, my movements would have been a blur.  ‘Cause the kidding barn sure was blurry to me as I bolted to my feet.  Unless that was the blow to my head on the feed trough as I got up.  Second, I was not even remotely deterred by my failure.  Upon seeing the pigs had jammed into their doghouse and were cowering, fearfully, I smiled to myself.

Perfect.  I would just carry them down to the garden in the doghouse.  That way I could move both of them at once and I wouldn’t have to make another trip back to the barn to get the doghouse when I was done.  I tipped the dog house up so the pigs were in the back corner and slid it out of the kidding barn, into the barnyard, and to the gate.  Which I had left unlatched.  Which was now open because the goats and sheep were in the front yard nibbling on my magnolia tree.

I stood there pondering my options.  I could not let go of the doghouse or the pigs would get out.  I could not get the goats and sheep back in the barnyard without letting go of the doghouse.  It was too late to call my friend for help as I never, ever carry my cell phone on me.  I might just have to wait for Pretty to get off the school bus.  Probably.  Maybe.

But, as I mentioned earlier, time waits for no woman and it sure as hell isn’t going to wait 3 hours for the school bus.  After a few minutes of stillness, the pigs sensed my weakness indecision, burst apart the snap-together seams of the plastic doghouse (damn you, China!), and ran oinking angrily into the barnyard.  The barnyard that was corralled by field fencing.  Now the squares in the field fencing were small enough to contain piglets.  But I knew the wire wasn’t strong enough to keep them from pushing it apart if they really tried to squeeze through it.  I held my position and called to them in my sweetest, most complimentary tone.  No matter what I wasn’t going to chase them and cause them to run hard, panicking, into that flimsy fencing.

Of course, I didn’t need to.   Because at the sound of oinking piglets, the goats and sheep looked up from the magnolia tree.  How interesting!  How exciting!  How novel!  And the entire herd surged through the open gate, back into the barnyard, and began chasing the piglets around.  Huh.  All the years I’ve had to waste buckets of grain to bring the herd back home when they managed to get loose.  Apparently, I could have played the sound of a frightened pig and they would have rushed home to investigate.  They just don’t teach these things in the homesteading books.

As usual, CC had to use her girth to push things over the top, and as she galloped toward the piglets, trembling in the corner of the fence at the top of the driveway, they freaked out and forced their pudgy bodies through the field fencing.  Into the driveway.  The path to freedom.  Or to an end as roadkill.  However you want to look at it.

I didn’t want to look at it at all.  I ran, fueled by 6-10 tablespoons (really, whose counting after the first 3 cups of coffee?) of caramel mocha creamer and the fear that my garden tilling piglets were about to become part of this state’s increasing feral hog problem, into the barn and started scooping grain like a madwoman.  I poured it into feeders and troughs and sprinkled it on the ground.  As my critters rushed into the barn, I locked the door behind them and then ventured into the front yard, shaking a trough of grain, and calling for Penny and Pushy.

At the sight of me, they freaked again and pushed themselves back through the field fencing and headed for the pond.  Perhaps we were not as bonded as I thought.  I followed, slowly, shaking the grain, and walking in a nonthreatening crouched (incredibly painful for a recent groin pull) position.  Pushy, bless her heart, bought it.  She got a nice long drink from the pond, then headed straight for me and my grain.  She followed that food through the gate by the bottom of the driveway, across the gravel, up the bank, and through the garden gate into the confines of the 8′ tall chain link fencing around the garden.  Then she stayed there, contentedly munching scattered sweet feed, in the bright winter sunshine.  Which is proof that skinniness is highly overrated.  Those of us with a little meat on our bones are clearly more resilient, recover quickly from shock, and carry on bravely.  We are gentle, easygoing, and forgiving.  Who needs the drama of PTSD when a sweet treat can make all the badness slip away?  A spoonful of sugar, people, a spoonful of sugar.

Penny, being the thinner and more delicate type, required some convincing and coddling.  She would not approach the grain unless my back was turned and if I moved it she ran off and had to start inching gradually closer all over again.  She wanted to get into the garden with Pushy but was suspicious of the open gate and wouldn’t enter.  Eventually, I stationed myself to the side of the gate, the trough on the ground next to my legs, some grain spilled in the entrance way to the garden.  I figured I could shut the gate quickly if Pushy started coming out, but I was still enough and far enough away that Penny might eventually go inside.  I almost lost hope when Penny began snuffling around in the leaf debris and snatching up little blades of grass and  weeds.

If she was one of those slender types that pretended to prefer greenery over the sweet stuff then I was in for a long wait.  Some of those determined skinny minnies will nibble on a salad all day and wait to hit the brownies until no one is around.  Please.  We know you want the good stuff.  WE ALL KNOW YOU WANT IT!

And she did.  She finally nibbled her way to the garden gate, started scarfing up sweet feed, and then meandered in next to Pushy.  Having learned that my piglets are not the touchy/feely/carry type, I locked them in the garden, and went up to the house for eggs.  As soon as they heard eggs cracking into their food bowls they were all about follow-the-leader.  Even Penny.  They followed those eggs, with their heads in their bowls, slurping happily, right into the pen.  And it wasn’t such a big deal to make another trip up the driveway to fetch their doghouse.  In the end, it wasn’t such a big deal at all.  Sure, it felt so bad to have my precious piglets on the loose.  But it felt so good once they were settled in their nice, new movable pen.

So I’ll sleep well tonight.  Because I’m exhausted.

Because I’ve had lots of fresh air and sunshine.

Because I have a little something that a friend gave me for Christmas and I stashed away just for days like today.

Because my pigs are (finally) in the garden.

Alleluia and Amen.


6 Responses to “A Pig Pen.”

  1. Terry Golson
    February 21st, 2013 @ 6:27 am

    Too bad you don’t have an audio clip of the squealing pig call. It would go viral like those “goats (and sheep) that scream like human.” Anyway, I have friends with pastured piglets and they don’t need anything other than one low strand of electric fencing. Piggies really don’t like zaps on their noses. It might make moving that pen easier… then again, your other animals might just step over it….

  2. admin
    February 21st, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    Yes, we have been on lots of farm tour where they just use one strand of wire to contain pigs. It would work in the garden but not around the pond b/c of the extra animals. I just know I would come out in the morning to find the sheep or goats or pony (or all of them) tangled up in it! The upside of the cattle panel fencing is I will leave it up after the pond is sealed so I can establish some landscaping in and around the pond. I have wanted lily pads and cat tails to provide some cover for the ducklings from the hawks for awhile. But my starter plants get eaten in one day by the browsers! Then we will just allow occasional access by the larger animals so it doesn’t get over browsed or grazed. or at least that’s the plan……

  3. Terry Golson
    February 22nd, 2013 @ 5:39 am

    I tried to establish cattails in my little pond (water feature, really) and for some reason the dog pulled them all up. Try again. Pull them up. She left the water celery, which the goats love to eat, and seems to grow despite them.

  4. Vicky
    February 22nd, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    New names for piglets – alleluia and amen. Excellent!

  5. Linda Kerlin
    February 23rd, 2013 @ 6:07 am

    I know it is a few days past since this experience with your piglets but I chuckled over my morning coffee and now I must head out to my barn duties—-as always you make me laugh and as Terry said would that have not been a sight on video—-but of course you do not carry a phone(neither do I) but perhaps a video camera should be handy for your adventures

  6. Slimming Down. : Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk
    February 24th, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    […] care needed in the kidding barn, either.  You remember, of course, that the piglets have been moved to the garden.  Since they managed to turn their pen into […]

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