Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Hog Habitat

After a crazy lot of effort (on Dan's part) and kibbitzing (on my part) the pigs are finally out on the range.

Pigs are still pretty new to us-- new, but cool. Really cool. We are enjoying our swine venture tremendously. These guys are so friendly and personable. A whole lot easier to keep than sheep-- though not half as elegant. It is a challenge to keep the food aspect in the foreground. But we are working on that...

"The Daves" (as we call them) started out as smallish piglets in a seemingly ample sheep stall. The idea was that they would churn the stall into compost, saving us a lot of time and effort. I'd seen this in action at West Elm Farm a few years back-- when pigs were just a sparkle in this shepherd's eye-- so I knew it was possible. But after a couple of weeks, the pigs were still trotting around on a foot an a half of used hay.

Then we met an old-time pig farmer on the loading bay of a local grocery store (As "pig farmers", ourselves, we've discovered the joys of raiding the unwanted food--with permission of course. The Daves have feasted on everything chocolate milk to organic spinach, tubs of potato salad to fancy Greek yogurt... but that's another story.) Anyway, this old time farmer, told us to bury kernels of corn in the hay and this did the trick. The Daves spent countless hours bulldozing out kernels with their crazy-accurate noses.

In a few weeks our pigs were twice as big and the "more than ample" stall was small, stinky and mucky as all get-out. I doubt the Daves lost any sleep over this, but I did. We'd started this pig thing to supply ourselves with ethically raised, well-treated meat and the pen, while palatial by factory farm standards, started to feel pretty lousy to me.

The new pasture was taking a loooong time-- owing to our busy work schedules and a slew of baseball games, social events and kids birthday parties. And while the postholes were dug and fenceposts set in concrete, while Dan strung woven wire and I detangled our (terribly annoying) electric tape and ran it along the bottom of the pig enclosure-- all in a month of constant, drenching rain punctuated by moments of sun(shower) and cataclysmic storm-- I fretted.

But yesterday, the Daves had an Independence Day of their own. We'd created an alley of fences and plastic bins and eased them out of "old stinky". Dan and I expected they'd trot along in a group, ending up in their new area.
And yes, this is the way it would have happened... if they were sheep. But they were not sheep; they were pigs. And they didn't much care to hurry anywhere. Our drove split up and snuffled along in whatever direction their noses led them. No amount of pushing or shouting deterred them. They had grass under their trotters and they were not going to be hurried. This incensed little Luka (super herding dog, extraodinaire) who set about barking and pushing at the fence. If Dan and I were going to be the "good Cops", she was fine and dandy with the bad cop role. But the Daves paid no attention to psycho herding dog either. (Again, we are all used to SHEEP. Sheep pretty much flow together and run away from humans and maniacal herding dogs.)
Pointy and Stubby Dave eventually strolled into the new pen-- mostly because they wanted to go in that direction anyway. But Scratchy Dave thought the inside of the barn looked pretty interesting, and he did NOT like it when I tackled him around the middle to keep him from busting out into the open. (Note to self: Pigs are really, REALLY loud when you tackle them.) Dan hurried over as I lay on the ground with my arms around Scratchy's back legs and Luka barked and Dave screamed bloody murder, and finally we got him turned around and eased into the new pen. An adventure and a half it was.
Luka thinks this pig thing is crazy...

Once inside, the Daves were more than happy to lend a helping snout in the construction of their new hang out.

The end result is a great place. I keep wanting to call it a "habitat" as if we are some sort of farm animal zoo. It has wallows and high points, weeds and brush. And we are hoping the Daves will set to work turning the place upside down so that we can ready it for the sheep next spring, a sort of "pig tractor". Another amazing thing about pigs (or at least our pigs) is that they took to the wide open, leafy space as if it was exactly what they expected.

The Daves are happy as pigs in a brand new, cool and fun pig habitat.

(Yes, that's genuine Icelandic wool-- part of their cool new bedding material-- they are snuffling in the picture.)


Holly said...

Those are well built hogs. Is the breed Durock? They are longer bodied than most of the Durocks I've seen around here. I'm glad you're enjoying your pigs. We thoroughly enjoy raising them also.

P said...

Hi Holly,

Love your blog. Wy is one of my favorite places!

The "Daves" are Tamworth/Gloucester Old Spot crosses. We're pretty happy with them.