Ramble On

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pig Wranglin' - Part 2

Three of this year's group.  Lower left is the haltered pig.

We had come up with three ways to move the pigs, but we were already ruling them out, so I was worried we were going to run out of options.  Here are the three plans we’d hatched: 
  1. Build a short pathway from the barnyard to the pasture - but we didn't have enough electric fencing to get us all the way there.
  2. Use the goat halters to calmly walk the pigs from one place to the other.  This one sounded really good, in theory - at the time, I was not familiar with how readily pigs accept being on a leash.
  3. Chase down and catch the pigs one by one, and then carry them the 200 yards or so...the pigs at this stage are only 50 pounds or so, so I agreed that the idea was feasible, but not necessarily practical.

At their present size, the pigs could still get into the chicken coop, and they often slept in there with the chickens roosting above and on them.  It was a quiet and comfortable place for them – and so we decided we might use it as a corral.  We’d simply get them all to go in there and then we would shut the little door so they couldn’t get out.

David trekked around to the barn to find the goat halter and Brett and I wrangled the pigs into the chicken coop.  However, after a few tries in the closed quarters, it looked like the halter plan wasn’t going to work.  We decided to rustle them over to the goat stall, where we would have more room and the pigs would be closer to the gate we would use to move them through. 

Brett and I were stationed outside the chicken coop with a large plywood board to guide the pigs over to the other stall.  Our thinking was that if they came out of the coop and their view to the barnyard was blocked, they’d naturally turn towards the goat stall – and once they were headed in that direction it would be a natural thing for them to just go on in there, especially once they saw us out in the barnyard.  And that was just how it worked out for us – easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

But now we had a stall full of four pigs who were on to us.  We closed the gate on them, and David dropped the halter down on one of the pigs, catching it under one of its forelegs and around the neck. 

If you catch a dog this way, as long as the animal is not already panicked, you might find it simply relaxes under the gentle pressure applied to its chest and back – it’s a calming feeling to them that reminds them of their mother’s care when they were pups.  Not so with pigs – their instinct is that any constraint means that they have become a prey animal, and the eating will begin soon. 
The pig was right in this case, except that we planned to give it a few more months before the deed must be done.  But the animal bucked and jumped a few times, and the screaming started.  Not something you want to be around – I heard the peanut gallery over there yelling “Make it stop!” a few times.

This pig wasn’t going anywhere on a leash.  It finally just collapsed on the floor of the stall and waited to meet its maker – except that wasn’t our plan at all.  David moved in and hefted the pig off the ground, hauling him towards the gate and yelling out instructions as he went, only barely loud enough to be heard over the pig.

We got them through gate, closing it behind so the others couldn’t get out.  David was moving along at a trot, with the pig in his arms, and I followed along to open the electric fence (that we had turned off, I should be sure to note).  Meanwhile the pig was screaming all the while.

David’s triathlon training was paying off, and I had trouble keeping up with him, but there was another good reason for me to keep my distance.  About halfway to the new pasture, David looked over his shoulder and back at me, asking asked, “Is this pig peeing on me?”

“No, David,” I said, “he’s shitting on you.” In fact, the pig had been continuously evacuating itself since they’d gotten out of the barnyard.  Fortunately, most of it had not landed on David – but now I noticed that he was not going to emerge unscathed from the experience.

“I think I got some in my shoe!” he said.

Plan C at work - but that's tomorrow's post.
As we continued along towards the new pasture, I had to reflect on my own preparation for this experience.  Two years of butchering, and a month as an agribusiness intern doing odd jobs on the farm, and this was the first time I had seen an animal release such quantities – and on the fly, so to speak, as well.  I had developed such a pastoral, bucolic view of the whole eat local thing, but that was turning into something altogether different, and fast.

I turned these thoughts over in my mind until I remembered why we were doing this – for next spring’s bacon.  I got over it pretty quickly after that.  We sped through the rest of the chore, getting that pig in its new pasture and turning on the electric fence, and our thoughts began to move on to how we might catch and move the other three.

At this point, the one thing we knew for sure was that this approach wasn’t going to work for us with the next one.  We were going to move on to plan C – and that’s where I will pick up the story tomorrow.

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