It has been a dream of my PA German husband, Todd to raise piggies for meat and fill the freezer with a seemingly endless supply of farm-raised and inexpensive bacon, ham, pork chops, etc. Back when his grandparents had a farm and raised their swine for family consumption, they enjoyed meat at every single meal. We know today that that is hardly good for your health, but it’s hard to take the German love of sausages out of the man, however diluted through the generations.
Being the good children that they are, Sierra and Bryce wanted to help make their padre’s dream come true. With his 60th birthday approaching, it seemed like the perfect surprise. Sierra longed to present the pigs to Todd on his actual b-day and watch the surprise. I knew my husband well enough to know that the look would be closer to one of emotional paralyzation, as he does not do well with change that he is not prepared for. He would want to do the necessary research ahead of time so he could be as fully educated on the subject as possible; have all the necessary structures, feeding, watering and sleeping set up ahead of time and be fool proofed somehow.
When our long-distance New Mexico Continental Divide Trail was postponed six months, Sierra researched and did the math. After she discovered that her father had just enough time to fatten up the piggies, butcher, and wrap up the meat, by late September before we left for our hike, we went about locating local piggies. We found some right over Hawk Mountain in Kempton- ready to buy RIGHT NOW! Sierra and Eben were only home for a few more hours before heading back to Charlottesville, VA and big time quaranteening, so we said, “Let’s get them!” Sierra made a b-day card for Todd with two pink piggies on it announcing that owning two live animals was only hours away. We tried to contact Bryce and Calan to be part of the surprise, but couldn’t get through.
Sure enough, when the kids delivered the card, Todd’s reaction was one of “OMG, how can this be and how can we possibly do it?” Sierra told him to get ready because we were driving to fetch them in an hour or so. He quickly rounded up two 50 -gallon plastic barrels to transport them in and cleaned out the old chicken house for a temporary shelter. It was Sunday and the feed store was closed. We’d have to buy some feed from the pig farmer to hold us over.
At the farm, the pig farmer told Todd to back his truck up to the loading ramp; then he grabbed the screaming piglets by their hind legs and dropped them unceremoniously into the barrels. That was it. No instructions. Guess he figured we knew what we were doing or he didn’t care. Probably the later.
We filled the chicken house floor with hay, and outside in the run, set up the rubber water bowl, filled the long metal trough with the ground powdered corn, then shoved the piggies in and out of the little chicken house door so they could learn where to go at day’s end to get warm. We watched as the female repeatedly licked the powder in the trough, then went over to the water bowl and take a drink. The male, who was bigger and fatter (40 pounds) did not eat or drink. We figured he was traumatized from all the disturbances. No alarm went off in our heads and in hindsight, it should have.
At nightfall, Todd and I went out with headlamps to see how they were faring. They were huddled under the ramp, side by side. For whatever reason, they did not like going through that little chicken door. Todd got a large plastic tub, filled it with straw and laid it on its side in the run as a cozy bedroom.
We went back out later with headlamps and saw that they did not go in it, but were huddled under the ramp to the chicken house shivering. Todd admitted that the tub was from the local hiking club, who used it to mixed human shit and compost at the composting toilet that was at a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t think it smelled anymore but he did not have a sensitive pig nose, who believe it or not, are very clean animals despite their bad rap. Well, no wonder I said.
Sierra also did some research down in VA that night and discovered that we probably ought to be mixing the dry powder feed with water to make a slop. We heated up water on the stove and brought out a bucket with the headlamps shining, and sure enough, after mixing it around with a long wooden spoon, they devoured the food. Good thing because it was going down to 24 degrees that night and they needed the fuel to make it through the night. We didn’t want the poor pigs to get pneumonia the first night in their new home. We went back one more time and shoved them through the chicken house door and locked them in for the night, making sure they were warm.
The next morning, they came trotting outside through the door on their own but Todd knew he would have to move them up to the old llama shed and make that their new home. He spent the day reinforcing the fence, adding pieces to strengthen it as the piggies love to push against things. He made them a new bed with a roof and a piece of rubber hanging down, added other pieces of lumber to block the wind to ensure a good night’s sleep. When we moved them again, Todd grabbed one around its middle and put it into the tall plastic barrel and grabbed the other by his hind legs like the pig farmer did and lowered him into his barrel. Both screamed like Todd was killing them. The goats looked on in their adjacent pen, fascinated but shaking with tremors from genuine fear of their new farmyard mates. The cats too were completely freaked out when they saw them. I carried each cat in my arms out to the chicken run to meet the piggies but they sprang from my arms into the air as soon as they laid eyes on them, leaped out and ran all the way back to the house without stopping. His brother did the exact same. The two harmless piggies never even saw the scaredy cats as they were sound asleep.
Todd has been a piggie animal husband for a few days now and keeps improving on their lives. He purchased a nipple that attaches to a water container that allows them to push on it and drink, keeping their water clean…otherwise they step in it all the time and purposely dump it for entertainment and in hopes of creating mud to wallow in. He put the kids’ old rubber balls into the run for the piggies to play with. Todd watches with fascination and delight as they walk around, sniffing, checking everything out, making their little grunts, digging with their noses, sneezing when they get dirt up them. He watches as he learns their individual personalities- how the boy is fat and lazy and lays down every chance he gets, but can’t stand to have his sister more than 4-feet away from him. The female is very curious and is checking stuff out constantly so the boy has to get up every few seconds and follow her over to her next spot, laying down as soon as he arrives, only to get up again in a moment.
Todd takes the goats along out to feed the pigs every morning, to give them some exercise as its about 1/10 of a mile walk. The first time, the goats did not know what was going on and followed Todd right into the new llama-pen turned pig-pen. They went right after the food Todd had dumped into the trough but the piggies were still sound asleep and did not notice yet. When they woke up and moved, the goats freaked out and frantically tried to get away. Now they stay outside the fence watching with complete fasciation but still quivering in fear. The cats have not ventured out for a repeat.
Getting Todd piggies during this time of coronavirus shut down was brilliant on the kids’ part. They know their father needs to be busy in order to be happy, and listening to NPR news non-stop is the best way to create a constant state of sadness as our known world collapses. Now, if Todd is not building something to make the piggie’s life more comfortable, he is watching YouTube videos at night to learn, or merely watching them out of sheer fascination and joy. But as he crawled into bed last night after taking a bath and washing his hair, I put my arm around him to cuddle and I said, with my very sensitive nose, “You smell different.” He said, “I do not,” I said “Yes you do. It’s the pigs.” As the kids said after watching the beloved film “Waking Ned Devine,” Dad is going to need some “fruity soaps” to mask the pig smell that seems as if it already permeated his skin- The price you pay for joy and deviation in the time of coronavirus.
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