We kept the pigs in the stock trailer in the barn for about three and a half days. That was a very good choice. They were enclosed, protected from the weather, and kind of in the middle of all of the barn activity. This gave them the opportunity to hear the other animals along with Frank and I when we were there doing chores. It also allowed us to observe them closely without worrying about escapees.
By day two, I was scratching everyone on the back while they ate. The largest boar likes touch the least, but he is finally coming around as well. The gilt had been handled much more than the boars and she doesn't mind being scratched at all. One of the smaller boars, which will probably be our breeder, is becoming quite friendly, too.
While they were in the stock trailer, the pigs were introduced to cabbage leaves, comfrey, carrot peels, green beans, goat milk and whey, canned okra and some old squash and tomato relish we need to replace from the garden this year. They weren't really sure about the leafy fare at first, but now seem to enjoy it. They don't attack it like they do the grain or whey, but
they are eating them. We have also been giving them the corn and sunflowers we grew and dried last summer. They are really enjoying chewing the corn off of the cob. One thing we have already noticed is how quickly they put on weight. We weren't exactly sure how much to feed four little pigs, so we are cutting back on their portions. At first we gave them more grain to help tame them down, but now we will be giving them a green bean can full each day and that is all. We don't want them to be too fat, which can cause problems. I'll be talking more about that in a minute. Even in the stock trailer, I sprinkled the grain around on the hay for them to root around for.
By the end of day three, the stock trailer was getting rather stinky and the flies were getting thick, so it was time to move them into the pig pen. We have our doubts that our original pig pen will hold these small pigs. It is made of stock panels that have two rows of smaller openings, about 2" by 6", on the bottom rungs, but then it expands to 6" by 6" for the rest of the way. They can probably still squeeze through that third rung for now, so we chose to put together the other pig pen. You may be wondering why we have two pig pens, but no pigs. The original pen was built to house two feeder pigs about four years ago. They didn't even get large enough to produce bacon before we took them to the butcher. I hated them. I was afraid of them. But this was their pen. We never considered letting them out to graze like we are these pigs. So that's why we call this large pen the pig pen, even when we use it to wean baby goats.
A number of years ago we bought a pig pen that was made by the students of one of the local agricultural programs. It is made of 2" by 4" heavy stock panels, welded to square metal tubing to create four panels, one of which has a gate on one end. Putting it together is kind of like a tinker toy puzzle. The puzzle is which ends fit together. Each end of each panel has a hinge of sorts that long metal rods fit through to hold them together and create a corner. The pictures will show you much better how this works than I can describe. After trying to put the first two panels together and realizing it was a little more complicated, Frank measured each end, had me write down the measurements, then we compared the numbers to determine which ends would fit together. The panels were a little heavy, but we maneuvered them into place without much trouble.
After we had the pen constructed, we hitched up the trailer and pulled it out into the pasture by the pig pen. We're glad we brush hogged the grass and weeds down by the pen, it is so thick and tall, it's hard to walk through. So, now it's time to catch the pigs in the trailer and move them into the pen.
Remember, up until this time I had only caught one pig in my life, four days earlier. Since I had that experience, I now knew to carry them by their back feet. Well, one little boar was nice enough to just walk up to me. That one was fairly easy. Next, the gilt, she wasn't difficult either. I had put a little feed in their pan to draw them together so I could grab a back leg. Of the two that were left, one of them kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we bought them. I wanted to try to catch him while he still had company, but they are fast little pigs and it took me a while. Frank recommended I catch the other boar first, since he would have been much easier to grab, but I kept trying until I finally got the one I was after. I had to stop and laugh a couple of times at my efforts and their speed. If you had been able to watch, I'm sure it would have been quite comical. But now, I am a pig catcher, since I have caught all of five pigs in my life. One of Frank's recommendations was to catch them by the front legs since they tended to face me to watch what I was doing. But that goes back to my fear of pigs. I was afraid they would try to bite me since I would be grabbing them. I opted to wait until a back leg presented itself.
After the pigs were placed in their new home, Frank backed the trailer up to turn around, and so we could clean out the hay and ick it contained. That tall, wet grass and weeds? Yep, he was stuck. The tires kept spinning on all that vegetation.
Now, out comes the tractor. We hadn't had to do this before, but with Frank's instructions and me behind the wheel of the truck, he had us out in no time. Ladies, this is one of those things I mentioned recently about having a good man by your side. Putting the pig pen together, I couldn't picture in my mind what Frank was seeing, and how it would work, so I just followed his directions and it went great. The same thing happened with pulling out the truck. We tweaked a few things according to his directions and everything went fine. There is no substitute for having a good man. None. It's the way God intended it.
While Frank had the tractor out, and I was cleaning out the stock trailer, he brought several loads of dirt into the corral to place in a low area under the gate that leads to the pig pasture. We will be adding some rocks to fill this area in, which will prevent the pigs from coming into the corral once they have free rein of the pasture.
Now, we have a pig pen within a pig pen. The pigs will stay in the smaller pen until the grass is gone, or we are comfortable letting them have access to the larger pen. We will eventually dismantle the interior pen, reassemble it next door to the original pen, and use it for farrowing when we have litters of piglets. This will prevent the boar from pestering the gilts when they birth. Well, that is the plan for now anyway.
Speaking of the gilt, her name is Liberty, by the way. The man we bought Liberty from had two sows give birth this spring. Liberty's mom had four piglets, but two of them were dead. The other sow had two piglets, but one of them was dead. The breeder has raised pigs most of his life, but didn't know why this happened. He was also disappointed with the low number of
piglets in the litter. This sounded a little odd to us, but we took him at his word. After we got home and had time to think about this and discuss it, we have come to the conclusion that we need another young gilt, just in case Liberty's genetics don't lend to becoming a healthy, productive sow. The vet was here this afternoon and we asked him what he thought about Liberty's probability of being a good sow. He told us that if a pig has less than four fertile eggs developing, it will reabsorb these eggs and breed again. A sow will always have a minimum of four piglets. So we have some questions about the gentleman's story. There is another breeder in a different area that we have been in contact with that has a litter of piglets that will be ready to wean around June 1st, so we will be adding one more piglet to our herd. By the way, I looked up the names for groups of pigs. When the pigs are grown, I can call them a passel of pigs. I like that one, it's funny. I hope five pigs will constitute a passel, because that many adult pigs is more than enough for us.
|The vet and his wife work together which I think is great.|
While the vet was here, he cut the piglets teeth. Because we are keeping three boars, two to eat and one breeder, we have chosen to have their teeth cut to prevent injury if they chose to fight over food or the gilt at some point. It may not have been an issue, but we would rather prevent a problem at this point until we know more and have more experience as pig herders.
|This whole tooth came out. They are very small at this age.|
Of the three boars, we were planning to choose one of the two smaller ones to keep for a breeder. Lance, the largest boar that kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we were loading them up, was going to be the first to grace our dinner plates. But after we talked to the vet about growth rate for producing meat for the table, we chose to castrate the two smaller boars and kept Lance for our breeding boar. I will just have to work with him a little more to get him to be as tame as the others.
For now, our pigs are doing quite well. Once they calm back down and quit running away from me again since we have moved them, then cut their teeth, and castrated two of them, I think they will work out fine. We'll keep you updated with further tales from the pig pen. Now it's your turn. Not necessarily to get pigs, per se, but to seek out a new experience that will benefit you and yours in whatever situation you find yourself. Be it homestead, city lot, apartment, where ever you are, you can learn and develop skills that will increase your chances of survival in the coming days, weeks, months and years. We would have never even considered getting pigs if we didn't know that
great changes are upon us and that we will probably have to fend for ourselves. Pigs have never been part of our equation until now. Are we comfortable with this new venture? No. Are we working at it diligently? Yes. That is why I said in the previous article that I have decided to like, and not be afraid of pigs. It is a conscious decision I have made to increase our food supply. The article I wrote about women and survival indicated my belief that one of my major responsibilities in a collapse scenario will be to keep food on the table. These pigs are part of my efforts in that direction. Frank supports me and helps me when I need it, with anything at all, but his role when the time comes will be different. He will be our protector, community
communications leader, and will be working at making sure the infrastructure of our homestead is functioning well. All of these things will allow me to concentrate on food, clothing, and maintaining the hygiene we need to be healthy. We have been blessed with the natural inclinations of a man and a woman to perform those duties that will support a safe, productive home, and we chose to fulfill those roles.
Until next time - Fern