Pigs as Educators
Electric Fence - by Alice
No matter how often we brought new pigs home, they always had something to teach us. It might be a way of leaning on the pig yard gate and squealing when dinner time had come and we were not in evidence. No one who has heard a pig get seriously into squealing has any particular desire to repeat the experience. That summer's pigs did their best to teach us promptness and diligence.
Of course a 200 pound pig leaning on a gate can be rather hard on the gate, and, if left to his own devices, might very well soon be coming down to the house to see what we were doing at all hours of the day or night.
We gradually got to know something of the ways of coping with pigs both small and large. We even put them to work for us, clearing the weeds off a piece of land we wanted to incorporate into the garden. In the early years of raising pigs we had kept them behind a set of what we called "pig gates," sturdy galvanised iron affairs which we wired together in a rough approximation of a square. These gates were heavy, and once wired together no-one was enthusiastic about moving them, not even the pigs.
Although we had put up some barbed-wire fences to keep the cows in their pasture and out of the garden it wasn't too long before we discovered the effectiveness of electric fence and how easy it was to move. Gradually we began to experiment with using the same technique to contain the pigs. According to the books we read, the trouble with using electric fence with pigs is that the fence must be quite low and the pigs as they are rooting about tend to push soil up against the wire and so short it out.
It may be so where there are many pigs in a large area. Our pigs' yard was small and as we visited them at least twice a day to supply food and water we could keep an eye out for problems. In fact, once a pig has been bitten by an electric fence and correctly identified the source of the problem he is not likely to go anywhere near the nasty thing.
That discovery led us, on a clear and cloudless day totally lacking in omens or portents a year or so later, to bring our weaners home to a yard without pig gates, a yard neatly limited by the electric fence.
Our New Piglets Set Out For Home
We have had this year's pigs for less than a week and already piggy excess has cut a swath through our attempts at an orderly existence.
After three years of putting the pigs on a patch of ground which had originally been the vegetable garden, we decided that, interesting as our porky friends might be, the aroma of pig drifting in any open window was a bit much.
You have heard of an indefinable smell? The one that drifted in from the pig yard was far from indefinable, especially when the wind was from the north or north-east. The wind seemed to be in that quarter a lot last summer.
The pigs were put there originally to cope with a patch of comfrey. We had planted one comfrey plant in the centre of the vegetable bed the first summer we were here. It had been given to us by someone whom we regarded as a friend at the time. (We now know all too well why she was so enthusiastic about sharing her comfrey with us: comfrey is the vegetable equivalent of a pig - I'm sure its botanical name must have "excessive" or some similar term in it somewhere.)
Anyway, we forgot the comfrey the next spring when it was time to plow, and by the time we had plowed and disked and all the rest of it we had distributed small pieces of comfrey root all over everywhere. I do believe that a piece of comfrey root smaller than a pig's sense of decorum is capable of producing 75 pounds of comfrey leaves in something under two months even if planted in the stony places mentioned in Matthew 13:5.
In any case, our intended vegetable garden was turned - hey, presto! - into a comfrey jungle. The pigs were called in to do their thing and do it they did, but the comfrey did its thing too and it took three years of pigs to finally root out the last evidence of our original plant.
So this year we moved the pig yard down quite a way to a piece of pasture we would like to incorporate into the garden. That way the pigs could get their jollies by rooting about and we could reap the benefit of their four-legged plowing matches. Since we have had good luck in the past with electric fencing as a means of pig control, we rigged up two strands of fence wire, plugged in the fencer, and went to get the weaners.
The trouble started when we deposited our two piglets in their yard. We should have remembered to draw their attention to the unpleasant quality of electric fence at once by getting them up to it while holding on to them. That way they could draw their own conclusions. Pigs are not slow to draw conclusions if you can get their attention, and that certainly gets their attention.
As it was, we simply dumped them out of the burlap bags they had reluctantly come home in and stood back to watch as they explored their new world. Our complacency lasted for all of half a minute. That was the time it took the pair to get up, shake themselves, renew their acquaintance, and set off to find the rest of the litter, so as to warn them about burlap bags, no doubt.
They passed through the fence doing about twenty miles an hour, and the shock was just sufficient to convince them that they were doing the right thing.
People, pigs, and our two dogs attempted to come to some understanding. "Come, let us reason together," we pleaded, and the pigs said, "Nix on that!" and were off and running in another direction.
Eventually we got them penned up in the barn, but not before Pooh-Bah, our very stuffy, long-haired, ginger, ex-tom cat had had the fright of his life.
There he was, having just arranged himself in a patch of daisies in a elegant pose with his tail curled around his front feet and every hair in its proper place, when one of the piglets, fleeing a pursuing child, roared around the corner of the house and practically ran up one side of him and down the other before his nervous system could switch from contemplation of his own perfection to red alert.
When last seen, he was headed for the back pasture at a most impressive speed with his tail the size of a bottle-brush.
Myself, I'm looking forward to an interesting summer.
30 July 1986
Fr. Robert S.H. Mansfield, SSC
28/8/2012 03:44:32 pm
Your description of the comfrey reminded me of a garden that we had back in 1980. It was a plot of land of reasonable size. In one small corner we elected to plant a very small patch of mint. Left to its own devices mint does tend to spread far and wide fairly quickly. Our little patch was well defined and limited with a border. Everything was going fine. The garden grew well. The canning was all done. The garden was left completely bare except for our very small, well defined little patch of mint.
10/9/2012 10:41:25 pm
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22/9/2012 12:54:02 am
I think the pig stories are really my favourites. This one, with the image of Pooh-bah "arranging himself in the patch of daisies" only to be steamrolled by a fast moving baby pig, is priceless!
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