Pigs and housekeeping
Bacon of course is but one of the splendid rewards for raising pigs and putting up with their enthusiastic disinterest in all things tidy and orderly, except in the matter of housekeeping. Pigs are not dirty, contrary to popular opinion, as long as they are accorded room to arrange their living accommodations with dignity. They will quickly choose a part of their space as bathroom (though the choice is not always what the farmer might recommend), and their much prized mud wallow is prized because they lack the ability to perspire. Their wallow, then, enables them to keep cool on a hot day.
Borrowing a designation from the blood-donor clinics, we used to say that our pigs went from being "universal recipients" in the summer - the kitchen fridge knew no fur-bearing friends while the pigs were around - to "universal donors" in the winter.
Many people advised us against naming any of our animals, on the grounds that naming them would make them into pets. The implication, we noted, was that after your pig became your pet you were stuck with it for the rest of its natural life - an uneconomic prospect, to say the least. But we felt differently, and our children, who helped to name and helped with the chores, felt differently too.
While they were with us, our animals were treated with kindness and attentively cared for, but we also recognized that we were not running a zoo but a small farm intended largely to free us from the dependence upon the commercial food-chain that treats animals - and vegetables too - as so many pluses and minuses in some accountant's ledger.
We all knew that our summer's pigs would wind up in a freezer, and, like Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, we wished them "long life--till then!"
One step forward....
Frankly, I had about given up on pigs until the other day. Some time has passed since there has been a porcine personality on this place worthy of more than a passing glance.
Maybe the apparent lack of personality stems from the fact that we have finally got into habits that more effectively circumscribe a pig's pleasure in creativity and general hell-raising. Our fences are more firmly put together than they were and security generally is tighter than it used to be.
The last few days, though, give signs that all is not yet ho-hum in the world of pork production.
Our weaners are now about half grown and it has been time for quite a while to expand their yard so as to get some free roto-tilling done. Expanding the yard means taking away the stout enclosure they presently call home and substituting an electric fence.
What with one thing and another the task of putting in a strand of electric fence remained to be done - until the other evening. Of course the electric string I was planning to use (a much more supple and easily-handled product than solid fence wire) was nowhere to be found.
"I'm sure that ball of string was in with the fencing stuff."
"Well, did you look on the cellar stairs? That was where it was the last time."
Stomping goes off stage right. Cellar door slams. Silence. Cellar door slams again.. Stomping re-enters stage right.
"It's not there."
"You're sure it isn't there?"
"You're sure you looked everywhere there?"
"I'm sure I saw it there just the other day."
"Well it's not there."
"Well, where could it be?"
(At this point the alert reader will have noticed that the conversation is about to go round for a second time, rather in the style of that Girl Guide song, There's a Hole in my Bucket. Fortunately for the sanity of both parties, I remember the roll of electric fence wire and its location.)
The pigs were interested, as they always are, when we are doing something around their home. They helped by chomping on the steel fence posts I was installing and pulling them up as fast as I could put them in. Their enthusiasm increased when I started attaching the bright yellow insulators. Those were obviously not only edible but delicious. But the most fun of all was the still somewhat springy wire. This they pushed around with their noses, chewed on it in a determined way, and lifted off the insulators so as to roll with it in the mud. Nothing this much fun had come their way since one of the banty hens had brought her whole brood of chicks into the pig yard for a quiet snooze.
Like the banty affair, the Fun with Wire scam ended abruptly. In the case of the banty, she didn't ruffle a feather or disturb the repose of her little ones as the (to her) huge pigs came snuffling around. She just made it clear to the pigs that their mother was ugly, and what's more, had been sold for bacon, and that she'd bacon them if they didn't watch out. So, they watched out.
In the case of the wire, there was a piercing squeal when the fence was plugged in, and, after several more encounters of the same kind, made even more confusing by the fact that the wire was off the insulators and rolling around the yard, they retreated to their house. They did come out to eat the next morning but they were very jumpy. If Higgeldy bumped Piggeldy, she would leap like a gazelle, not sure whether she had been zapped or not. They kept yanking their noses out of the swill and looking around as if something was sneaking up on them to get them.
In the afternoon I had to drag their trough over to their front door. They were not taking chances with the nasty thing that lived out there.
I took the wire away then and we are back, very gingerly, to square one. Last night, after getting my wife to buy a new roll of electric string in town I found the one I had been looking for - sitting out in plain view on a shelf in the barn. Now we'll see how we get on with rural electrification this time. 13 September 1988