The pigs have passed through our lives and on toward their eventual purpose as dinner. I’ve tried to be sad about this, and, while I’m not gleeful, I’m not particularly morose either. Andrew, who did much of their caretaking, is much more moved. I catch him gazing out the window at their pen. He spread their last comments, left in the trailer, on the garden where it will be turned into yet more food. He has spread the straw from their house over the muddy mess they made of their dooryard, but the buildings they used still remain and the fence is still up. They made for some good stories with their escapes. They served as a reminder of things past, with our kids, and kids at school.
Watching them work at trying to shimmy the gate reminded me of Zach as an almost two year-old learning to take apart his crib during naptime and escape. The day care folk assumed it was a fluke, reassembled his bed, popped the mattress back in place and lay him down again. Ten minutes later, he and his two compadres appeared in the doorway, ready to rock and roll. They were quickly promoted to Toddlers before anyone else learned the fine art of crib dismantlement.
Likewise the pigs seemed content to stay in their pen until we needed to move and expand their pasture area. Like tigers caged too long, they didn’t want to leave their original pasture perimeter, even after the electric fence was down and the pig panels had been moved. They were still pretty small at that point, and we chivvied them through the gate and into their new area. We had guests from away who thoroughly enjoyed the circus, and contributed a great deal of watermelon rind for the effort. That was the beginning of the escapes. They learned that their confines were not really limited by their fencing, but rather by their ability to breach barriers. They made their first escape the next day, lifting the gate off its hinges and passing into the world.
One went to the garden, the other to the ravine where we have the heather planted. This separation proved true every time they got out. Although they eventually ended up together, following their pigman back to the pen, each went its own way at the start. Once it was hooves on our little bridge that alerted me that pigs were on the loose. Another time I saw one nosing around a hive near the house. In their last days, when they were contained by an electric fence only, it became clear that they could leap at least six inches to avoid the shock.
Just as grown siblings can co-exist in the same house from time to time, it is only a strict set of self-imposed rules that allows them to live together. I saw this played out at feeding time in the pen. Pig Light would have first go at the feeding dish, muscling Pig Red out of the way. There was, in fact, plenty of room for them to eat, either side by side, or facing in opposite directions. There was plenty of food in the dish, whether pig feed or kitchen scraps, but the need to stake territory remained.
The cats did not like the pigs, even one little bit. Whenever the pigs were out, the cats flattened themselves to the ground, hissed, dove on top of vehicles or under the bridge, absconded through their cat door onto the porch. They never actually turned tail and ran, always keeping the enemy in sight, but they had a sense of where pigs could not go. Early on, our tiger had gone down to investigate the newly arrived pigs. There was still a fence, outside the panels, to keep predators away. The cat sniffed the electrified tape, got a hefty jolt, and never again got closer than about a hundred yards. The orange cat was not so skittish, and took full advantage of the mice the pigs had displaced.
Just as with raising a family, working in a school, and all things country-living, there is a romantic side to raising pigs. They are surprisingly adorable, what with swimming in the whey that was meant to be drunk, frolicking in the straw meant to keep them cozy, and digging in the dirt. Hannah gave them a big blue ball to play with. They galloped back and forth in their pen, chasing the ball, until it had been zapped by the electric fence too many times and deflated. Then they tried to eat it. The same happened with the over-large zucchinis we gave them. Those, it turned out, were more acceptable as toys than food, even cut up. (It seems that “too many zucchinis” is a universal norm.)
The inside of raising pigs is different. They are not just cunnin’ little critters. They are cunning, too. On an early morning chase through the field, it became apparent that there was a real lure to a flapping night gown. Pig snouts and muddy sides pushing to get at whatever is in your hands. Andrew got knocked down and learned to take a wider stance when moving in the pen. They dug pits in the dirt, undermined their house until it fell into a pig-made sink hole. They used their black feed pans as heat sinks, turning them upside down and sleeping under them. They grew. They tore up two pig yards and started on a third. Breakfast and dinner were always too late, no matter what time they were fed.
Just as we were worrying about how snow would affect electric fencing, and whether the coyotes in December would be willing to confront nearly grown pigs, whether they would need yet another shelter, whether it would be too cold for them, we got the call that they could get a lift to the butcher. The truck would be there the next day. There was little time to prepare. In the end it was raining and Andrew waited with them near the trailer. Eventually they were loaded onto a stock trailer with a half dozen goats, another pair of pigs, and some cattle.
In two weeks they will return, transformed.