Even though last year's pigs were such good fun to raise, I wasn't sure if I was going to take it on again this year.
All animals are a responsibility. We already have 20-something chickens (only one hen died over the winter - a practical miracle in our flock. But I do tend to lose count. 23? 24?) Plus the dog. And the two kids, of course, who are increasingly needy. (They want to be fed every single day. Sheesh). There's plenty going on around here.
But I found after a while that I missed my morning summer routine. Unlike the chickens (or the kids), the pigs were always grateful when I went out before work to say hello, and make sure they had an extra scoop of peanuts. And then there's all that beautiful pork in my freezer.
So I decided to get a couple more this year.
This is the momma pig and a few from her litter, out at the farm in central Mass. where I got my piglets last year. The farmer is a really good guy, and was glad to reserve a few beautiful little piglets from February litter for us. The Gloucester Old Spot is a heritage breed - gentle & easy going. It makes a great ham, and puts on a good layer of fat. It's more or less a well-rounded pig for a smallholder farm. Considering I have exactly one season's experience with this, it's the perfect pig for us.
I picked up three this year. Two we'll raise at our house again, using the same diet we did last year - a mix of hog/sow feeder grain (you can buy it in bulk from your local Agway or Tractor Supply Co.) and peanuts in the shell. The theory being that peanuts are a pretty good protein & fat stand-in for the rich acorn diet that creates those beautiful Iberico hams from the oaky grassland of northern spain.
The third one will go just down the road to be raised with a few other pigs at the fantastic, Sweet Autumn Farm. We're good friends with the farmers, Leslie & Katherine, who raise all their animals & veg certified organic - the pigs on mostly grain, vegetable scraps and whey. But no peanuts. Last year, they raised another group of pigs - a red Duroc cross. Durocs are a long, low pig. Long pigs make for long bellies. Long bellies make for extra bacon. But they're not quite as sweet as our Gloucesters, and we're in it for those fantastic prosciutto hams, and thick layer of fat.
This year, if we coordinate everything correctly, we'll take all our pigs to slaughter together, and we'll be able to do a slightly more scientific comparison of our peanut-raised pigs with a non-peanut fed, and see if it really made a difference. I was so happy with the way they turned out last year, that I've already determined I'll be raising them more or less the same. But it'll be nice to have a control to compare it to.
Our three this year are a male and two girls. Last year's pigs - Chorizo (male) and Honeydew (female) were named by my daughter and I. So this year it was the Boy's turn to name one, and the other keeper would be named by my Bride.
The boy is the one in the middle above, with the most spots. The Boy picked 'Rocky'. Which, in addition to being a perfect name for a pig, proves that we're giving our 6 year old the right kind of movie education.
We haven't decided which of the girls we're keeping. One of them is definitely the calmer of the two, and the Critter says that one of them likes her already. But I can't really tell which is which yet. Whichever we keep, its name will be 'Tocino' (which is a kind of sweet-cured Filipino bacon)
I just call the third one 'the Spare'.
We got them settled into their little pen above last night. They were exhausted from the drive down, and exploring their new home. I created a smaller enclosure within the larger pig pen, which is electrified fencing. These little guys are at least a week or two younger than the ones we got last year, so they're really small. The Critter and I sat with them for a half hour or so, just to make sure they were settled in, and then we went in to eat a joint of neck from last year's pigs that I had smoked for ten hours. to form a beautiful bark. I think this one was Honeydew. She was delicious.
Maybe I was a little too gleeful with my pulled pork sandwich the night before. When I went out to check the little guys in the morning at 6:15, they were gone.
I walked around the woods for twenty minutes, with slim hope to find the tiny little boogers. They're small. The leaf litter and fallen trees gave plenty of room for them to hide. And I wasn't really certain how long they had been gone - but there was no sign of them. And they wouldn't make much of a meal for a coyote or two. All I could think was that 1) I was an idiot to think the fencing that I had was sufficient. The little piglets are just so small at this stage that they can slip out of it. 2) it wasn't even the money I was kicking myself for - it was the lost morning ritual for this summer. There wouldn't be a day that I got up that I didn't look out at the barn and miss the few minutes of quiet friendship and care that I shared with the pigs each day.
I had more or less given up, and was walking back up to the house. And there they were.
They had had a good root through the leaves - I found their trace afterwards. They had clearly been out for a few hours this morning. They were a few hundred feet from their pen, but only about 100 feet from the stone wall at the edge of our lawn. They had made themselves a little nest in a hollow in the leaf litter and stretched out in a pile to catch up on some sleep.
Honestly, if I hadn't just happened to walk that direction, I would have completely missed them.
I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and called the house. "Send the girl out!"
Between us (and my Bride joined a few minutes later in her pajamas), we managed to get them corralled into their temporary pen, looking a trifle guilty, but not really any worse for their little adventure.
My farming learning curve is pretty steep. But I do learn. I will be creating a more piglet-proof pen this evening.
And more memories, no doubt, for the kids - who will be able to tell their own children someday: "Oh yeah? You think you have it tough with your Google-bike and your robot toothbrush? Your grandfather used to make me go wrangle the pigs back into their pen before school in the morning."