I had been feeling down & not really in the mood to write for a few weeks. In large part, it was because it felt like we were having some pretty awful luck with our animals. And that just takes the wind out of your sails, and any creative urge drained away.
Not too long after I wrote the post about settling in our little piglets, I had taken the youngest & gentlest of the pigs, Tocino, to the Boy's school along with one of our chickens for a story time show & tell. ("What does Tocino mean in Spanish kids? That's right - Bacon!!")
The first graders all paraded out to the school yard where we set up a smallish pen, and gave them an introduction to some of the basics of keeping animals, how we protect them, why we enjoy them, and then finished off by telling one of my favorite stories, The Old Woman & Her Pig.
A few days later, the pigs vanished.
As they get older, they get trained to the electric fence - a few shocks on the snout, and you wouldn't go near that thing either. In reality, it's not much of a barrier, but pigs are smart, and given the choice, they'll stay inside it just fine. This lets me expand their pen to a larger and larger run, and gives them plenty of room to roam and root, and enjoy. The three little pigs, Rocky, Tocino & The Spare, all seemed content and happy in the space, and all was well.
Then one evening, they got spooked. Hard. Bad enough to rush and burst through the fence despite the electric shock, and to completely disappear into the woods. I was out meeting a colleague for an early dinner, and my Bride and the kids did an initial search, walking the woods, hoping for some sign of the little guys. Nothing.
By the time I got home, it was late, and full dark. I walked the woods, but couldn't see a thing. The next morning, and the morning after that, I was up in the pre-dawn twilights, fending off ticks and walking the woods in widening circles, rattling a bucket full of peanuts, hoping to see some sign of them.
A pig will range about a 1/4 mile a day, if not bothered. And usually you might find sign of them rooting or bedding down. They're not exactly tidy creatures, and can make quite a mess when they're snuffling through the underbrush for food. But I didn't see a thing. These little guys were gone. I was pretty sure coyotes would get them - or had already. We have plenty around here, and the pigs were relatively tiny still - less than 15 weeks old. After a few days, I had to give up hope. The kids (and I) got another lesson about life on a farm, however small.
A couple of weeks later, I came home to hear from the Critter that a chicken had died. It was one of our younger ones (~ 16 months). No real indication as to why - but that's often the case with chickens. They're not meant for long lives to begin with, and a hen that's more than 3 is in her golden years. The corpse was stretched out in the pen, and the other chickens were avoiding it. No sign of predators. It was just that chicken's day to die.
The Critter takes care of the chickens - feeds & waters them, and collects the eggs to sell. But it's still somehow my job to take care of the dead ones, when they occur. I walked out, collected the carcass and disposed of it in the woods.
A day or two more went by, and I started to smell something obnoxious. It was stronger outside on the back patio. It took me two days to figure it out. Turns out, a few peanuts had been left in the bottom of the pig bucket, which was sitting up next to the back porch. A rat had gotten into the bucket and couldn't get back out. The rat had at least had a final meal, which I assume it enjoyed. But then the rains came, and it's carcass was swollen and smelling by the time I found it.
The Boy said "Yes. I saw that a few days ago."
Really? For future reference, there are things you need to tell your father, kid. "I saw a dead animal on the back porch" is on that list.
Then our dog, Maggie, pulled up lame, and had to be taken to the vet. That's a longer story, but I was beginning to think that - were I a suspicious fellow - all these animals dropping around us would have to have been some kind of sign.
When the pigs disappeared, I sent out word to our local town chicken-raisers email group. (What, you don't have one of those?) And I called our town police department to let them know. Just in case anyone called in a sighting of little curled tails fleeing down the trail.
"Sure, Mr. Grady. You bet we'll keep an eye out. But you know, there are a lot of coyotes in Carlisle..."
There was no word, and no sighting over the weeks that passed. And while I occasionally looked into the woods along the side of the road as I drove by, hoping to see some little spotted piglets, I was pretty sure that the they had already made some pack of predators a perfect late spring meal.
Little did I know.