The first couple of trips out to the woods, I had brought a bucket of peanuts, and not a lot else. I don't know how I thought I was going to manage to get the pigs home if I had stumbled across them. I sort of had a vague thought that if they had gotten big enough, I could probably toss them into the back of my pickup, and they wouldn't be able to jump out. That makes sense, right? Right??
Honestly, I was pretty sure that I was on a wild goose chase. Those pigs had disappeared so thoroughly when they spooked that, down deep, I could only picture stumbling through the ferns, watching the little spotted backs disappearing into the underbrush again, curled tails mocking my best attempts to get them back. They were small when they escaped, and pigs go feral so quickly by all reports. Thankfully, the policemen never asked me how I was planning on transporting the pigs when they were out in the woods with me.
Over the course of the afternoon, I had offers of help come in from a few places. The few professional farmers & the sort of overly-ambitious hobby farmer amateurs (I'm definitely in the latter bucket) in our small town form a pretty small network. We know each other. When we bump into each other at town functions we ask about the latest crop of spring lambs, or how their egg production is doing, or how they're faring with the deer this year. We share our latest experiment in agriculture. There's a kind of unspoken venn diagram of types within the community - those that just do vegetables, those that keep animals. Big enough to support a CSA, or just enough to get an egg or two for breakfast every few days. There's a livestock/pet split, and an occasional flare-up on the discussion boards around hand-dried-seaweed-cooked-in-my-kitchen-with-extra-vitamin-L-(for-Love)-chicken-feed vs. commercial-pellets-with-lots-of-soy-for-the-birds-you're-not-going-to-name-anyway-because-let's-face-it-they-cost-$3-to-replace-and-what-the-hell-do-you-mean-you-don't-vaccinate-your-flock? (Guess which group I'm in?) But whatever segment you fall in, large scale organic grower or just a few backyard chickens, it's enough to get you into the club of empathy & frustration.
From across that loose group, I had a double handful of volunteers reach out to tell me they were ready to plunge into the woods and pig wrangle. As much as anything, that kept me going back out with each sighting.
By the time the last call came in, it was after 6 in the evening, and the police dispatcher was chuckling when we spoke.
"Mr. Grady - these guys say they're standing next to your pigs. On the trail out near the abandoned barn."
"You have got to be kidding me. They can see them from where they are?"
"No. Literally. Right next to them. How about I patch them through?"
It took a moment, but then a very hesitant voice came on the line.
"Um. Hi. I'm Doug. I'm standing in the woods next to some pigs?"
"HOLY JEEZ-NUTS! STAYRIGHTTHEREFORFIVEMINUTESIAMONMYWAYDOUGYOUAREAWESOME"
This time, I actually grabbed a spare kennel and threw it in the back of the truck before speeding off. It's a very large version of one of those plastic dog kennels you see at airports. We have a Saint Bernard. And I didn't really have any thing else to transport them in. I'm not really as well prepared for livestock escapes as I might be.
I tore back down the road in my license-plate-a-little-too-obscured truck, and bounced back down the dirt path to the trailhead. The trail skirts a pond, with a large, abandoned barn just in one corner. From the description, I figured they must be close, so I grabbed the bucket of peanuts and the kennel and hoofed it along the pond edge to the barn. There were a couple of teenagers fishing on the spillway. They were also smoking something that smelled like not-quite-tobacco. Apparently, I startled them.
"Um. Dude. What?"
"Hey! You're that guy! The cops were telling us about some pigs."
Sheesh. Never mind. I pulled my phone out and dialed Doug.
"Doug! DO YOU STILL SEE THE PIGS?"
"Yeah, man. They're right here. They keep wandering down the trail a bit. What should I do?"
"Just stay with them - I'll find you!"
Doug's friend Billy came out of the woods, with a 6 year old on his shoulders and waved me down. "They're down this way." Doug & Billy had been out fishing. They were from a neighboring town, and Billy had brought his girlfriend's son along to show him what fishing in a river in the countryside was like. The kid was bouncing in excitement to have seen actual live pigs in the woods.
About a quarter mile down the path, there they were. Content, muddy, a bit taller, and pretty lean. And none the worse for wear.
Billy looked at me. "We were fishing on the river. I had a bag of sunflower seeds that I put down on the ground beside me, and out of the bushes, these three little pigs came up and started eating them. I had to look twice to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was."
Yeah. You don't see that every day, I guess.
"Hoe. Lee. Crap."
That's all I could manage.
I walked right up to them. Gave them a scratch or two, and through a grin about a half mile wide, I explained the history of these pigs to the guys. They'd been out on their own for about four weeks. I had been pretty certain that they were coyote poop at this point, at best. The guys were shaking their heads, laughing. One of them looked at the kennel. "Howe are you going to get them in that?"
It looked big enough, barely. I put on my confident farmer face, reached over and grabbed Rocky - the male & the biggest of the three - by his hind leg. Before he knew what I was doing, I chucked him into the kennel and shut the door. He had definitely gotten bigger - but he hadn't put on that much weight. Maybe 40 or 50 pounds. The other two were smaller. They were also startled that Rocky had just been manhandled.
The girls trotted a little closer to Rocky in the kennel - they were nervous, but they didn't want to drift. I grabbed the Spare next - she's always been the most skittish. I told Billy to be ready with the kennel door, and I slung her in.
That left Tocino. She was standing there, a bit confused. She's always been the most gentle - I was actually able to pick her up and cradle her like a baby. She's only about 35 or 40 pounds, and was calm enough to pet. Until I shoved her into the kennel - at that point, the kennel was full enough that it was more like a piggy Rubik's Cube, but I just kept shoving until her butt was tucked under Rocky's face. The Spare was somewhere on the other side of the mound of piglet. Tocino shat on the bars to let me know what she thought of it all.
I grinned and caught my breath. The little boy was pouring a few sunflower seeds into the cage to keep the pigs happy, and the guys and I looked at each other in satisfaction.
I told the guys that I wanted to give them some cash. Something to reward them for the find. It was the least I could do.
No, no, they said. There's no need.
"No, you don't understand," I said. "My truck is a quarter mile back up the trail, and this kennel is heavy. I'm about to ask you to help me carry it."
They grinned again. Cash is fine, they said.
When I got the piglets home, I put them back into their small, well fortified pen. They were tired, they were covered in pig shit, and they were hungry. They stretched out and let us all give them a good scratch. Pig shit and all.
The Boy and the Critter were both happy to see them. The Critter was shaking her head - "I had written these pigs off. I was pretty sure they were eaten." Ever the pragmatist.
The Boy ran out to check on them every couple of hours, to see if they were still there. He'd come back inside to report in triumph that they were.
The next day, I began to build a new fence. Not relying on solely electric anymore - more solid, with electrified line as an addition. I'll post more on that later. But you can see how happy the kids were - I have the Critter setting fence posts.
I called the police department to let them know that we had, after all, gotten the pigs back. They were laughing and happy for us. I promised them all a Christmas ham, or a pile of prosciutto. Or something to remark on their general fantasticness. And also: high fives all around.
The pigs munched away happily at their grain and peanuts while we worked on the fence. Rocky climbed into the feed bin with all four legs and stood up to his knees in feed. They'd take turns rooting through the leftover hay and finding a comfortable spot. They drank from their fresh, cool water, and looked at us, seemingly happy to watch us work.
This fence will be more Guantanamo-esque, and less 'disappears when you're not looking at it.' I'll share more on that another time.
I turned the feed bucket upside down in the pen, and sat down to have a long conversation with the pigs. "If you disappear again, you're on your own. I'll tell the coyotes where you went, and you can take it up with them." I pulled another tick off my leg and crushed it against the new fence.
Ok. It wasn't that long a conversation. But it was heartfelt. I don't have the energy to do this often.
But still. I went out to the pigs this morning before anyone else was awake and gave them a scratch, and a bucket of peanuts.
We're all happy they're back.