March came and went. And it left pigs.

March went by pretty quickly. In part because I was traveling quite a bit for work. Which isn't my favorite way to spend my time, but it sort of comes with the gig. And it tends to come in waves, when it comes. I think this March was a particularly big wave. I was gone 3 out of the last 4 weeks. But on one of my few weekends back in Maine, I managed to go pick up two piglets. 

The kids got to name them this year. The darker one was named 'Apples' by the Boy. The Critter asked if she could name hers after a character from a book. Sure thing, kid. The lighter one thus named 'Beth'. 

(I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure she was thinking of 'Little Women' - Beth was the sister that died later in the book, for the record. There's not much doubt about the fate of these little bacon seeds in our house). 

A couple of days or so after the piglets showed up, it snowed. (Because: Maine). George is still trying to figure out what kind of dogs these things are. 

The pigs this year are a different breed - they're a Yorkshire x Tamworth x Oldspot cross. A leaner, longer, bacony-er pig. Which is totally a thing. The Oldspot is a fattier, heritage breed, which grows great hams. A longer pig gives you more belly. Hence: more bacon. But I still fully expect these to make great prosciutto. 

These particular prosciuttos will be ready for slaughter in early fall. In the meantime, we'll all enjoy their presence, and - when I'm not traveling - I'll get to enjoy my morning livestock rituals once more. 

Happiness. 

 

 

Three... I mean, er... Two little pigs

The first year I had pigs, it was on a lark. And raising our own bacon in our backyard turned out to be way easier than I expected. I fed them some grain, a ridiculous amount of peanuts, and watched them get big and docile, roaming around under the trees in our backyard. 

This year's lot, on the other hand, turned out to be more than a handful of pain-in-the-ass. 

First there was that time they went missing, and lived in the woods for a month.

Then, there was the recapturing, and building a pig pen that would make the inmates of Guantanamo give that low whistle of respect that says 'Holy shit, brother. What did you do to get put in here?'

About two hours before the 'Coppa & Collards' dinner party, two of them managed to push their way out of even that fence, and take a little walk around the yard. I managed to get them back up to the pen, and told the boy to go in and get his mother. She came outside and looked at me like "These are your pigs, mister." 

"I'll grab the front side," I told her. "You grab the rear." And before she could say anything, I reached down and grabbed the front legs of one of the pigs. 

If you haven't had occasion to wrestle a pig yourself, you should know that an upset pig can squeal loud enough to be heard for miles. The saying "squeal like a stuck pig"  could also be "squeal like a pig you just tried to pick up".  

My Bride took one look and said "I am not picking up the back end of that pig. That's where they poop." 

"Would you rather to grab the squealy, bitey end?"

There was a lot of swearing. And a lot of pushing. And some more swearing. Most of it aimed at the pigs.  But we got them back in the pen.  

When we decided to move north to Maine, the logistics were all pretty easy. Except for the pigs. 

It was a corporate relocation, so we had a packing and moving crew helping us load up and take everything to storage until we could get into our new place outside of Portland. A very nice gentleman with a large clipboard and a measuring tape came by to do the inventory of our household goods. 

"Are those pigs yours?" 

I don't get asked that question every day. It would have been awkward to deny it. 

"We can't put the pigs in storage, you know..."

Thanks, funny guy. 

Fortunately, I had a plan. I have a buddy with a trailer who likes to go to Maine. He brought the trailer over one evening so that I could load up the pigs, and we could schlep them up to the great white north the next day. Loading last year's pigs was pretty easy. I figured I could handle this. 

Nothing with this group of pigs was ever easy. 

There was more shoving. A whole lot more cursing. And I only fell in pig crap twice. I began to wish that I had never found the pigs again after their escape. But eventually, they were loaded up, and off we went. 

I had called the sellers of our new house a couple of weeks before. "Listen, Peter. I need to bargain for a favor. I need to move the pigs in before the close date."  

Just a totally typical buying a house conversation to have. 

He laughed. He used to raise pigs.

I liked the couple we were buying the house from a lot. We didn't involve the realtors.  The Critter and I showed up for a few evenings in a row and built a new pen around the barn. 

The pigs settled in. And eventually, we closed on the house and moved the rest of our household good in. And ourselves while we were at it. 

These three pigs were on the small side compared to last year. I am pretty sure the month in the woods foraging didn't help. They grew taller, but didn't put on as much weight when they were young. And maybe it's just their litter. They were smaller, and more active. They took to their pen with gusto, rooting up all the mint and clover, and enjoying themselves immensely. The end stall of the barn was theirs, so they had a place to huddle and sleep. And there is a huge oak tree across the driveway, so the kids would scoop up acorns to add to their meal. 

Other than the fact that I had to fetch water in buckets from the pond down the hill, it was a pretty terrific setup. 

Soon, though, The Spare got listless. 

She lay around for days. I wasn't sure if she was just getting lazy as she grew or if there was something wrong.  She moved. Just slower, and with less pep than the other two. 

I watched her for a while, and figured that, well, it was already early October, and they didn't have much longer before slaughter anyhow. I'd let her be. 

A week later, I was out in California for a conference and some visits with our customers. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Oakland. It was my birthday. I was celebrating by joining one of our sales team as he called on local veterinary practices. I got a call on my phone about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. 

"Your f*@#ing pig is dead."

It was my Bride. She was not her normal chipper self. 

It was raining in Maine. And cold. And dark. And there was a dead, 225 lb pig in the yard. 

"How do the other pigs look?"

"They're fine. But There. Is. A. Dead. Pig." 

"I suppose we should move it out of the pen before the other pigs get to it." 

"You move it. I did NOT sign up for this. I'm f*#@ing done with f#@$ing pigs."

You people have only met the lovely, sweet, friendly woman that I married. My Bride is patient, and kind, and beautiful. And she can swear a blue streak when she encounters a large dead animal in her backyard.  I'm standing in the sunny parking lot of a small animal vet practice on the opposite coast. I wasn't in the best position to be much help.  If we were still in Massachusetts, we had enough friends with animals and a sense of humor that I could call on to help. But we had been in our new Maine house for exactly two weeks. We had met pretty much no one. 

Except. 

I did know a guy. 

"I will handle it, my love."

In my first couple of weeks at work, I had shared some stories with my colleagues. Including the whole pig/ham/bacon hobby. One guy on my team ALSO raised pigs. AND he lived in our town. 

It was a little awkward, but on the off chance he might be around, I called him. 

"Hey, Ken - aren't you in California?"

"I am. But I need a huge favor." 

I explained. I felt like I was calling The Cleaner on Pulp Fiction. 

"I'll be over in 15 minutes." 

They moved the pig out of the pen and rolled it in a tarp. I sat in the airport later on, Googling "How deep do I need to bury a dead pig?"

I am pretty sure I'm on a new list someplace now. 

Turns out, the answer is "under 4 feet of soil, and not near your drinking water." 

I'm still not sure what killed the Spare. Pigs are susceptible to pneumonia and a host of other diseases, just like any livestock. But Rocky & Tocino were both perfectly fine. It wasn't contagious. Some livestock get cancer. Or something lodged in their system that keeps them from eating. She had sat in the tarp for two days waiting for me to get home, and I wasn't really prepared to do a necroscopy to figure out what might have happened. And not knowing what took her down, we weren't going to eat her. We just chalked it up to lessons in owning livestock, and kept an eye on the other two. 

And, ok, probably naming her 'The Spare' wasn't the best karma. 

Joe and his partner Joanne came back this past weekend with their trailer. They had kindly agreed to help transport the (remaining) pigs to slaughter. Joanne quickly took charge. "Joe - stand behind the pigs and push them up where I can guide them into the trailer.  Ken - stand over there. No. Over there. More out of the way."  I held the gate so it didn't fall over. And I did it gladly.  I knew when I was in the presence of an expert. 

Tocino went more or less right in. Rocky was being his normal stubborn self. He grunted a lot. He squealed some.  Joanne stood there and let him catch his breath. Then she reached over and grabbed his front legs and hoisted him into the trailer. 

"Hey, Giuia! Come check out what Joanne just did!"

I found that funnier than my Bride did. 

The phantom pigs of Middlesex county: Part II

Weeks went by without a sign. I took down parts of the electric fence, but couldn't be too bothered to tidy up much of the pig pen. I felt kind of foolish - one of our piglets was intended for our friends at a farm down the road, and here I couldn't even keep them safe for a few weeks. 

I had intended to give them the larger of the two females. Tocino, our gentle little bacon seedling that had gone to visit the first graders, was such a sweet thing that we wanted to keep her. And our friends had specifically requested a female. Besides, the Spare, as we've taken to calling the other female, was the most skittish & least friendly of the pigs. Rocky was a bigger, curious boy, always intent on seeing what we had brought when we came to the pen. The Spare was determined to sneak away. I had absolutely no evidence to support it, but I had fixed all of the blame for The Great Escape on the Spare. 

And the coyotes which I was pretty sure had eaten them all. 

I reached out to the farmer where I got the pigs. Sean lives out in central Massachusetts, and has a great stretch of land. And I know he's had his own share of predator problems. We talked about different styles of predator problems - if it had been a big cat, there would have been a mess. With coyotes, it's likely that the piglets would have been taken back to the pack, and you'd hardly see a sign. 

That certainly fit.  Life went on at our house, but I really did miss my morning ritual with the pigs. And I really missed all that potential bacon that had been destined for my freezer. 

Transient

Fortunately, I knew the farmer that I used to get my pigs from (before I took it in my head to start raising my own) had gotten a couple of piglets of her own again. 

I wasn't sure she was actually going to have them this year - you may or may not be aware of the Great Pig Shortage of 2014, but pigs are a much rarer commodity than they were a couple of years ago. I called her up and asked if she had a buyer for the end of season yet - lucky for me, they were still unclaimed. 

While this didn't replace the pleasure I get out of raising the meat myself, or the interaction with the animals, at least I had some assurances of not missing a year in my prosciutto pipeline. 

Life returned to normal, more or less. 

Until this past weekend. 

Another neighbor down the road who keeps goats came by on Sunday while I was in the garden weeding, and cursing the deer who've been raiding my pea plants & tomatoes. (Seriously. What the hell. Eat all the damn peas you want, if that's your thing. I'll be irritated, but I can call that an acceptable price to pay. But why do the damn deer insist on cropping off the tops of all my tomato plants, leaving me with little stubby shrubs with nary a flower on them?  The density of deer population in our town is about 10x what a 'healthy' population would look like. On the one hand, this gives rise to the tick population, and hello lyme disease! But if that weren't bad enough, you've got to go and sabotage a man's tomato crops? I take that kind of thing personally). 

Over my cursing, I heard someone calling my name. "Your pigs have been spotted!"

What the hell? That was 4 weeks ago. My pigs are coyote poop at this point. 

Except they apparently weren't. That morning, a group was hiking through the trails about 2 miles from our house on a guided bird watching tour (that's the kind of town we live in). And out of the brush trotted three little spotted pigs. Friendly and curious. 

I had her draw me a map, and I hopped in my truck and sped over. It's 2 miles through the woods, but it's about 5 miles to actually drive the round about path, and then you can only get so close to the trail head. 

I had grabbed a bucket of peanuts, and some feed, and hiked about a half mile in either direction on that trail, making big loops through the woods, rattling the bucket and calling out. Thinking the whole time that these pigs were going to become the Flying Dutchpigs of Carlisle, Massachusetts - appearing without warning, and disappearing again into the undergrowth before the startled eyes of birdwatchers. 

No sign. 

I dumped the bucket of feed at the trail head, hoping the pigs might find it and enjoy it at least. I hiked back to my truck and headed home. Just before I pulled in my driveway, one of our local police officers pulled in behind me and turned his lights on. 

"Your license plate is mounted funny. Can you fix that?" 

Sure, officer. Never mind that the truck is a 1967 ford, and that the license plate seems to have been just fine for the last 47 years. I'll get right on that. But for now, I have to go inside and pull about a half dozen ticks from the crevices of my body. Unless you want to help me with these ticks who have decided to get personal, can I work on that license plate thing later? 'Kay.

I went back in the garden to grab my hoe & put things away, and my Bride came running out. 

"That police officer just knocked on our door!"

Seriously? OK, fine. I'll remount the damned license plate. Jesus. 

"Someone just called in with a pig sighting!"

Holy shit. Back in the truck, and I headed back to the general area. I tried a different way in to the conservation land. From the fields back in the woods, I called the police station. "Where exactly were they spotted?"

"The caller said they were lying just off the trail, enjoying the sunshine. Hang on, I've got an officer at your truck now. He will lead you there."

So I went back to my truck, and sure enough, one of our police officers was waiting for me. It was a different policeman than had pulled me over & knocked on my door.  

He smiled and we shook hands. "We've got our motorcycle officer coming in the other way. Follow me, and we'll get you to the trail head." 

(If you're keeping count, I had three police officers and central dispatch coordinating the pig hunt with me.  My town doesn't often have days this exciting.)

We got back down to the same trail head I had been on before - the good news was that the map that our neighbor had drawn was accurate. The bad news was there was still no sign of the pigs. I walked the trail a bit again, but I figured the woman who had called it in had been a part of that same birding group who had seen them, a few hours before.  The police found a few kids fishing near the pond, and asked them if they had seen three little pigs. 

"Um. No." I think the kids thought the cops & I were pulling some kind of prank. 

I was a bit embarrassed by the whole thing at this point, what with taking up the time of most of our town's on-duty police force, but the senior officer just shrugged. "We're a farming community. It happens."

I shook hands with the police officers, and called off the hunt. 

I went back home again, and once again began the process of de-ticking, shaking out my clothes, and taking an extended hot shower. 

I had just started to make dinner and think about a much anticipated cocktail when the phone rang again. 

"Mr. Grady, this is the Carlisle police department. There's someone on the trail with your pigs right this very minute."

...