Three little pigs who weren't. Pt. 1

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. 

Transient

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. 

...

Farmer: 0 - Weasel: 1

This morning - as has become my habit this week - I rolled out of bed and went and checked the weasel trap next to the hen house. 
I was pretty confident we had a weasel problem. I was finding 1-2 dead hens in the hen house once or twice a week. Weasels kill for sport. Before I set the trap, I'd walk into the chicken house to find mutilated hens that hadn't been eaten. Or chickens without heads. There's something about the brains and head bits that they especially relish. Like little zombie vermin. They're nasty little creatures.  They can squirm their way into a hole an inch wide, and wreak havoc. 
For three nights, I sealed up the chicken house and set the weasel trap before I went to bed. For three mornings, I went out to discover the bait gone, and no weasel. 
This morning - weasel! 
Here's what I've learned:
  1. Weasels smell. 
  2. Really bad.
  3. Weasels are seriously cunning. Capable of sneaking off with the bait without springing the trap.
  4. When a weasel shrieks at me unexpectedly, I jump like a little girl. 

I was filled with satisfactory glee this morning when I found I had finally caught the little murderer who's killed more than a dozen of my hens in the last weeks.  I triumphantly carried him up to the porch and showed him off to my Bride with the righteous satisfaction of Lady Justice. Through the window. It is still cold out, and she was still in her pajamas. (My Bride, that is. I have no idea if Lady Justice wears pajamas). 

I had spoken quietly to the animal control officer at the police station and a few farmers I know about what to do with the vermin after you catch them. I'm not going to just go release them happily into the woods, to see them come back to their old stomping grounds, or find some other person to bother.  Most farmers find a way to quickly kill off the vermin - raccoons, weasels, etc. - that are a constant plague to their livelihood. The most recommended course? A quick shot with a .22 (which I don't own), or drop them into a water-filled garbage can to drown them. 

Because winter hasn't quite breathed it's last frigid gasp up here in the great white land of Yankees, we haven't turned on the outside water yet. So I filled an empty 6 gallon bucket with water, and went out to help the weasel shuffle off his coil. 

I gave the weasel a knowing look, and he showed me his teeth. (That's when I learned #4 above).  I decided I'd reveled enough, and hurried on to the final bit. I was a little bit uncomfortable with this part, but not terribly so. Dealing with life & death of predators and the animals I've taken on to care for is part of the deal. 

I tipped the trap up vertical and dropped it into the bucket. 

Unfortunately for me, I hadn't noticed that the trap doors are held down by gravity. As soon as I tipped it up vertical, the weasel was able to push his way out and jump from the bucket. He left nothing but a blur and a cloud of mocking musk behind him as he dashed across my lawn and disappeared back into the woods. 

This is not over, Mr. Weasel