We’ve had a lot of rain in a week and a bit. The ground is soft and muddy everywhere, and that makes the electric fence easy to knock over.
The pigs escaped after their supper yesterday, an hour before dark. I thought I heard them snorting around in the woods by the house, and I assumed that they would be bedding down and we’d see them in the morning. Boy was I wrong.
They had wandered nearly a kilometer away, and there was a grand nighttime pig drive, our neighbour herding them down the road towards us in a side by side, Hugh rattling a bucket of feed that they ignored, and me sprinting back and forth to keep them on the road.
They were so tired and cranky, all they wanted to do was lie down, so the hardest part was the final bit through the brushy orchard and field, where they were separating, circling back, and flopping down anywhere they could. What a miserable rodeo. Then we had another torrential downpour overnight.
This morning we moved their house onto dry land (they root, it rains, it becomes a mud hole, I move them) and moved their territory. After breakfast and a cursory exploration of this week’s ground to churn up (pleased oinking), they went in their house to make a nest (more pleased oinking), and passed out. They’re going to sleep real well after that big adventure. We are planning to take one of the three out tomorrow.What a night. You can’t even.
The wild birds are well fed. They’ve been cleaning out my crop of sunflowers. From full to this, all in four days. I grew them for them, but I hoped to ration them out a little better, and for my chickens to get some.
Makes me want to grow a field of them, but then the ravens will come and really clean them out.The pigs are moved again, now in the “pasture”, which is much easier to move the fence through. Of course, they are hiding.It was a hot and humid day (just before it got cold and very rainy), so they were in their brushy bit, covered with mud.
The pigs got another big move yesterday. And they’re acting like they did all the work. The space they have with the two strands of fence is vast (not literally, but it seems pretty vast, and it’s plenty big enough for them to get totally concealed). I walk around looking for them and it’s like Wild Safari. Can you see them? Is that something moving over there?Well, there’s a spot where pigs have been.I’m not moving. Maybe my eyelid. One lazy pig.Spot the pig? The other two are in there.
I’ve got some rowdy pigs. Specifically, the female. She’s a bit of a loner, happy to be apart from the boys some of the time, and she doesn’t respect the fence. She knows how to get under it, rooting under a post (the bottom strand isn’t electrified), and then tossing it up, where it will flop down on her back and she can charge underneath, getting only a modest shock on her thick back. I haven’t seen her do this all the way through, but I’ve seen her start into the process very deliberately . I’ve had it. I’m out of here (I thwarted her). This all started with a mass escape incident, and watching that happen, I knew they’d be ruined on the fence. I am counting myself very lucky that it only ruined her on the fence.
Using an electric fence on pigs is a delicate agreement. They agree they will act like they fear the fence, and you agree to believe it will keep them in, when both of you (I think) knows that if they really want, they can go through it. If this pretence breaks down, then the pigs are “what fence?”, and you can never relax again. But the electric fence enables them to have a completely different life than they would if you had to build “pig tight” to keep them in, so it’s a good deal for them. They get a big sward to root and play and run in, and resemble real pigs.
But now, I have a problem pig, and every so often, she goes on walkabout. She doesn’t go far. She just goes and knocks over all the chicken waters and licks their trays clean (the chickens alert me to the invasion). Then I have to pretend to be friendly Aren’t you clever, let’s get a treat (and she runs after me all pleased with herself), when I feel like beating her with a rope. She’s pretty good about going back in. See, the good boys who stayed inside the fence are getting a treat, don’t you wish you were in here now?
Hence, bribery. I’ve taken to surprise feeds of a bucket of apples and garden scraps, to minimize monotonous downtime that could raise exploratory ideas. Of course, religious punctuality with regular feed time is essential to prevent mutiny.I appear off-schedule (they are surprised, and come rocketing in!)They try to body block to keep choice to themselves. The apples go first, even sour green apples. Crunch crunch.Four days so far, no escapes.
The pigs were lying in the mud on one side only, so they (two of them) are browned right down the middle like mimes. They look fully mudded, but they’re not. There’s the pink side!
Yesterday they liberated themselves. I came home, no pigs, and did my usual march all over all the places they could get themselves in trouble with a pail in hand, but I couldn’t find any trace of them. It was too late to rouse them. I was sure they’d chosen a place to sleep, and when pigs are asleep, you can walk right past them. Which meant they hadn’t gotten into any trouble, and I expected them home for breakfast.
They were. They returned right to the place where they’d breached the fence. They were a pain to get back in. Why should we, when we can just upset the chicken food? But once recaptured, they were so tuckered out from their big adventure they spent half the day napping in their house.
Later when I was moving their enclosure, I discovered they had been right on the other side of their fence, exactly where I was shifting them to. They’d gone for a sneak pre-root. It’s a nice spot. I’ve been working them over to here. Now they’re under two big apple trees. Not a lot of apples, but they can just wait for them to drop.
Moving the pig fence is one of the most nightmarish jobs I do here. It’s like untangling a big snarl of wool while dragging it through dense brush, with a time limit. If the snarl of wool were 40 lbs and also snagged on absolutely everything, as did your hair, and it tripped you. It takes two hours, weekly when the pigs are big, and it’s exhausting and frustrating. And I’ve got it dialed. I can even estimate routes that make the fence ends meet pretty accurately. It’s been worse. Much worse. But the results are good; I’m slowly reclaiming the field, although it’s a multistage project to get rid of the glossy leaf buckthorn.
It’s not exactly a thankless job. I get this:
Happiest pigs everThe pigs are expressive and clearly joyful. They have enough room that I can’t even see them from one side to the other.
Finally some rain! The pigs, who are usually muddy to the eyes, are today muddy to the ears. They look funny, with their eyes cleanish in the full muddy cones of their faces.By afternoon they had gleefully mudded the whole rest of their bodies until they had single cleanish strips only along their spines.One of the pigs has a predilection for bringing one or more of their rubber bowls into their house. Sometimes all three are in there, sometimes stacked. I’ve read that pigs use their bowls as toys if you leave them in their pen after dinner, but these are the first pigs to have played with their bowls. Here one pig has just dragged one bowl out from under the other pig, and dumped some of it. Every morning they play food bowl duck duck goose. They start all with their own bowl, then one inevitably goes to the next pig. You got something better in there? The first pig exits, and instead of going to the vacant bowl, goes to the next pig’s bowl. What are you eating? Same thing? I think I’ll try yours. That pig goes to the empty bowl and…they do it all over again, every few mouthfuls.
After the new enclosure has been prepared for these lucky piglets, the fence is parted, allowing access to the abundant unspoiled greenery this species thrives upon.But how long will it take them to discover their new freedom?
Their attendant retrieves the food bowls they are familiar with and places them in plain view just beyond the fence opening, filling them with fresh food.The young pigs observe these proceedings with interest, but from a distance. They are agitated by the presence of the human, and grunt with suspicion.
As the human withdraws, curiosity and hunger overcome their trepidation, and one pig tentatively leads the way over the threshold! Its sibling, still visibly anxious, follows soon after. To the boldest pig goes the spoils!
Three little pigs. They are not tame at all. They are wild animals, free and independent. They observe from a distance.It’s quite nice to not be leaned on and snouted every time you go in their fence, but it will also be nice to play with them and scratch them, someday. They are curious. They approach, sniffing. But then one snorts and they all stampede off! Run away!
They’ve been working, though. They were here for minutes before they had their faces in the dirt, and dug up an impressive swath of it in their first hour.They’re a tiny bit more reluctant to run away when they’re in their house, and man, do they love hay. They act like they’ve never seen dirt or hay (I’m sure they have), and they burrow right under it, sleep away the afternoons. They’re so pink. I don’t see any black Berkshire in there at all, except in the personality.
We got the pigs! Three little piglets. They are very pink, but they are supposed to be sired by a full black Berkshire. It seems they take after their mother.
We’ve finally sorted out our pig transport, after trying dog crates and the back of the car. That extra chickery I made came in, secured with a pallet, and covered with a piece of canvas (becoming as useful and ubiquitous around here as baling twine and wire), so the piglets don’t get a sunburn or heatstroke.
Our first piglets came in with sunburn and possibly heatstroke, but recovered. Although, after wrestling with them, sometimes you wish they had heatstroke.
We carried them from truck to pigland over the shoulder. “Easy”. HW gave me the small pig, and she was a crazy squealer, who screamed the whole trip, and absolutely pummeled my lower back stomping with her sharp little hooves. Wow. That hurt a lot.
HW had it worse though. He got peed on. Both of our pigs pooped en route, and then HW says “Oh no! Warm and wet – I think I’m getting peed on!” So I was better off with the stomping pig.
Then HW moved the third pig and immediately had them all run right through the fence, making us completely 0 for 4 on piglet retention. This time, the pigs were small enough to fit through the bottom squares of the electric fence, and they did. He got them back in though, and they fell to rooting like they were born to do it.
In the middle of the night, discussing the piglets pouring through the fence, I said “You know, the right thing to do is to take the other electric fence, with the smaller holes on the bottom, and wrap that around outside the fence already there, and do it tonight while they’re asleep. ” And he started getting out of bed! So we did that together at midnight, and the pigs are thoroughly trapped.
They weren’t asleep, but they were moving slow, watching us from the shadows. And they are SO happy! Face deep in the dirt, day one.
This morning, four new chicks!
All of them a bit damp, brown and black with black legs, and bright white egg teeth on their black beaks- SO cute. There are two from Cleopatra (copper maran Xs), and two from Cheeks or Puffcheeks (Ameracauna Xs). Proud mama!
The two “old” chicks have integrated into gen. pop. They integrated themselves, as they do.
Just before running out for pigs and doing a henyard check, I found one chick outside of the chickery. After fruitlessly chasing her around the box a few times, I tipped it up so she could slip back under a corner. She was looking. It almost worked. Then the other chick darted out, and then it was on. Those two started to run away from home together, mama flipped out, so I just let her out.
She was set upon by the roosters, and ran into the flock of hens, and the babies crouched in the grass (it only takes a couple of blades for them to disappear), but after the dust settled, they flew (flew like sparrows!) back to her, and that was that. Now they are part of the flock. They slept in the box last night, but this morning Mom was coaching them on how to use the coop ramp (although they were having none of it).