Category Archives: At the Farm

Pigageddon

piggagedon
pigs, pigs everywhere

Matt’s pigs are hard to contain. The  porkers are always hungry and since the grass is greener on the other side the five-strand, high tensile electric fence, who can blame them for looking for any weakness that offers egress to a bigger world?

And take my word for it. They do. Driving or walking down the lane that connects our house from the rest of the farming operation — a stretch of about a third of a mile — you are likely to come face to snout with a 700-pound black Berkshire pig. Very often this goliath is followed by four or five youngsters, each probably weighing in at well over 100 pounds.

a pig on the driveway.....
a pig on the driveway…..

I don’t begrudge the pigs their scavenging. There’s even a name for a small group of woodland porcine foragers: a sounder. But I don’t fancy a sounder in the yard or, perish the thought, my garden.

Still, when I drove up to the house this weekend, there was abundant evidence that a rampaging hog herd had made quick work of the lawn and the garden. And because pigs are social by nature,

a piggy sounder -- on the wrong side of the fence
a piggy sounder — on the wrong side of the fence

whenever a few of us were in the yard or even the kitchen, the pigs materialized, grunting, snorting, scuffling, rooting, and even napping.

My brother says that pigs constantly check in with each other with friendly shoves and jostles, accompanied by rude-sounding rumbles and snuffles and snorts. Matt’s beasts are so massive and rotund, when they group together in hoggish solidarity, they reminded me of a herd of hippos just emerged from the Zambezi River.

glad the garden is so comfy, pig. Sleep well!
glad the garden is so comfy, pig. Sleep well!

Full-grown pigs have very large teeth and use the choppers to worry any thing they can reach, including the birdbath and the decorative oversized metal sunflower in

Uh...make yourselves at home, porkers!.
Uh…make yourselves at home, porkers!.

the garden. As soon as the fatties moved out of the way yesterday, Dick and I transported these to the garage for the winter, out of harm’s way.

But that was about all we could do — except leave. I hope in our absence, the porkers looked for food somewhere else. Maybe a field well removed from the garden and our back yard.

why can't pigs be more like cows?
why can’t pigs be more like cows?

copyright © Mary Goodbody

The Short Story of Mr. Singleton

If this were a children’s book, Mr. Singleton, the pig, would live happily ever after on the hillside outside my brother’s house. He would chow down on organic pig food, snuffle his way through the underbrush, nosh on scraps from the kitchen, and curl up at night in the small shed at the edge of his field.

It's a pig's life, for now
It’s a pig’s life, for now

Kids would love Mr. Singleton. He’d be a big fat hero. After all, he’s the pig that got away, escaped the fate of his four brothers and sisters when they were herded into a small trailer the other day and taken to Pennsylvania— say it softly, don’t let them hear! The state next to ours is where the “humane slaughterhouse” is — talk about an oxymoron.

My brother’s pigs, who quite contentedly spent the last six months on a large piece of land tucking into pig food, anything they could salvage from fields and woods, and bulking up on table scraps otherwise destined for the compost, were scheduled to go the way of all hogs a week ago. Unfortunately, when Greg-the-animal-hauler arrived my brother wasn’t home and there was no obvious way for Greg to load the porkers. So he came back the next week, in the pouring rain. This time, the mud and weather precluded the porcine roundup.

By now, Dick  had had enough. He enlisted the help of a neighbor with a trailer and together they loaded the piggys for the trip across the state line. But Mr. Singleton simply refused to be guided along the fence and up the narrow ramp. Like a greased pig, he slid out of  the hands that grabbed for him. With a decisive squeal, he headed for the hills, ducked into the underbrush and would not join his anxious brethren in the death vehicle. Did he know it was “time?” Did he sense that nothing good would come of this strange exercise?

Probably not. He just ran. Pigs don’t really engage in fight but apparently they are all about flight. And flee he did.

The pig that got away...
The pig that got away…

So, you might wonder, what is the fate of Mr. Singleton? I asked my brother that very question. “I’ll shoot him,” he said. “I am not going back to that place.”

The next day I asked with some trepidation if the deed had been done. “What?” Dick asked. “Have I shot him yet? I don’t even own a gun.”

For now Mr. Singleton is indeed roaming free, perhaps wondering where his litter mates are but most likely looking for his next meal. With enormous pleasure.

mr-singleton1
All pig photos by Richard Goodbody

But lest you get choked up with squishy sentiment: don’t. This pig will meet his fate. This is why he was raised. For meat. The six piglets my brother sheparded to maturity this year enjoyed a life far better than most animals, and if you are going to eat meat, we reason with world-weary logic, you better not be squeamish about reality. Of course one of the original litter died before his (her?) time, succumbing to a respiratory illness that affects pigs with some regularity. And so then there were five.

And now there is one.

Rock on Mr. Singleton. For a few more days, anyhow.

Is Eight Too Many?

It’s always supper time!
It’s always supper time!

Eight little pigs live in a sizeable, weedy and muddy pen down the hill from my brother’s house. They arrived about six weeks ago and since have done very little but eat. That’s what pigs are meant to do, right? Pack on the pounds as they pound down the chow.

They also sleep, snortling companionably as they shove snouts into flanks, backs, and necks, this way and that. Even in slumber they are vocal creatures. These pigs are still young enough to play tag and chase-me-round-the-feeding-trough, squeaking and squealing as they do. Soon they will be too porky for such nonsense, preferring to loll back in the straggly grass or a muddy patch and doze until the next meal.

It’s a pig’s life
It’s a pig’s life

They also escape.

The youngsters aren’t so much hankering to break free; they just imagine the grass might be greener in the neighbor’s yard…or by the chicken coop…or down the road a piece.  When they were tiny, my brother’s neighbor called to say he had rounded up the critters and stowed them in a backyard dog kennel. Dick and Jill transported them home in a dog crate, a few at a time.

Not too long ago, Dick woke up early on a June morning to find a solo pig munching the grass on the far side of the house from the pen. He went to catch the porker but evidently frightened the little guy, who scurried back to the porcine enclosure lickety-split.

And let out a horrifying squeal that had no end.

He was caught, little cloven hoofs entangled in the plastic mesh fence of the electrified fence installed to keep wandering swine from, well, wandering. Didn’t work too well on the way out but sure packed a punch on the return trip. The screeching was loud, piercing, pitiful.

Even after the electricity was shut off, the piglet wouldn’t stop yelping and squirming, struggling as he was to be liberated. Finally, home again on the right side of the fence, the wailing became a whimper and then it stopped, supplanted by contented snorts. Time to eat!

My brother started his pig-raising venture with four porkies. Last year, he had six and this year eight. This group is by far the most adventurous and rambunctious. And Dick is wondering if eight is too many.

copyright © Mary Goodbody
photos copyright © Richard Goodbody

And Now There Are Eight (Pigs)

Again with the pigs? As a food writer by trade, I should write about food on the shelf, not on the hoof, but these little guys fascinate me. You have to admit: they are damn cute!

Could they be any cuter?
Could they be any cuter?

My brother Dick and his wife Jill have a farrow of eight Berkshire piglets racing around the enclosure in front of their house. Yes. Little pigs “race” as they play some sort of piggy tag, spindly tails straight out, whiplashing back and forth. And then they roll into each other, squealing and leaping, delighted to be alive. Big grin, big time.

After they frolic, they eat. After they eat, they sleep piled on top of each other, squirming to get a comfy spot, head to tail, belly to back, front to rear. Inside their pig pen, Dick built a small structure made from abandoned plywood and similar materials. Jill calls it the pigs’ favela, a shanty town of sorts to protect them from too much rain and a hot summer sun.

This year, Dick rigged up a waterer so that they always have access to cool, fresh water. He also installed an automatic feeder. Both will allow them to leave the little guys for a night or two without having to ask someone to water and feed them. Trouble is, the piglets tramp in the watering bucket, filling it with a layer of squishy mud. But, if you’re a pig, this might be as tasty as Kool-Aid or Juicy Juice.

Nice digs!
Nice digs!

Berkshires are a snazzy breed and recommended for what a lot of folks call hobby farms. They are easy to raise and their meat is splendid. Apparently, Oliver Cromwell’s men brought the tasty pigs to the attention of the greater English population after spending a cold winter in the shire of Berk near Reading.  The pork was one of the few highlights during those snowy days and chilly nights.  At that time the hogs had sandy hair, but after being deliberately crossbred with some Siamese and Chinese swine, they not only tasted better but developed their characteristic black and white markings.

Without doubt, Oliver C. would chafe at how blissfully the English aristocracy adopted these pigs as their swine-ish standard bearers. QueenVictoria is credited with breeding a magnificent male called Ace of Spades, who weighed in at 1,000 pounds and sired many a line of hogs.  For generations, a drift (herd? team? all correct terms) of Berkshires grazed on the grounds of Windsor Castle. They say that the best of the lot was named “Windsor Castle.”

A farrow of happy Berks
A farrow of happy Berks

Dick says this is the last year he is going to raise pigs. Why? I don’t like to kill them, he says.

Who can argue with that? It’s not easy to send them off to their fate, but of course, these porkers are a lot more fortunate than most. They have plenty of room, fresh air, good food, and clean water. I have eaten a lot of meat in my lifetime and will undoubtedly eat a lot more, but it’s getting harder to swallow, the more I learn about factory farming.

Therefore, I am pleased to know these eight cuties. I will watch them grow as the summer progresses, knowing they are living in a kind of porcine heaven,  and won’t fret too much over the inevitable. A full grown pig is not sweet and cuddly,  E.B. White’s Wilbur notwithstanding. They are raised for one reason only and I accept that.

In the meantime, these little Berks are something to smile about.

copyright © Mary Goodbody
photos copyright © Richard Goodbody

Horses on a Dairy Farm

The horses arrive in a gigantic horse hauler
The horses arrive in a gigantic horse hauler

Earlier this week, Kara arrived with 30 horses. Yes, that’s right. She owns 30 horses and they needed a home. We have the land, if not the horse barn, and so she and her husband Paul are stashing their equine in our pastures for the summer while they look for a more suitable long-term abode. A few of her horses need shelter and they are going in the old calf barn, hastily refitted for horses.

Kara and Paul walked the property at least twice before the horse vans arrived, yet even so some of our fencing, originally erected for cows, was inadequate for the horses. There were missing gates, electric wiring that wasn’t grounded and so didn’t work (or is it the other way around?), and two hissing geese sitting on eggs in the barn.

Another horse arrives in New Jersey!
Another horse arrives in New Jersey!

Horses don’t like geese. Or at least they don’t like anything that hisses.

And then there were the pigs. A few of Matt’s pigs were in the most secure part of the barn and Kara was not happy about it. Horses don’t really like to share their quarters and so the pigs had to go.

Matt is moving toPennsylvania with Tara, little Alice and his cows (but never the pigs) and there is some overlap between his leaving and Kara’s arrival. He got rid of the pigs and the geese. I don’t know how or where but as long as the horses are happy, I am not asking too many questions.

Walking to their new home
Walking to their new home

Kara’s horses include a couple of thoroughbreds who are not yet broken as well as some old, abandoned horses who are close to breaking. The thoroughbreds may well become racehorses, while the old chargers will live out their lives under Kara’s care. Twelve of the horses are rescues, looking for “forever homes.” The rest are hers.

Kara and Paul know how to train racehorses, which is exciting. I don’t think they will be trained in our pastures but they might start to learn about bridles, saddles and cinches this summer.

horses_-14Clearly I know very little about horses. Ours has always been a cattle farm.

Yet, when I was a girl, we had two horses named Sugar and Mexie. Big gentle nags that would allow a couple kids to straddle their broad backs as we wandered the fields. Later, after Sugar died, Corky arrived. He was a somewhat spirited palomino that I loved to ride.

horses_-15I haven’t been on a horse in a long time. I would love to try, although I will probably be frightened. Kara says she has a big, gentle giant of a horse I might want to ride. Really? What’s his name?

Comanche.

Looking forward to meeting you, Comanche!

copyright © Mary Goodbody