How we vowed to not raise pigs, twice, and now own 8, including a breeding pair.
It was 2018, and we sat on the edge of our back patio, looking out over the freshly seeded tiny garden we had just put in the previous September, the week we bought our house. The plots were made of our moving boxes, leaves, and grass clippings, lined with willow and maple branches we had trimmed. We'd wasted no time in laying the ground work for feeding ourselves and coaxing nourishment from our new land. Garlic lined the front sidewalk, seedlings covered our kitchen counters, and weekly deliveries of seed packets overflowed our mailbox. We were well on our way to supplying our daily needs of fresh produce.
Our chickens made the move with us, so our egg needs were covered as well, but the question that kept coming up was, "Can we grow our own meat?" We had only even butchered a few laying hens that had gotten old or injured, nothing that was putting daily, or for that matter, even monthly meat on the table. As we sat there, taking in the reality that we now had the space for meat production, meat chickens were ordered within the hour for delivery the following week.
The first full year on our farm, we raised nearly 100 meat birds. The work literally and figuratively filled us up and left us with a sense of pride we couldn't shake. We'd fallen fresh into the lap of the Gateway Animal, as chickens are fondly referred to. 2019 saw us on the (sometimes elusive and disappointing) hunt for piglets. Our quest for raising our own humane meat was insatiable at just poultry, an odd thought for a previous decade spent as a vegetarian.
March arrived with promise and we finally nailed down a source of some Yorkshire/Berkshire crosses.
Spring went well, for the most part. We fashioned a "Pork Porche," (think chicken tractor but with bacon), that enabled us to move our piglets securely around our 2 acres onto fresh grass daily. There was a small incident, where a passerby called Animal Control on us for, reporting that we had "pigs kept in dirt." That was quite the laugh when they arrived to check things out. I showed him the system and he left with a materials list so he could convince his wife that they needed pigs.
The Pork Porche was the perfect vessel to move the pigs onto spots we wished to turn into next years garden. We fed them pork grower from our local mill and kitchen scraps.
As the piglets grew and summer was coming to a close, they began to outgrow the Pork Porche. They could now buck the entire thing in the air enough to move it several yards on their own. This was bad news for several reasons, the biggest being that we live next to a very busy road. Enter: The Pig Pool.
Our house came with a 20x40 empty in-ground pool, with 4 foot walls on the shallow end and 15 foot walls on the deep end. Our future plans for this gem are to turn it into an inground greenhouse, but we needed a way to rid it of vines, roots, small trees, and brambles first. We set the pigs loose on it, and by the time butcher day arrived, they'd cleared all it for us.
The Pig Pool was not without fault. With the new immobility of the pigs, we needed to make sure they still got their daily dose of greens and fresh food, and we were now their personal foragers. If we were a few hours late getting chores done on any particular day, you could guarantee Ginger, the red one, would escape and cause mayhem. This is fine for small piglets, and dangerous for large, hungry, untamed pigs. On more than one occasion I found myself begging her with a 5 gallon bucket of corn to please follow me back to the pool and to not eat my children (I assure you this is only funny in retrospect.)
As you can imagine, the escape shenanigans made things a little....easier, come butcher day. We were tired, and ready to fill the freezer with the pork we labored (hard) over. The day arrived, and anyone who had previously volunteered to help us heave the 300lb animals out of the Pig Pool was a no show. No matter, we are a very efficient team, and even though I was in my 1st trimester of pregnancy, we succeeded and began the butchering process.
The deed was done, as we vowed "no more pigs." Turns out, that was a lie. Our pork came back from the processor, perfectly labeled and packed, and with each passing meal, the pride grew.
And then one day, we decided we needed more pigs. There was one problem, 2020 was about to happen.
High and low we searched for piglets. Originally, we had our name on American Guinea Hogs from North Carolina, but the pandemic rendered that dream fruitless. Our dream pigs eluded us. We caught wind of a farm that sells $20 piglets 2 hours away from us. We made the trip on a freezing early spring day, and came back empty handed, with the promise that though they had "accidentally sold out that week," they would save some April piglets for us. April arrived and Dave once again trekked 2 hours north. I waited home, readying the Pork Porche for it's next round of piglets, so I thought. Dave came home, and walked in with 7 of the smallest piglets I had ever seen away from their mother. Two weeks old, at most.
Livid, I prepared the sunroom with a pen and heat, we would have to nurse these dinky piglets for at least a month. It turned out that the farmer had a deal with a CAFO, (concentrated animal feeding operation) for all the reject piglets to sell and "fund his ministry work."
All but one piglet died that week. Disappointed is an understatement. A friend took pity on my plight and connected me with a neighbor of hers, selling Hereford piglets, and we got on the list. We picked up 3 on Mother's Day, an apt gift.
They were strong, healthy piglets and we put them in the Pig Pool. Each morning, we brought them fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and several scoops of local feed.
We now had our Pandemic food security, but my heart longed for the American Guinea Hogs we had missed out on. The long breed pigs couldn't be trusted, with their flighty dispositions and voracious need for constant feeding. We feed them a 50lb bag of feed per day, as well as a 5 gallon bucket of kitchen scraps and greens. Along with the pandemic, comes year-long waitlists for all of the local processors. What was supposed to be a November butchering has now stretched out to a March hopeful. We've vowed, again, no more pigs ever again, as they eat us out of house and home.
Along came an opportunity.
In November, we were asked for assistance in butchering two American Guinea Hogs. The owners were looking for a home for the third, and hope dashed across my heart. Here I was, having our long desired pig breed, laid in my lap. Long story short, we bartered ourselves into American Guinea Hog breeding stock, and a few feeder pigs as well.
This breed is docile, small, and easily fattened. An American homestead staple in generations previous, once on the brink of extinction, now resides in my front yard(so I can be reminded daily that my "no more pigs" vow is a joke. They will be raised on pasture and a small amount of alfalfa and kitchen scraps each day, requiring 1/5 of what the "improved" long breeds need. As we venture further and further into befriending and raising this beautiful breed, I will continue to chronicle their personalities, eating habits, and growth.
And here we've come full circle, as accidental pig farmers. Our days are spent moving electric netting, and piling hay into their paddock so that Thistle can build herself and the boys a big fluffy nest. We take them apples for treats and scratch their bellies as we make sure everyone is happy and healthy. Quality time with quality pork.