Sunday: Thus far we have had no problem getting the pig pregnant. We just haven’t gotten around to trying to make it happen yet. Originally we figured that artificial insemination was our only option, but honestly the prospect is a bit daunting. I’ve heard that it’s ‘super easy’ from those who’ve done it, but based on our track record of spotting heats and timing breedings, I’ve decided that the best route is live cover. Allowing the animals to live together for one or two heat cycles is preferable, assuming they get along well. Our next, slightly better option was to borrow a boar from a nearby breeder. We had arranged to contact her for breeding services in December, but due to a nasty cold snap and our sow’s tendency to wander around the pasture shivering, we felt ‘Princess Leia’ wasn’t ready to breed when we’d planned. By the time we had finally contacted the breeder in late January, she had moved her operation an hour or two away, and all together the breeding would probably put us out a couple of hundred dollars. Given that we were looking at the $200 range for this breeding anyway, I decided to check out craigslist and see what was out there in the way of boars for sale. We figured that we’d pick up a boar in February, let him breed our female for spring and fall babies, and then either sell or butcher him the following November. We settled on a young Duroc/Yorkshire/Berkshire boar which was described as very friendly and well mannered in the ad. Most importantly the price was right at 220, and he was only a 30 min drive away. By now we are not too concerned that our first couple of litters are pure bred, just that they happen!
Our other awesome neighbor was gracious enough to lend us her two-horse trailer for the boar haul. We hitched it behind Nick’s little Nissan, and started our adventure. I voiced the fact that I was a little nervous about moving a pig for the first time (our last two were weaners and fit in a dog crate or in the back seat of my old Camry), and Nicholas reassured me that it would be fine, we’d figure it out even if it took a couple hours getting him loaded into the trailer. Oh, if only everyone involved had his calm demeanor about the matter. We pulled into the property where we had gone and looked at the boar the week previous, and Nick shifted into four-low. He deftly backed the trailer up to a small gate, and we used the gate, a pallet and the trailer doors to create a short shoot. The ‘farm wife’ let’s call her, who was charming and personable just a week before, was very obviously more stressed about the move than even I was, and taking it out on everyone of blood or marital relation. Nicholas and I tried to assure her that we were in no hurry, and that we’d like this to be low stress and the least traumatic of an experience for the boar as possible, to no avail. Unfortunately in her anxiety over wanting things to go quickly she cursed at her children and cursed at her husband and called the lot of them by demeaning names. I tried to stay pleasant and polite, but I’m pretty sure the look on my face said what I was thinking.
If you know anything about livestock, then you know that they are masters at reading body language, tension, and emotion. The other pigs in the pasture were at ease, understanding that all of the hubbub was directed at the boar, ‘Stitch’, and he of course knew it too. He was instantly suspicious and wary of the trailer and all of the pressure to climb aboard. Had we lackadaisically thrown in a bucket of grain and some smelly food scraps and stepped back, he likely wouldn’t have resisted the temptation long. Especially since there were three or four piglets hopping in and out of the trailer, giving him confidence. But with ‘farm wife’ there, screaming at her girls and kicking at the other pigs to keep them back it was obvious that something was amiss. Nick and I shared an exasperated look. Her husband told her to calm down and she called him a douche. The fun was just beginning. By happen-chance or miracle, the boar followed the piglets halfway into the trailer, and everyone pushed and crowed the door shut behind him. At this point, had we latched the door and stepped aside for about 15 minutes, things probably would have worked out. But due to the stress and emotion already present, things weren’t going to happen easily. ‘Farm wife’ stuck her upper body in the trailer and her husband shut the door on her with her legs still standing on the ground outside. She deftly snagged the piglets one by one and shoving them out. Being that all of this occurred very quickly, and with much human yelling and piglet screaming, the boar obviously panicked. He launched himself at the opening the top of the trailer door which I was holding shut, and nearly made it out. I did NOT think pigs could jump that high. A second later he was ramming into FW, and being that she was trapped halfway in, and halfway out of the trailer, there was no way to secure the door and prevent the ensuing escape. This serves as a reminder that thinking things through, staying calm, and taking your time will pay off in the end when working with livestock, and in basically every other facet of life. Sadly our shot at doing the move in a non-traumatizing way was totally blown. That pig was absolutely not going to trust us again that day, and sadly this only prompted FW to blame those around her and created an even more heated environment.
It was time for phase 2. The Rope Trick.
After watching ‘farm husband’ follow the pig around with a noose for a while, I surmised that he was intending to rope him around the head and neck. This technique REALLY does not work on pigs, unless you have something to dally to, but ultimately it is a rather cruel way to catch them. I suggested he lay the loop out and try to entice the pig to walk over it; if you can catch up a back leg of an animal you have a great deal of control. Eventually this noose trick worked, and we had a screaming swine running in a large circle on three legs. Nicholas ran down the line and began the exhausting process of getting the pig on the ground. FW grabbed the pigs ears and tried to twist him onto his side like a steer, with little success. When Nick finally got ‘Stitch’ tackled to the ground he laid his full weight across the side of the pig while FW held onto his ears and put her knee on his neck. The pig screamed some more, and a tiny female piglet defensively huffed at his attackers, trying to aid her buddy. They tied all four of his trotters together, and we all drug him through the muddy paddock to the trailer. We decided that, given his super-athletic jump at the window a half hour previous, we would leave him tied for the 30 min drive home. We divvied out the cash, shook hands and bid the family good bye. I sent a sympathetic smile towards the kids, and hoped in my heart that she would just leave them alone after that ordeal. I wondered what kind of emotional scars those kids were going to bare into their adult lives, and I felt sad. Anyone, if put under enough stress, can be pushed past the breaking point, and say things that they’ll later regret. This is particularly true of those who don’t make a practice of disciplining their temper. I know that this is a skill that I need to work on if I want to avoid ever acting that way to my own family.
On the drive home we discussed how the whole process could have been so much better with a little self control and humility on the part of the humans involved. Having both worked with horses, we each had a plethora of comparative examples of where human emotion, occasionally our own, caused situations with livestock to end up a total shit-fest. Thankfully we arrived home safely, and were able to move our new boar into the pasture without much eventfulness. His bonds were cut and he took to his hooves. Of course, he was terrified of his new surroundings, the enormous pasture, and all of the new animals, and therefore spent a cold evening hiding from it all, in the brambles trying to escape the curious livestock guardian dogs, and dairy goats. We did our chores early and rescued him from the sticker bushes once, but in all likelihood he got himself stuck out there later, based on the events of the following morning.
Day 3 to follow…