“Where is the fourth pig?” I asked husband Bruce as we fed the goats, sheep, and donkey. The three pigs were part of a litter born three months previously. Sparkle, their mother, had given birth to five piglets, but only four survived.
There are two significant milestones in a piglet's life: birth and weaning. Despite the still-born piglet, Sparkle seemed to handle labor well and nurtured her remaining four surviving babies. Typically a sow will give birth to 10 or more piglets, so four is a substandard litter size, but they all were alive and healthy.
At 8 weeks it was time to wean the four piglets. This litter is not to be confused with the previous five pigs born earlier in the year. Those five lived in our house for a while, and you might have been one of our visitors who bottle-fed them.
No this was a different litter, born during a very busy August. So busy that we did not fence off their part of the barnyard with a temporary electric fence for training purposes. A young, impressionable pig doesn't have to get zapped many times before he will learn to stay away from the fence. After that, the fence doesn't even have to be turned on; he'll assume it'll hurt him.
Not so these four pigs. They would duck under the fence, sometimes getting through between pulses and sometimes getting shocked. But they did not have that deep-down fear of it that would keep them away from it.
They would stay in the pig pen at night with the other pigs, but in the morning they'd run under the fence to freedom. Once out, they would divide their time among disconcerting the cows, rooting in the cow pasture for grubs and worms, and visiting us in the barnyard. One of them even ventured into our farm store, apparently looking for food. We called them “the Rebels.”
Although the group roamed the farm at will, they were inseparable. Every morning all four would greet us as we fed the livestock -- until the day that only three showed up in the barnyard. So I was concerned and asked Bruce to search for the missing Rebel.
Bruce found the pig, alive and vigorous, but stuck inside a barrel. Each week we get brewer's grain, a by-product of making beer, at Great North Aleworks. The grain is stored in 35-gallon, plastic barrels that formerly contained olives. One of the barrels still contained some grain, and the missing pig had crawled inside after the residual snack. Although he was trapped, the pig never lost focus. He managed to eat all the remaining grain and, in his gyrations, he and the barrel had rolled down the hill, still imprisoned. He was unable to back out of the barrel and, with no room to turn around, he needed rescuing.
With my help, Bruce wrapped a chain around the barrel, which he lifted with the tractor's front loader. The trapped pig slithered out backward onto the ground, looked around, then booked it to join his buddies.
We have since fortified their fence, and for three days the Rebels have stayed put in their pen. But we don't kid ourselves. What keeps pigs inside electric fences is early training, and we'd muffed it. Now we are like negligent parents, wishing we'd been a little stricter with our unruly brood.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at email@example.com.