farming, Uncategorized

All the Way Home

I don’t know if Sadie and I are cut out to be pig farmers.

The first time we (really, Sadie) got pigs, was right after my Nana passed away and she decided she needed something else to take care of. 5 somethings, to be exact, little Duroc/Berkshire cross bottle-piglets. We drove to White Pine Tennessee so I could pick up 9 pullets, and the farmer selling the hens just so happened to have a truck full of sows and piglets on their way to auction.

She grabbed one of those little piggies up and placed it in Sadie’s arms. The thing was no bigger than a loaf of bread, and screamed bloody murder clear across the Smoky Mountains. She showed Sadie how to rub the little piggies chin, and soon enough, it settled down and grunted itself to sleep. Sadie’s eyes sparkled brighter than stars; I knew we were in trouble. She promised that if Sadie and I took all 5 piglets, she would make us an excellent deal.

“Let’s just get two,” I said. “But she has FIVE!” insisted Sadie. We followed the truck of pigs up to the gas station, where I withdrew enough money from the ATM for the ‘excellent deal’ (plus a small wire cage to cart them home in, since I had only brought one for the pullets). We stopped at cracker barrel on the way home, and left the windows cracked in what was quickly becoming a very smelly van.

I think I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that not only did we know absolutely nothing about raising pigs, but that we just committed to caring for 5 little mouths who were not even weaned off milk yet. The waiter asked what we would like to drink and all I said was “We bought five piglets.” Sadie laughed and laughed. The waiter looked unsure how to respond to the two, slightly smelly lunatics sitting before him. “Can we have some food scraps from the kitchen?” I asked. He sort of chuckled and walked off to get our drinks. I think he thought I was kidding, but I meant it.

Looking back now, I should have trusted Sadie – she knew what she was doing. We stuck the little piglets in the hens laying room, and bought calf-milk replacement the next morning. I had an out of body experience purchasing baby bottles at Dollar General, when the cashier told me he had a baby due in August. “These aren’t for people,” I replied. “They are for piglets.” He gave me the same look the waiter did.

The bottles were a terrible idea, but I did get very good at catching the piglets by their back leg, which they hated. Sadie soon became the good cop, and I was the bad cop. But they had to eat. Soon, they got hungry enough that they would drink the milk out of a rubber pan, which we eventually added pellet feed too, then weaned them off the milk-replacement all together. We had 4 brown piglets and one black and white spotted one. They grew, as pigs do, and managed to escape their make-shift pen dozens of times.

Once, when chasing them laps around the chicken coop with a stick and an old apple basket, my Uncle said we should name the black and white one ‘Biscuit’ because the best place for him was between two biscuits. One morning, we rounded up the three boys and took them to the vet for the you-know-what. Those little piggies screamed bloody murder, and everyone on the whole block heard. The vet held each piglet upside down between his knees, Sadie held its back legs down, and I held its mouth closed with one hand, and passed instruments to the vet with the other. We were all very quiet on the ride back to the farm.

Their pen grew as they did, and we rolled out step-in posts with electric wire so they could run through the pasture. They loved snacks, attention, pats and scratches. Sadie was the pig-charmer: she would drive the ATV around the perimeter of their pen, calling “HERE PIG PIG PIG!” and they would sprint after her, grunting the whole time. They rooted out a piggy spa, and one of the males quickly earned the name Bubbles. Biscuit, Dottie, Petunia and Kevin Bacon eventually earned their names as well. Pound for pound, pigs are the most lucrative livestock. They grew to 200 pounds in just 8 months.

When it was time to take them to market, they calmly walked right to the trailer, and we hauled them to Greeneville. It was strange driving back with an empty trailer, and strange to see the pig-lot empty and silent. But that is a pigs purpose, and part of the life of a farmer. We sold 4 of the piggies, and put Biscuit in our freezer.

Spring came, and Summer kept us busy with the garden, and still the pig-lot stayed empty. I searched online, occasionally, hoping to find more bottle piglets. As fall drew to a close, Sadie and I agreed to wait until the following Spring, as pigs are harder to raise in the winter months. One Saturday morning in early November, I got home and found Sadie standing before a wire cage holding a small, 40 pound pink piglet with white, wiry hair. I thought, ‘here we go again!’

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