I’ve fallen in the pig paddock, face first and full on my chest. Three inches of muck, ice, snow, and manure cover me and my brand new Carhartt vest; a stampede of 300-pound hogs thunders past and over me. Standing up and trying to sling off the mud, it occurs to me that there must be a better way to spend one’s leisure time.
Nine days earlier we had a heavy snow, followed by a week of below freezing temperatures. The first few days are idyllic, pristine white landscape, the road quiet at the bottom of our hill. Then a week goes by with my truck parked at the base of our gravel drive: three-tenths of a mile of snow-covered ice and my four-wheel isn’t working.
Meanwhile, we have three hogs destined for market. During lunch one day, I go outside and set a four-square of T-posts around the feeder and the gate into the wooded pig paddock. I then hoist through the snow and mud four corral panels, each 14 feet long. Lashing the panels to the T-posts creates a makeshift holding pen with the gate on one end and an opening into the paddock on the other.
The plan is to entice the three hogs into the pen—somehow keeping the other nine out—open up the gate, and let the anointed amble into the stock trailer. What could go wrong?
I back the trailer near the paddock gate, set up another panel between it and the gate, and swing the trailer door open to create a neat second enclosure for the chosen three. I go back in the house to work until Cindy gets home.
Around 5, we head out to the paddock with a bucket of corn and two dozen eggs. Pigs are curious creatures and soon a crowd is gathered ’round. The first hiccup becomes quickly apparent. Even though the electric fence has been disconnected, they all give the open gate a wide berth.
Then the second flaw: With all of the snow, much of it now melted, the area around the feeder is inches deep in muck. Each time we toss an egg, it promptly sinks from view. And the third: How does one entice a passel of pigs with a bucket of grain when they already have mounds available in the free-choice feeder?
It becomes a dance, albeit a frustrating one of two left feet. Get one or two pigs in the enclosure, close the outer panel, watch them panic and, using their snouts, toss the panels aside. This goes on for close to an hour, with Cindy and I both becoming increasingly ill-humored and mud-spattered. Finally, we manage to get one hog into the trailer and closed off in the front compartment. We have three eggs left to entice the remaining two hogs. At this point, my hands are cut and my sleeves are caked to the elbows in mud.
It is at this juncture that an opportunity presents itself, when two hogs step over the invisible line and lumber toward the trailer. Cindy is before them, dropping the last eggs to lure them on. I’m in the rear, unlashing a panel to slide in behind them and block their escape.
I guess it’s the racket of the panels and the trailer, but about the time I make to slide the panel behind them, they break for cover. They spook all the other pigs, and together they take down all four panels and run to the other side of the wooded paddock. That is when I fall into the muck—my fall being temporarily broken by a spike of metal that rips through the seat of my pants, my boxers, and my buttock.
I stand up, pants tattered, the cold wind whipping through the fabric onto my bleeding cheek, determined to prove my superiority. I began to hurl the panels about in a tantrum. Cindy suggests we break for coffee.
After stripping on the porch and having my wounds attended to, I sit down with Cindy to regroup. A new plan emerges: an extra panel, more chains to hold them together, extra eggs from the coop to entice the two hogs, a couple of wheelbarrows of hay. We march back out with new confidence.
We toss hay in front of the trailer to give the illusion of comfortable bedding and create easier purchase into the trailer. Perching our eggs on the edge of the trailer within easy reach, we chain the panels tight and call the hogs. They come running. In fairly short order, we manage to get one into the trailer. We call it quits. Two hogs in the trailer does indeed beat 10 in the bush.
Meanwhile, the truck to pull the trailer is still halfway down the drive. I had last tried to move it mid-afternoon. Tossing the keys to Cindy, I sit down on the stoop of the potting shed to watch her attempt. Success! Another 30 minutes and we have the trailer hooked up, have all the chores done, and are in the house at 8 p.m. Is it any wonder we work two full-time jobs to pay for this kind of leisure activity?
And the damnedest thing? We get to do this again tomorrow evening with another group of hogs going to market.
This Farm Note from the archives was written in January 2011. This is before I began to regularly post on the blog. The Farm Notes began in 1999 and were shared for those years with a group of friends and family. Over the coming year I will post periodically from those archived Notes.