We (okay, mostly Kevin) found the solution in local dumpsters. A frame of pallets, walls and floor made of discarded pressboard, salvaged tar paper on top, and we had a shelter. Adjustability came from bales of straw, which we stacked in the shelter. As the pigs grow, we’ll use the straw for bedding and gradually make room for their increasing bulk.
At last, we were ready. We borrowed a large dog crate from a friend with a large dog and set off to Ten of Us Farm, the nearest bona-fide pig farm.
When we decided on pigs, we looked into some of the heritage breeds such as Gloucester Old Spot, Large Black and Duroc. Tamworths caught our attention because they were said to thrive in forests. But getting Tamworth piglets meant paying a lot more and driving a lot farther.
I’m also not sure I see the value of a purebred pig. If a breed that humans created in the first place is dying out, it’s probably because it has outlived its usefulness. Bob Flynn, proprietor of Ten of Us, has been breeding his own strain of pigs for about 30 years, and it’s naturally in his interest to breed a kind that thrives in our local conditions. We had visited the farm a few weeks before we picked up the pigs, and his stock looked beautiful to our non-expert eyes. Bob’s pigs are clean and healthy-looking, they have access to pasture and dry sawdust bedding, and they have plenty of space. We decided we wanted to support our local pig farmer and buy local pigs.
We read about what to look for in a piglet. When it comes to pigs, size definitely matters. You’re trying to get the pig to 240 pounds as quickly as possible, so you’re looking for the ones that will grow, grow, grow. Look for eyes set wide apart. Look for big feet. Look for meaty hams. We were ready to make our choice.
Bob wasn’t there that day, and his grandson led us to the pen where the weaners were corralled. I’d imagined us standing at the stall, watching the pigs for a while, and then choosing the three that called to us. But pig farmers are busy people, and the words “I kinda like that big black one” were barely out of my mouth before that big black one had been caught by her hind legs (that’s how you pick up a piglet) and was halfway to the truck.
I’m not at all sure how we picked the other two. It’s all a blur of snouts and tails and squeals of outrage. In about seven seconds, three little pigs were in the crate in our truck. For better or for worse — and a total of $225 — they were our pigs now.
Although it was the beginning of June when we picked them up, the weather was cold and drizzly. When we put them in the pen, the two smaller ones were shivering. We didn’t know whether it was due to cold or nervousness or a combination: Our research indicated that it took a few days for pigs to get accustomed to new surroundings. But we were worried. We put lots of straw in the shelter so they could burrow in to bed down, and hoped that the big black one would help keep the smaller two warm.
She must have because, by morning, they were out and about, exploring their 2,000 square feet of woods. They seemed just fine.
Seven happy months
Those first couple of days, we checked on them constantly. Were they eating? Yes, they were. Drinking? Check. Were they sleeping in the shelter? Yes, and often. Pooping in the shelter? No, thank goodness.
And, most important, they didn’t seem to be bent on breaching the fence. There was scratching up against the wire panels, and there was rooting at the base, but it seemed to be ordinary piggy behavior and not an attempt at escape. Not that I can necessarily read the signs of a pig planning a breakout, but they definitely weren’t making ropes out of bedsheets. They gave every indication of being happy.
I’d long since decided what I wanted to name the pigs. One of them was going to be Louis Pasture. The smart one would be Swinestein. But animals have a way of naming themselves, and the best-laid pig-naming plans fall by the wayside when you’re nose-to-snout with an unbelievably cute spotted piglet. She’s Spot before you know you’ve named her. Kevin started calling the other two, who look similar except that one is big and one is small, Doctor Evil and Mini-Me. I couldn’t countenance naming two of my three pigs after silly movie characters, so Mini-Me became Tiny. Doctor Evil, alas, remained Doctor Evil, but sometimes we just call her Doc. A name gets momentum, and then there’s nothing you can do about it.
If I had a nickel for every person who advised me to name the pigs Bacon, Sausage and Prosciutto, or to not name them at all, I could . . . well . . . I could feed them for about a day and a half. Don’t get attached. Don’t think of them as pets. Remember that you’re going to kill them.