During our time in the country, once we expanded our farm inventory to include animals, our menagerie – and annual home-grown supply of food – wouldn’t have been complete without a few pigs. The spring during which our farm population was increased by the arrival of our second child, 25 baby chicks, and the birth of our first two calves, we also acquired two piglets. Each spring after that for the duration of our years there, as our kids would point out, Dad brought two little pigs home in a box in the back of our Civic hatchback and then later, when it was cold out, the pigs disappeared in a truck and came back in boxes (wrapped in butcher paper) in the back of our hatchback.
Initially, our older son, who was 3 years old the first time we brought them home, showed the same enthusiasm for the pigs as for the chicks and calves. In keeping with having named our first calf Pebbles, he pronounced that the new piglets would be called Fred and Barney. But interest in the pigs was not long-lasting, and neither boy ever seemed to mind the fact that our pigs were destined for the freezer. Nor were our pigs named after the first year.
Lessons learned from raising pigs included:
1. Pigs prefer a clean pigpen, not a pigsty.
It turns out that the expression “happy as a pig in s**t” is a myth. There is no doubt that cleaning a pigpen is no fun, but pigs try to help. Ours made every effort to concentrate their “soil” in one spot and to stay as far away from it as possible for all other activities, not unlike a cat with a litter box. This is as opposed to my beloved cows, who I’m sorry to say never seemed to care one way or another where or in what they were standing, lying down or eating.
2. Pig manure really stinks.
I often contemplated which was the worse smell, pig manure or chicken manure. It’s a tough question! I usually landed on pig manure as being more offensive, although it’s not as eye-watering as concentrated chicken manure! As I said, the pigs tried to stay away from it themselves, being intelligent and clean(ish) animals. It does make me wonder about the possibility of having “urban pigs” – as opposed to urban chickens – and whether it would be possible to overcome this aromatic challenge. Perhaps the miniature pigs, like the potbellied variety, are manageable.
3. Pigs embrace a healthy diet, after a fashion.
Like our other farm animals, our pigs loved the vegetable scraps from our garden. That doesn’t mean to say they wouldn’t pig out on less wholesome food if given the chance! 🙂
4. Bigger is not necessarily better.
As with our chickens, the first year we had pigs we were so impressed with how well they were growing that we fed them for longer than we had originally intended. The result with our chickens, as I reported previously, was a bigger but tougher bird. The result with our pigs was the same astoundingly flavourful meat, but a far thicker layer of fat than was necessary. The extra few weeks of feeding just went into the outer fat layer. Lesson learned.
5. Farmers are sensitive too.
Men (well, at least my husband and his farming partner, our next-door neighbour) showed real empathy for the young pigs when the vet came to castrate them!
6. Keep the pigs in their pen.
If pigs get loose, getting them back in is a challenge, even just two of them. Especially when their escape has been reported by someone coming to your door at dusk to say that our pigs were out on the road.
If you’ve got the proper setup for a few pigs, give them a try. You are in for a treat.