Posts Tagged ‘raising a pig’

Piggies and PB&J’s

When in doubt tell the truth.
-Mark Twain

I had one of those parenting moments the other day. Y’know, where  you’re faced with a hard question and don’t know quite what to say? I wouldn’t mind so much, except I’m not a parent. Let me explain. Cory has nieces. Two little angels that I love more than I think prudent for a merely, two-year relationship, but I digress. Hallie, 5 years old and wise beyond her years, came up to the apartment when Cory was still at work. After hitting me up for a PB&J, we settled in for a nice chat.

We talked about the weather, unicorns, chickens, the staying power of stickers; y’know, good stuff. Then little Hallie fixed me with a look reserved for 5 year olds and Disney Princesses…

“Jen, where did the piggies go? I know you used to have piggies! Where did they go?!”

I froze.

This was the moment I’d been dreading. I had been told over and over, NOT to tell Hallie (the perceived Drama Queen) where the pigs went. I had been warned that any attempt at the truth would result in tears and I was not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES to tell Hallie the truth.

I looked into her earnest little eyes, took a deep breath and said: “Hallie, that’s a hard question. Do you know where bacon comes from?”

She thought for a minute and then she said, wide-eyed, “You turned them into BACON!”

I nodded.

“But…but…why didn’t you just buy bacon at the grocery store?!”

Good question.

“Well Hallie, all bacon, even the bacon that comes from the grocery store, come from a piggie.”

She looked confused.

“Sometimes, the pigs that get made into bacon for the grocery store don’t lead very happy lives. We wanted to make sure the bacon that we ate, came from VERY happy pigs.”

“Oh.” She still looked confused. “But why didn’t you just wait until the pigs died [naturally] and then make them into bacon?”

Another good question. In my opinion more difficult to answer.

“Pigs get very big. After many years they get too big to keep, and the bacon gets too fatty to eat. Pigs are best eaten after about one year.”

“Well,” she sighed and flung her hands down onto the table, “I guess some pigs are made into bacon. I guess that’s just the way it is. It’s sad though. I liked the pigs.”


While the above is a bit paraphrased, there were no tears. Just questions. As far as I’m concerned, very intelligent questions. Hallie eats bacon. No one would hesitate to show a child where broccoli comes from, and while there may be a world of difference between a pig and a broccoli plant, I think it behooves us all to teach children a reverence for their food sources. Just sayin’.

I’m not a parent, but I’ve decided that if you’re doing something you have to lie to a 5-year-old about, you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

And just for the record…”Daddy (or Mommy) and I need a little privacy right now”, is NOT a lie.


Living with Pigs

Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

-W. Somerset Maugham

I’ve been trying to figure out how best to proceed with the pig slaughter. Cory is convinced that I should be away from home when the deed is done to ensure I don’t hurl myself between pig and bullet, but I’m not so convinced. I’ve spent the last few days researching how to kill a pig. I wouldn’t recommend this as a pleasant pastime, especially if you have access to YouTube, but my overall fear has diminished. As they say, knowledge is power. My favorite account so far has been by Chuck Wooster of Sunrise Farm in White River Junction, Vermont. In his book Living with Pigs, Wooster devotes more than 2 full pages to “emotional preparation” for slaughter day, something no other source of my acquaintance did. He describes how he felt after his first pig slaughter…

“I was tired and dirty and ready for sleep…But I also felt a distinct skip in my step and an enormous sense of competence. It wasn’t just the pride of a job well done, though I certainly felt some of that. It was the pride of tackling a job that most people find too horrifying to even consider, let alone to discuss in polite company, and discovering that it wasn’t so bad after all. Discovering, in fact, that it was a job full of richness and meaning, wonder and learning. An unforgettable experience…”

This description strengthened my resolve to at least be there. I don’t think I’m ready to kill a pig myself. I’m terrified that my lack of experience would somehow result in suffering for Walter and Flo, something I could never forgive myself for, but I think I need to at least be there. I can’t leave the house one morning, scratch Walter behind the ears and then come home that night to find him in the freezer. I don’t need any more disconnect between my food and its source; I’ve had that my whole life. The goal now is to firmly and permanently make the connections, and maybe that means seeing this through to the end.

A Day No Pigs Would Die

Procrastination is the key to prolonging life.

– Unknown

I feel like a bit of an ass. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and the pigs are still with us. The man who was supposed to help us with the slaughter never showed. I learned later that he was only ever coming if a particular butcher shop, Rosie’s, was open. I guess it wasn’t. I spent the better part of the morning glancing nervously out the window and imagining the sounds of trucks pulling into the driveway. At noon it was pretty clear he wasn’t coming, so we went out to play with the pigs and take some pictures.

While I’m relieved, I have that awful, bitter taste you get when you prolong the wait before something unpleasant and inevitable. I’m never going to feel “ready” to kill them. The longer we wait the more attached I get. This morning we looked out the window to see Walter wrestle a branch into the pig hut. All I could think was “They have shit to do! They have an agenda just like everybody else. What if Walter and Flo have projects they’re working on and we kill them and they never get to finish?” I realize it sounds crazy but what if he has a plan? He could have hopes, dreams, a Honey-Do list! And we just end it all.

 Of course one could argue that they might not even exist if we hadn’t procured them for food. Ten to one I would still be buying pork products from the super market without a second thought. For the first time in my life I really know where my food comes from. I suppose I could’ve kept my distance; not gotten to know them so intimately, but I sorta felt like that was cheating. I wanted to know exactly what it was I was going to eat. Isn’t that the only way to know if it’s a good idea to eat it?

It’s all terribly uncomfortable.

Pigs in the Moonlight

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
-Oscar Wilde
Well, tomorrow’s the day. Pig Day. I’m far more upset than I thought I’d be. I keep thinking up wild scenarios in which they escape or are spared. Like maybe by the time we wake up tomorrow they will be engaging in Bonnie and Clyde style hijinks halfway to Rutland, having jumped the fence during the night. Or maybe scientists will discover that pig spit cures cancer. Of course they will have to announce this before 9 tomorrow morning, but in an infinite universe anything’s possible.

Tonight after dinner, Cory and I went out to the pigs to say goodbye. I generally don’t believe in magic (or schmaltz), but I can’t help but describe the visit as magical. The moon was bright, giving their fuzzy pink hides a luminescent glow. We brought them an apple and two chocolate chip cookies each, and then we scratched their bellies. It was a relatively warm night, making them active and eager to play. I was glad that their last night could be warm and especially beautiful. As we stood looking at our friends, Cory said that maybe we weren’t cut out to be pig farmers. Maybe we had to farm something we didn’t need to kill. I said even garlic dies when you pick it. Cory rubbed Walter behind the ears and said he thought there was a wide world between Walter and a head of garlic. Then I cried a little.

When we finally went inside I looked back at Walter and Flo. They were standing very still, nuzzling in the moonlight.



All the best stories are but one story in reality – the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.

-A. C. Benson

Walter and Flo Before the Snow

Yes…the pigs are still with us. The first slaughter date was December 2nd. Those of you in the know may realize that December 2nd is my birthday. When Cory *remembered* the significance of the day, he called and changed the date of the appointment. A week later, the night before the rescheduled big day, Cory’s father fell 26 feet out of a tree while deer hunting. He broke a hip, a shoulder-blade, a clavicle and 11 ribs. Needless to say, we’ve all been a little busy and the pigs got lucky. Cory and I, well, mostly Cory, built them a snug new house and we filled it with hay to keep them warm. Now it seems like they will be with us forever.
Last week Cory decided to take the pigs for a walk. He wanted them to see something of the world before they were slaughtered.  This was on the advice of his father, morphine-addled from his hospital bed. The fact that Cory followed it, is an entirely different matter. When the man you love looks up at you with genuine innocence while fiddling with an electric fence so he can let a 300 pound pig “out”, you fully comprehend the meaning of the word apprehension.
During this first incident, only Walter made the leap to freedom. Flo, neurotic as always, stayed behind and squealed while Walter, realizing there was nothing stopping him, took off at a gallop down the driveway. Cory thought this was great! Walter’s first taste of freedom! He must  be so happy! To me he looked more manic than anything, but who am I to judge the emotional life of another species? We were able to get him back without too much fuss, but for the rest of the day, and I do mean the entire day, Walter stood staring intently at the spot in the fence Cory had loosened for him.
Both Cory and his father were very pleased by this first “free-range” pig trial. Then yesterday when I arrived home after an hour and a half of grocery shopping, there were tracks in the freshly fallen snow that had not been there when I left. They were cloven, like a deer, and alongside were larger, human-shaped prints. There was even a spot where the two tracks seemed to collided as if, for just the briefest of moments, the human had become air-bourne and then was dragged several feet before being unceremoniously released.
When I got up to the apartment, one look at a sheepish Cory, told the rest of the tale. It had been a jail-break pure and simple. Walter was ringleader with Flo squealing along behind. At first Cory had thought they would come back of their own accord. After about 15 minutes, he decided he’d better give chase. I sincerely wish I had been there. With my camera. Apparently it took an hour but they were finally corralled back onto their acre.
I keep asking Cory when we’re going to get the pigs “done”, and he keeps assuring me he’s going to call when he “gets a chance”. We’re all in a bit of a pickle concerning the little beasts. I love them and I don’t want to eat them, but I still eat pork products with nary a thought. I sometimes realize mid-bite that I’m eating an animal that I admire on a social, and dare I say, spiritual level.  I can’t seem to connect pork with pigs and Cory has had the same revelation. Maybe it will take actually eating pigs we know to permanently connect the meat with the animal.
I had a dream the other night that Walter had learned to say my name. “Jenny.” When I asked why he had picked that particular word to learn, he explained that in light of the circumstances (looming pig slaughter) he felt that was a good place to start. It was all very disconcerting.

Chicken Souls

The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.
-Martina Navratilova 

After travel and internet difficulties I’m back! The chickens are huge, stinky and, well, not cute. They’re outside in a chicken trailer, so I guess they’re not technically free-range but they’ve got plenty of room. They huddle together in a big group in a sunny spot or scrabble in pairs over food or water. They’re fairly hideous and I must say I feel no attachment to them at all.  I’m ready and willing to fry up and eat them.

While it’s a struggle to see the chickens as individuals, it’s still upsetting to lose one. The chicken trailer has (or I should say, had, it’s since been remedied) small triangular spaces in each corner where a chicky could (apparently) get trapped. Cory found the unfortunate chick stuffed into one of the corners with a broken neck. Cory suspected fowl play. Just kidding…we think he got pushed up under the plywood and his little neck couldn’t take it. Danny fired up the excavator and disposed of the body. Well, at least that’s what he said he was going to do, it may have been a joke…it’s hard to tell.  

The pigs are doing well. I bought them a baby pool to play in when it gets hot. They love it. I can’t express how satisfying it was to see them plop down in it the first time. It’s extraordinary how different my feelings are for the chickens versus the pigs. I think of the pigs as food, there’s no question. When I look at Walter’s back legs I clearly see little hams, but I also look at their faces and see clearly defined personalities and preferences. Walter likes peaches better than watermelon. Flo will always choose the melon. Only having two pigs it’s easy to see them as unique little souls. If I had fifty, this might not be so.

I’d like to think I’m not swayed to prefer to pigs merely because they’re cuter. I’d like to think I’m not that shallow. We have 25 chickens so it’s much more difficult to get to know each one, and that’s assuming they even have unique personalities. I don’t really have enough experience with chickens to really know. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go out to the chicken trailer and sit with the chickys…I’ll report my findings.

Pinky Progress and Chicks

I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. unfortunately, the man-made sound never equaled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.

-Alfred Hitchcock

The pigs have grown. They’re now too big to both eat out of the feeder at the same time, so they’ve taken to scrabbling over it. Walter, who’s successfully increased his size margin over Flo, eats first. She fights him the entire time, standing off to the side screaming and squealing, until he moves to finally let her in. Sometimes the noise reaches such a fevered pitch that I haul a few handfuls of grain out of the feeder and make Flo a pile. And then they fight over that.

Walter’s growing hams.
The chickens have arrived…
 26 meat birds. We’re currently keeping them in a large cardboard box. At first it was in the sunroom of Cory’s parent’s house, but by the second morning they smelled so foul they had to be moved to the garage.

Because the chicks are so fragile they give you 1 or 2 extra in your batch, in case any die. Cory is categorically against losing even one, so he’s been diligent about keeping them warm and watered. Fresh water is important to prevent constipation; a chicky killer!