Friday, November 12, 2010


Paul and I have been swapping pig tales (pig tails, hahahaha). I’ll let him lead off. WARNING: NOT for PETA people.


First ones I ever raised, the old neighbor down the road and I both had bad Canadian thistle patches in our garden areas, because we thought we could get rid of them with constant tilling. So, we hit on the idea of hogs to grub them out and eat them. We bought seven I think for the first go and put them in Ed's fenced off garden area first.

We knew we had to neuter them, but my only experience was with sheep and cattle. For one reason or another, mostly because we just didn't want to do it, we waited until they were about 100 lbs apiece. Finally, one afternoon we drank enough homemade wine to take on the project. Went about like what you'd expect, but we got the job done finally. Took about a gallon of wine.

His wife, Dee, teased us for years about Ed and Paul's hog rodeo. Those pigs were terrors and our hippie fencing skills lacking. We were always having to round them up and it was a real chore when it was time to get them into my garden. Trying to herd pigs 3/4 mile is an adventure in humor, patience and sweat.

Guess I didn't have electricity yet, because after we butchered the hogs here, I tried dry curing all the hams, hocks and bacons. Lost a good portion of it to bone sour. Lot of effort and a lot of wasted meat, I was angry with myself, but I guess that's how you learn. We had a great time making all the sausage at Ed's place, since neither of us had any experience at the time. Those turned out great though, even in our homemade smoker.


Thanks, Paul. Now I'll tell YOU a hog story! After Bob divorced me, I just went on as though we were still married. In fact, according to the law, if I had gone to a lawyer, that meant the divorce was invalidated. But I just ignored the whole situation, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to think about it. Bob's mother thought it was indecent to stay on in the house in town, so I went out to our little ranch on Two Med.

About this time one of Bob's best friends and hunting buddies, who lived just downstream, decided he was going to get rich raising pigs. But he was doing some heavy drinking, so he just let them go loose to rustle for themselves. They worked their way to our little ranch (mostly thistles since the flood took all the topsoil in '64) and they thought the best rustling was right under the edge of the house, which was very old -- log at the core. They could actually raise the house off its alleged foundations by rooting with their snouts.

Towards spring my mother in Portland decided I should be checked out and sent my brother and his dog to see how I was doing. Actually, at the time I thought it was me doing HIM a big favor by getting him out of Portland for a week. He had a black powder shotgun that he loaded up with no lead -- just powder and paper -- and he and the dog went out into the brush to pig hunt. They crawled around having a wonderful time and I don't think the pigs were very impressed.

Later, after I'd moved out to a decrepit house in East Glacier, Bob and the grandkids were staying at the ranch and Bob lost his temper. He used a real load and killed a massive hog. Then he called me in EG and wanted me to drive down and help him and the kids drag the monster into the pickup so he could haul it up into the mountains for the bears to eat the evidence. His friend had a terrible temper and a massive fist.

I turned him down. First time I did that. Sometimes a divorce happens in pieces. I don't know how he got rid of that pig, but the horses were out there, so he probably used them.

At animal control we had an officer who had handled pigs. He taught us that a sheet of plywood or even a sheet of cardboard would turn a pig. They won't challenge something solid looking -- mostly. I did some reading which recommended stuffing a bucket over the pig's head and picking up its back legs. Then you can run it around like a wheelbarrow. Of course, there are size limits to this method.


So, it was time to finish off the new gestation barn. We sided the interior metal on frame buildings with OSB and commenced with painting so the entire facility could be hosed down for cleaning. First coat went on fine. When I started the second coat, I couldn't keep track of where I was at, because white on white, in that light just made your eyes swim. Decided to mix a different color in with the white to make it stand out. When Ben got back he was a little disgruntled that the interior of his hog barn was bright pink! Don't mix red and white paint. The last coat covered it up nicely though.

The hogs were adept at tearing out their fences, as I've probably mentioned. The electric fence we used was a very powerful one and they'd knocked the wire loose in their deep wallow. Since I was already wearing rubber boots and rubber gloves, I figured I'd be safe to reattach the wire to the posts. Just to be sure, I touched the wire with one hand and was fine. So, I grabbed on and bent over to attach it to the fence post. Zap, Bam, Sploosh! The shock nailed me so hard, I hit my head hard on the metal post hard enough to briefly knock myself out and fell backwards into the mire.

When I got my wits about me, I quickly realized I was stuck. Legs buried in sticky mud up to the knees and I couldn't find bottom with my arms, or roll over. The hogs were taking a real interest in my predicament, and all I could think about were all the horror stories I'd read of farmers getting eaten by their hogs. Fortunately, Ben was close enough to hear my wails for help and wade in to tip me back up so I could work my way out.

The hog business started from a 4H project for their kids. Hogs were one of the few money making farm endeavors around here and there were maybe 10 good sized operations scattered through the county. Ben was trying to find anything that would make his place show a little black on the books, so started building a modern containment hog building. I hired on the first Winter, building outdoor "barns" to contain their growing herd. By winter’s end, we must have had a dozen 8x16 shelters full of hogs, oh, and a VW bus hog shelter. Them hogs was stylin', we joked about trying to find over-sized sun glasses for them and some tunes for their rig. It was a big learning curve for all of us, trying to contain a whole lotta hogs mostly with hog wire and electric fences.

The following Summer, they built the first containment hog building which featured raised manure pits, with the idea of eventually adding wire flooring and hog crates for farrowing. The owners went back to Indiana for six weeks or so during the Winter and I'd make a couple trips a day up there to take care of the hogs, many of which were now living inside the floorless manure pits. They were easy to get in there when they were wiener size, but we didn't think ahead as to how we were going to get them out of there when it was time to send them off to market. Trying to capture and manhandle 250 pound hogs out of waist high pits was more than two brawny men could handle, as we found out when the owner threw his back out. After that I tried building a series of ramps, but we still were greenhorns about moving hogs around and had quite the time getting them out.

There are definite techniques for moving hogs. Hog whispering if you will. Once you have that mastered, hogs are great, but it was a very long process for all of us.

We tried every method there was to move hogs. In the barns it was a little easier because of the aisles. There we could use hog panels with some effect. The first hogs we shipped, I tried most everything to get them loaded in the truck, but having been raised inside, they were reluctant to head for daylight. I tried starving them out and laying trails of food, hoping I'd come back in the morning and find them all comfy and laid out in the inviting straw on the back of the truck. Didn't happen. Finally had to construct a tunnel to the truck.

Left to my own designs, I could load the shippers myself. It just took patience, a Zen like calm and an imposing, but movable force. Linda was always throwing a wrench in things. An impatient and firey red-head (Strawberry, remember?), she tried to help me out one day. I had 15 or so hogs all headed for the truck ramp and when the first one was about to step into the truck, she reached in with an electric prod and hit him on the nose. Chaos ensued and I got run over by the whole herd. That was a common occurrence, she just didn't get the hang of moving hogs and had to be banished from the barns on shipping days.

The bucket method works to a limited degree with single hogs, but size makes a big difference. If you can get the bucket over their head, they'll back up trying to get out of it, but there is a steep learning curve in how to steer them.

No comments: