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Monday, November 5, 2018

Piglets - finally - and cautiously throwing caution to the wind.

The history of pigs on this farm is very similar to the history of the next generation of this farm.  I can't say whether my great-grandparents played safe bets or whether they were gamblers of the truest sense.  I know that my great-grandmother worked too hard, often on the farm alone with hired hands and a team of twelve horses in her hand while my great-grandfather was off chasing his next business venture.  I am eternally grateful for her hard work and that of her sons, since I am afforded the opportunity to show my son what it is like to live in this tiny corner of northern Vermont.  The history of pigs on this farm has been a balance of safe bet versus, 'you have got to be kidding me, I am five months pregnant, I can't take care of piglets!'

Much like the the first chickens that Little Man's father brought home, the first piglets arrived with a hobbled together pig hut, some scrap lumber, an old carpet and a couple of pallets stood on end.  They arrived in a dog kennel in the back of a minivan and we managed to keep them alive, raise them amazingly well for not knowing what we were doing and provided almost 400 lbs of pork for ourselves and to trade with for beef and hay. The next set arrived with only slightly better accommodations, but at least one year's experience under our belt.  Although the first two were a welcome surprise, the second two were planned for even if we had no real idea of the scope of raising pigs to pork on pasture.  Our first pig illness hit during the summer of our second two pigs, alongside a visit from my step-children.  You learn fast when a recent farm transplant is looking up at you with big eyes as night is beginning to fall, your infant is screaming for you to feed him and your young pig is down in the field with a raging fever.

From there we rescued a sow who was bound for sausage.  We thought long, read a lot and then tempted fate with a terribly unsuccessful artificial insemination.  Our poor sow even ended up having a false pregnancy going so far as to get big, fill with milk and then - nothing.  After spending some serious change for this little farm on mail order sperm, I was hooked on pigs and wagered on a new boar.  One from the same heritage as our sow.

I drove three hours to lower New York state, spent better than half a weeks paycheck and brought home an eight week old, heritage breed boar from one of the best reputed breeders around.  Zeb was carefully raised and he tried his darndest, but the sow was too old and never got pregnant, no matter how hard he tried.  She was pretty old, so she filled our freezer.

Six months later, I purchased a gilt from friends two towns over.  I was determined to make this pig operation work here on the farm.  We waited until the time was right, took down the electric fence between Zeb and Little One and let nature take its course.  Well the first heat cycle passed, and not for Zeb's lack of trying, but there was no pregnancy.  Then the same farm we got Little One from had a sow that they were going to send for sausage; instead they delivered her to us and we were thrilled to have an opportunity for Zeb's good lines to meet with Sally's and for certain we would have spring piglets.  21 day cycle, after 21 day cycle - each time we were met with the girls in heat.  Although he was trying Zeb was just not getting the job done.

In December I had seen the posts about some boars for sale in lower Vermont.  I already had a boar, so I glossed over them hoping my girls were growing their next generation.  When heat came again in January, after the girls had been with Zeb for almost four months, I knew, for certain, that there was a problem.  I only assumed that problem was Zeb.  Two weeks later, that fateful Facebook post popped up again in my news feed.  The two boars were still available.

It was late at night in January and I tempted fate, almost 11:00 p.m., I messaged the seller.  He immediately responded and told me that both boys were still available and that they were only about 225 lbs.  I jumped on the opportunity, talked with him over a couple of days and we made an arrangement for a payment and then scheduled a weekend where I could travel down to get him.  Then the weather turned.  We couldn't have a second boar on the farm without the two of them fighting and there was too much snow on the ground to get Zeb from the pasture to the freezer without serious excavation.  It looked like my impulse was all for naught and there would never be piglets on this farm.  Well, the following weekend the weather turned, my cousin was available with the big tractor, a friend could come and help with the major parts and my mom could come and help with the packaging and labeling.  It was a sad day as the pig with the longest history with us was no longer.  The one pig I had figured as the future of my life here on the farm was being relegated to the chest freezer.

The following night I put a plywood wall between the second row of seats and the rear of the minivan, put a tarp on the floor and added a third of a bale of hay.  Saturday morning, I drove 100 miles south into the unknown and completely on a whim and loaded a 300 lb boar into the back of my minivan.

We got him home, and although it appeared he was trying his hardest - he was too small to effectively breed Sally and Little One wanted nothing to do with him.  I was concerned that I had spent far too much money and far too much time on another failed piglet venture.  Each month I watched as  at least one of the two of them appeared to come into heat.  When the heat stopped,  I saw no signs of pregnancy.  I bought a doppler ( I now know I spent far too little money on too cheap of a unit) only to hear nothing week after week.

Little man's father and I were having serious discussions about who was going to go into the freezer first.  Too many months with no visible signs of pregnancy, an ever increasing feed bill and a significant lack of cash flow.  I said to him - the one time I was spontaneous, threw caution to the wind and tried something just a little crazy and now I have to consider how much room there is in the freezer and that we might be done, completely done with pigs on the farm.  I was heart broken.  But the fateful day, 3 mos, 3 weeks and 3 days from the last confirmed heat cycle were just a week away.  We would wait two more weeks before we made a final decision.

Little One did not disappoint, although I was sure that Sally was the one that would be delivering first if it was at all possible that she was pregnant.  After a night of violent thunderstorms, Little One was in the pasture, pulling down old fence posts to make a nest in the hut.  She would eat, drink, then tear out another piece of fence and try to fit it into the hut.

Exactly one week after arriving on the farm, Cole did his job, and three months, three weeks and three days after that, the first piglets to be born on this farm arrived.  Eight were born and seven survived.

One week later Sally started grabbing some of those same fence posts and pulling them into the other hut.  Unfortunately her labor was not so successful - six piglets were born but only two survived.  Almost five months later we have eight healthy 'piglets.'  They remain for sale as breeding stock or as Christmas roasts.

This level-headed, normally cautious, list-building woman threw caution to the wind an bought a boar, sight-unseen, on facebook late on a Tuesday night.  Then she followed through, actually went down and got him in the back of a minivan!!  Perhaps this woman should learn to be a little more spontaneous.  She has learned not to be so cautious.  She will attempt a little more risk and sense of adventure... 

On a whim she called the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) about a grant for a high tunnel.  The deadline was the following day - she scrambled, applied and was awarded a grant for a high tunnel.  She now has 90 days to get the tunnel constructed and the plastic on.  Did she mention that it is the beginning of November and it snowed two days ago...

Time to jump in - to hell with the consequences!

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