Today I decided to share something that I ran across the other day on our old blog.
This was written by my dad several years ago.
It happened in 1999, when we were preparing for Y2K and had just rented a small farm out in Pine Mountain (location of Callaway Gardens). I was about 5-6 at the time, but I still remember it. Anyway, I hope you get a laugh out of it, as we look back at it and laugh now. It just goes to show what some aspiring homesteaders/farmers must endure for the sake of experience. :)
Note: My Mom is Kim, my Dad is Kevin, Amber is my cousin, and my Mom's brother is David, just so you don't get too mixed up. Oh, and Mike is my brother.
In 1998 we were members of a great Baptist church in Georgia. We were living in a big house with a mini-van and the all of the comforts and nuisances of sub-division life. We had always talked about having a farm one day, or even just a lot of land, but we never really knew how or when we would get there. Y2K changed all of that. A group of people within the church, led by the pastor, was seeking a large tract of land to move onto in preparation for the potential effects of the millennium bug. We decided to have our family join the group.We never did find land as a group, but most of us did end up finding and moving onto our own mini-farms by the summer of 1999. We sold our house and rented a house and 40 acres in Pine Mountain Valley. Except for the house, it was actually a beautiful place and was what remained of a 1930s farm with pastures, a barn and a chicken coop. We spent lots of money buying books off the internet about small farms, pig raising, milk cows and more. We studied like it was a college course and actually became pretty knowledgeable, or so we thought, much like college students.
The old place had once been a hog farm and still had a pig-pen nestled in a hickory grove near the back of one pasture. The pen was about 50 feet long by 30 feet wide and still had an old hog-feeder and watering trough inside. We were set up to be in pork production if nothing else, we were just waiting for the right time to start.
The time came one hot afternoon while I was at work. Kim called me and told me that her niece knew a woman with several pigs that she wanted to get rid of for free. They were all pot-bellied pigs except for one huge Chester White sow. Amber (Kim's niece) wanted a pot-bellied piglet and we could have the sow. They were located across the river in Alabama, and Kim's brother David had agreed to come over and help me get the hog into his pickup truck and take her home for us. We met at the woman's farm around 6:00pm and the following series of events is one reason of two that David does not like to come to our house anymore.Her hog pen was on a hillside, it was about 100 feet wide by 300 feet long with a muddy creek at the bottom and a catch-pen at the top. She supplied us with a cage to hold the sow, and so our plan was set; get the sow into the catch pen and close the door; open the other end of the pen, and into the cage she goes. Good plan. The problem is that with pigs you basically have one shot at making them do something they would not ordinarily do. After that they think you are out to murder them and they are going to get the attention of the world before they let you.
My one shot was ruined when I decided to get Amber her piglet first. The woman put out some food and all of the piggies came a runnin'. They were lined up nice and neat at the trough; I just stood behind them while Amber picked out her favorite. "Easy". I thought, just like picking out a kitten from a new litter. Not quite. Amber made her choice and I simply leaned over and picked the little black piggy up.I thought someone had stepped on one of them by accident, but it was coming from the one that I held, a noise so loud and so shrill that it was like standing next to a broken steam whistle. When the other pigs heard it, it was like an air-raid siren that told them that they were all going to die. Pigs ran screaming at the speed of light in every direction, leaving me in a huge cloud of dust, holding the instigator. Our 7 year old son, Mike, who had climbed into the pen with me, ran to the fence, scaled it, and jumping over was shouting "Bail out!, Bail out!".
After the dust cleared I walked over to Amber and handed her the pig. In my dress clothes, covered in dirt and dust, with nary another pig in sight she just quietly said "Thanks Uncle Kevin".David climbed into the pen and we began the task of trapping the sow. She and all of the other pigs had ended up at the bottom of the hill, trying to hide in 6 inches of mud. We figured all we had to do was run her back up the hill and come at her from each side, giving her no where to go but into the pen. We got her to the top of the hill easily enough, it was when she saw that her only option was to get into the catch pen that she decided this was not a good thing. I was confident that we were almost done, after all, where else could she go? If she tried to run between us I would just block her way, and David and I would push her back into the pen.Hogs are funny creatures, pound for pound they are probably some of the strongest and most solidly built animals in the world. The funny thing is that they don't know it. They are totally driven by hunger and/or fear. Dirk Van Loon, who wrote a great book about pig raising, said "Nothing can totally contain a hog, they are kept in only by stupidity, so keep them stupid". Unfortunately, I had not yet read his book. Mrs. Sow indeed waited until the last second, then turned and headed into the 10 foot gap between David and I at full speed. I quickly jumped in front of her and knelt down with my arms out like a big stop sign. Pigs can't read, nor have they ever seen a stop sign. When she hit me, it was like I had been hit by a car, she never even slowed down or swerved, just ran right over me like a freight train on a rail. After I staggered to my feet, David asked if I was alright while trying to keep from laughing. I replied yes, but I didn't mean it.
Now I was sweating and dirty. David and I walked back down to the bottom of the hill and started over. For the next 45 minutes we chased the pig up the hill, and she would run back down the hill, over and over again. The whole time we were doing this David was making comments like "You know they sell pork at the grocery store now." Finally, after an hour, I gave up, I told David that I was ready to go home. He looked at me, "No way, not after putting all of this energy into it, she's slowing down so lets try it one more time". He was right; she was getting as tired and as hot as we were.He found a piece of plywood and we came up with a new plan. There was a wooden chute that preceded the catch pen. We would run her into the chute and trap her with the plywood. I would jump into the chute with her and move her into the pen. Once again we chased her up the hill. Holding the plywood, David backed her into the chute with ease, and for the first time we were looking at each other and smiling. Finally each edge of the wood met the edges of the chute and we had her trapped. I scaled the fence and crawled along the top of the chute. I sat there looking down at her trying to think of the best approach. I jumped down into the chute, landing directly in front of her and shouted "HA!!" She immediately turned around and ran head long into the catch pen. I ran up behind her and closed the gate.
"Done!" we both yelled. Now all we had to do was get her into the cage. We had already positioned the cage, with the door of it open, in front of the catch pen. I scaled the fence of the pen and worked my way over to the front door. She was not a happy hog, she was grunting and squealing and shaking the pen with violence. From the top of the fence I opened the gate leading into our cage, and she just stood still. My last maneuver had worked so well I decided to use it again. Jumping into the pen behind her I shouted "HA!!" Like clockwork, she bolted directly into the wooden cage...where she immediately crashed straight through the boards at the other end and was now running through the middle of the woman's front yard.
David and I looked at each other in horror. "I'm going home, I'll see you later", he said. "Oh", I said, "This is bad, real bad".
Kim and Amber were inside the house with the woman, so thankfully no-one knew that we had set her pig free but us. We now debated how long it would take to catch a hog that wasn't fenced in, while we stood, watching her grazing near the driveway. She moved from one area of the yard to another, rooting, eating and watching us with a careful eye. When she got near a small storage building she became interested in the open door. Just a few minutes before she wouldn't go through a doorway without extreme coaxing, but now she now entered this one on her own. I ran over and shut the door behind her. Looking in the windows we could see her devouring several days supply of hog feed. More importantly we could see that there was only the one door, one way in, one way out.
We brought the cage over. I quickly slipped into the room with her and found some nails and a hammer. We repaired and strengthened the cage and re-positioned it in front of the door. I went in and took some feed and tossed it into the cage. I then got behind her and (slowly and quietly this time) eased her out the door. She went into the cage after the feed and I shut the door behind her. David then went and got the truck and backed it up. He had a truck top on the back of his pickup which made it difficult to lift up the 250+ lbs of hog and cage and get it inside. We finally did, though, and shut the door to the truck top as well. This enclosure provided an extra measure of security in case she got out of her cage on the hour long drive home.
We got Kim and Amber, told the woman Thank You, and headed for home. Upon reaching the house, David drove back to our hog pen and backed up to it. We opened the truck top and then the cage door and coaxed her out. She hopped down, and into the pen, and then just kind of froze there. We watched her for a few moments, commenting on how she must be nervous in her new surroundings. David and I took the cage out and we all drove back to the house. I quickly prepared a bucket of water and walked alone back out to the pen. When I got there, I noticed that she was still standing in the same place, grunting slowly. "Hmmm", I thought as I poured the water, "weird". I filled the trough and she walked over to drink. She took a few sips, lifted her head and then dropped over, dead.
I just kind of stood there trying to think of what to do. I took the rest of the water and threw it on her, but with no effect. I walked back to the house. David was just ready to leave and Kim was thanking him for all of his hard work. She apologized for it having been such a hassle. "That's all right", he said, "At least you have your pig now". "Well", I said, entering the house, "Not really". "What do you mean"? David asked. "She's, um, dead, I think", I said. "WHAT!?", he was not pleased. I told them both about what had happened out at the pen. David mumbled something about all of the sweat and dirt and running, all just to murder a pig. Kim got on the phone and called our local large animal veterinarian. He explained that pigs do not have sweat glands. They only keep cool through wallowing in mud, and cannot run for very long without succumbing to heat stroke. He said that all of the running combined with the long drive home in a hot enclosure had gotten our Chester White just too hot. He finished by saying, "You know, there's not many people that raise hogs around here anymore", with kind of a "and now you know why" tone.
The next day Kim took the children to her parent's house while I had the task of burying the hog. I had to load it onto a garden cart hooked to a riding lawn mower. Getting a 250 pound dead pig into a garden cart by yourself is something you have to experience to appreciate. Of course calling David for help was out of the question. I hauled the carcass way back into the woods along with a shovel. We were in a dry spell, and digging the trench in the hard red Georgia clay took over an hour. I finally dumped the hog into the hole and covered it up as best as I could.
Driving out of the woods, and looking at our empty pig pen, I was now convinced that if Y2K turned out as bad as people were predicting, with all of the farming skills I had now learned from hours of in-depth study; we were probably going to starve.
Well, obviously we survived. :)
I hope you enjoyed that peek into our past!
Beannacht do anois,