Ever since I read that book the idea of my own pig has been floating around in my mind. The idea that Novella raised these animals near a Freeway and learned how to make them into various Charcuterie with the help of a Bay Area chef...wow. What the hell was my excuse? I have six acres, a barn, a pickup truck, and a slaughterhouse just twenty minutes down the road and also love bacon. Time to suck it up and grab dinner by the cloven feet.
So during my lunchbreak yesterday (I wish I could tell you how many animals I have acquired on my lunchbreak...) I was scanning Craigslist for a free donkey/llama/mule/mini horse to be on Lamb Watch 2011 and I came across a post that really caught my eye. Piglets, sows, boars: Cambridge NY. Call Dylan. I really wanted to call. So I called.
Dylan explained he had feeder Yorkshires for 60 bucks a piece. I didn't have sixty bucks to spare, but I did make thirty dollars on pie and egg sales that week at the office, and had that cash in hand. In my head the farm had already covered half the cost. We chatted briefly and he said I could pick one up tonight if I wanted, since he was heading to his deer camp for the weekend. Time being short, I told him I'd see him in thirty minutes.
I stopped at his farm on the way home from work and picked out a chubby female shoat (young pigs between 30-50 pounds), called a gilt. (I realized when talking with pig farmers calling their young animals "piglets" was about as ignorant as walking onto the deck of the Titanic and asking where the row men sleep. No one who raises pigs seriously calls their little ones piglets.) I decided the only way I could do this would be if it was cheap and easy. To keep expenses down I would only raise a single swine and do it with as little financial resources as possible. I'd raise a small feeder pig and have it butchered and keep track of every expense, and if it turned out to be $19.99 a pound pork-chops then I wouldn't do it again and let the pros across the road at Flying Pig Farm be my pork source. So far it's been pretty impressive how little money I had to shell out. A fact I came to realize only existed because I already had all the little supplies that add up lying around from other endeavors. Things like heat lamps, buckets, extension cords, bedding and such. I had a five-dollar off coupon and was able to get fifty pounds of feed for 7.99 at Tractor Supply. Not too shabby so far. In fact, this was turning out to be the least-expensive project the farm had to date. Hell, bottling my beer cost more.
So this morning I woke up with the energy of a girl on a mission. I perked my scary-strong coffee and got to work. I moved things around the barn and made a proper pen. I used two barn walls (with metal roofing scraps from the farm's junk pile screwed into them as protection from chewing/escaping), and a $24.99 piece of hog panel I bought that morning with the fifty pounds of feed. A "panel" is about 16-feet long, so I bent it into a half circle and nailed it to the farm and made some clips near the barn door for human enterance. I liked the panel, but was still kinda pissed at it. I got a fat lip trying to load it into the back of my pickup. While loading it into my little pitpull of a farm truck it snapped out of its coil and smacked me in the face. It was behaving now. I lined my little pig pen with enough hay to feed my sheep for a week and recycled a barely used metal feeding tin I bought for the Vermont farm and forgot about in the chaos of the move. It was in storage with the stickers still on. I hooked up a chicken brooder heat lamp and clipped a clean flat-backed cwater bucket to the hog panel and there you have it. Cold Antler is in the bacon business.
Soon as the pen seemed to pass my crude inspections I headed with Gibson down to the farm on the other side of town. It only took a few minutes to grab the girl by the legs and put her in GIbson's crate in the bed of the truck. The ten-minute drive home was mostly spent watching her in the rear view and praying she wouldn't buck the thing onto Route 22.
When we got home I lifted her from the dog crate into her new living space and she instantly went from a shaking, dirty, animal to a calmer state of being. She had grown up in a dirt-lined horse stall and this posh little hotel with fresh straw and her own personal feeding trough and clean water seemed to comfort her immensely. I turned on the heat lamp and within moments she was rooting around with her snout and her once-straight tail started to curl, and dare I say it, wag? She seemed like a happy girl. I told her welcome and to please stay put and not escape and eat all she can. She gave me a little "Humph Wumpth" half-snort and I decided to call it a day. I was starving. Two scrambled eggs does not a pig day make.
I just went out to check on her and she wasn't in her pen! I panicked for a split second, and then remembered a comment a reader left earlier this week. I looked closely at the mounds of hay and upturned feeder and one pile was slowly heaving up and down. She had buried herself in a little mountain of hay and between that and the heat lamp I was certain she'd make it just fine through her first night.
I'm still going to go check on her every few hours though. I'm like that.