We have some magnificent friends that live near Mount Pleasant. They’re doing some amazing things right now that leave me inspired every time we visit. This (last) year they bred some hogs for the first time: Three sows and one boar. Two of those sows got pregnant and after the first litter was born we went down to visit. While we were there the second sow was giving birth, and so we all went down to watch. (We ALL went down, we figured it was a good learning experience for the children. Also, the first sow had given birth before our friends knew, so they never actually witnessed those miracles of piglet birth. About a month later our 2-year-old pointed at our cat Jesse that was lying on her side just like the sow was and said, “Look! Jess is having baby Jesses!”) The first piglet that we saw born was still in its caul and nobody there knew what to do, so I bravely leapt into the fray and saved the piglet. We named her on the spot:
DOB: August 27th, 2016
Coloring: Red with white stripe
Breed: Duroc/Hampshire cross?
I started off insisting that there was no way in Hell that we were going to raise a pig, it just wasn’t economically beneficial, and we were already so busy, it would mean more chores for everyone, etc. We bought her once she was weaned on October 7th at 6 weeks old, and re-named her “Nellie”. Our 8-year-old says that it’s spelled “Princess Owen” but pronounced “Nellie”.
Our friends brought her over in a horse trailer and I climbed in with the straw to get her. I took in the dog’s collar and leash, but quickly realized that I would have to get very physical to catch her and hold on to her to keep her from escaping. (Emily read a blog post somewhere about a family that lost a hog to the woods. So Emily keeps saying, “We’re not going to have a forest pig!”) I could only get her by the leg, and she squealed like a pig! I think she was traumatized by the whole exchange and she hated us for the first month, never let us get near enough to pet her- unless she was eating. After a few months that changed and now she lives for getting her ears and belly scratched:
I went to the store and bought an electric fence unit, six fiberglass posts, and a 656′ spool of white electric “polywire” for about $100. I also bought some outdoor-rated (UV stable) 75lb zipties and invented a whole new method of fencing: Zip-tie fencing! Using six 6′ tee posts that I already had, and a stack of 2’x4′ fence panels that I got at an auction (I bought them knowing that I was getting them for an absolute steal, they just had to sit in the garage for a few years waiting for an application. That’s not hoarding, that’s smarts.) I zip-tied them together outside the electric fence to form a secondary barrier for Nellie (the hog) but also a primary barrier for our kids and visitors from getting shocked.
The parts that I used:
The first fenced area was about 15′ x 8′, and the plan is to let Nellie tear up the sod in these areas and “fertilize”, then till it in the spring long after she had gone to the butcher, to make a healthy garden. (To avoid possible contamination from intestinal worms we’re strarting with off-the-ground veggies the first year.) We also plan to re-use the steel and electric fences to keep bunnies out. We’ve rotated her through three of these areas so far, she tears through them so quickly! Well, the first one lasted much longer and the latest has been turned to mud much more quickly.
I called the closest feed store and spoke with the manager. These guys know better what to feed the animals than I could ever figure out. I just tell him how much she currently weighs and he tells me which feed to use. (I also started getting my layer chicken feed there too. The freshly cracked feed from the feed store is 1000% better than the store-bought stuff. I tasted both and the Purina store-bought feed tastes like cardboard; The feed store feed tastes like freshly roasted soybeans, which it is!) We started off feeder her a high-protein (18%) mix of corn, soy, and nutrients and now we’re down to 15%, I think. I’m not closely tracking her feed-conversion rates. She’s happy and growing.
Last month I built her a little shed to get out of the rain and snow. The idea started off as just a 4’x8′ box, but I realized that it would be nice to have an access area for her food and water from the outside. So the last two feet are only 2′ tall and it has a hinged plywood cover. Just inside I bolted her feed and heated water buckets to the corners. I used eye bolts and carabiners; before she would just flip over her feed bucket and push it up against the electric fence. Now they’re: 1. Inside her living area out of the rain, 2. Not getting tossed around.
I’m having trouble finding good, local straw bales to give her for bedding and frolicking. All of the Craigslist farmers seem to be too far away. Maybe it’s just not the season. So I end up paying $8 a bale for unknown-origin straw from the farm store.
She’s only escaped once. I saw her red back wander past the front window and said, “Emily, Nellie’s out!” She came running up to Emily outside, wanting her belly scratched, and Emily wrapped the dog leash around her- not that she ever left our side. The extension cord that I use for the electric fence was shared with the chickens and got wet in the chicken coop. This tripped the GFCI for- who knows how long? She had rooted out every single fence post and chewed the electric wire into a dozen pieces! She kept chewing the fence while I was reassembling it- until I turned it back on!!
That pretty much brings you up to speed. I’m trying to get written down here all of the things that I had to learn through failure so that anyone looking to do this for themselves feels more prepared. If you have any insights to share, or if you have stories of your own failures, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading! I’ve got a great post coming on my solar panels– I’m expanding! But first a post on a water recycling pump rig that I built for our furnace whole-house water humidifier.