We came home from work last Thursday to find our two gilts (girl pigs) missing from their paddock.
This was not completely unexpected. The wire fence surrounding their paddock is old and loose in places, and they had pushed under it twice the week before. Once they made it as far as our junk pile, and once into our neighbor’s yard. Both times it was easy to round them up and bring them back. We beefed up the fence and added barriers where there were obvious weaknesses.
They were clearly getting bored in their paddock, which is ample in size, but pretty much grazed to the ground. The cartfuls of fresh-cut grass we delivered daily couldn’t compare to the temptation of lush green pasture on the other side of the fence.
On this fateful Thursday, we could see where they had pushed under the edge of their fencing into our neighbors’ yard (again), but that’s where the clues dried up. This was puzzling, because there’s plenty of green for a pig to eat right now, and no reason they should want to stray far. It’s also unusual because the ground is soft, and they love to dig their noses into it, so it’s usually not hard to find the trail of a pig; just follow the divots. And finally, these pigs are tame, friendly, and vocal, and usually a “Hey pig!” will bring them snuffling and running. There was no sign of them anywhere.
After a panicked hour spent calling for them, tromping through back pastures belonging to people we haven’t yet met, walking down the road looking for them in ditches, I started to think of possible scenarios: none of them were good. (a) They ended up in someone’s yard or garden and were shot and someone was enjoying a BBQ, or (b) they were attacked by a coyote. There was a remote (c) that they were snuggled up in the tall grass of a neighbor’s back pasture and in no hurry to come home, but my gut told me this was not the case.
While we were in our neighbor’s boggy pasture, shouting for our pigs, he came out to tell us he’d seen them earlier in the morning rooting through their compost pile. He went inside assuming they’d be there a while, then came out 20 minutes later intending to lure them back to our house only to find that they were completely gone. But, he had seen two animal control trucks drive past later in the afternoon…
This introduced a scenario (d), and considering the options, it gave me a glimmer of hope. If they were picked up by animal control, then they were safe, sheltered, and fed. To channel our anxiety into something useful, we spent the evening making additional fence fortifications in their paddock. It was an act of hope that we hadn’t lost them permanently.
The local animal shelter doesn’t open until 10 a.m., so Josh and I spent a sleepless night wondering what had become of our piglets, hoping with all our hearts that possibly, just maybe, a neighbor had called animal control instead of pulling out a shotgun, and that our pigs had spent the night in a shelter and not gutted and skinned in someone’s barn.
At 10:01 the next morning, I slipped away from my desk job and called the local shelter. I was a picture of zen calm: “HelloI’mSoSorryI’veLostMyPigsDoYouHaveThem?!??!?!?”
A pause. “I’m so sorry to hear that. We might have your pigs. Would you please describe them?”
HA! The elation! The wonder! The knot in my chest began to loosen. Our piggies were alive! I was greatly relieved to learn that they had not suffered or been injured, but also thankful that we wouldn’t have to completely rewrite our farm plan. The loss of our two gilts would have meant no fall litters of piglets, no future generations, essentially an end to our small-scale pastured pig operation before it even got started.
After describing the animals (whose ears I had fortunately tagged just a month before), the officer confirmed that they were at the shelter and unharmed, and I assured him that I was on my way over to claim them.
True to his word, they were safe and comfy, and the staff at the shelter had all doted on them. Their pen was pretty posh, with fresh hay beds and a roof overhead. The lucky pigs spent the night at a piggy Hilton. The price tag for their adventure and overnight stay: $135. Ouch.
When we got them back home and settled in their paddock, we looked at the enclosure with new eyes. True, the fencing was old and loose in places, and our efforts to build blockades and wire it back together were not sufficient. Also, the pigs had eaten the new spring vegetation weeks before, leaving only thistle poking up through the ground. We were feeding them mounds of fresh-cut grass daily, in addition to plenty of other food, but their forage was gone and they were bored. Finally, the thistle was growing fast and everywhere, which added the annoyance of getting poked every time they flopped down to take a nap. No wonder they decided to take a hike.
Josh and I discussed a renovation plan (a plan!) and set to work converting their large but sort of sad paddock into a well-confined piggy paradise. Our first order of business was to string an electric wire at hog nose level inside of the flimsy fence. Then we pulled all of the thistle and dug out some blackberry that had begun to establish. We built a new larger shade shelter, and covered the paddock with dried grass and hay mulch a foot deep, which pigs love to root around in.
Eliza and Hypatia seem very pleased by the remodel (though they’re not crazy about the new electric wire), and have suspended their plans to run away for the time being.
If the weather stays dry, the ground should be firm enough within the next couple of weeks to begin rotationally grazing them around the pasture in our electric netting. It can’t come soon enough! We’re ready for a drama-free month.