by Gideon Pellegrino
A cold November air bites at my cheeks as I walk, head down trying to avoid a slap in the face from the gusty wind. The stars have been out for a while now and I’m late for my regular night time chores. I hear the usual parade of animals as I enter the barn… but something is missing. I feed the chickens, collect the eggs and then get the food out for the pigs. When I walk to the pig pen all is silent. I call for them but they don’t come — and trust me, pigs are never late for their feeding time! I look all over the pen and when I finally find them, I let out a gasp. I almost drop the food on the ground when I get a close look of what had happened and bolt for my mom.
Early winter wind is cold on my face as I dart across the yard but my excitement is too high to even care! It had been a long day and we were just getting back home so mom hadn’t even gotten out of the truck. In fact, as I beat on the window of the truck door, she jumped and I realized she had been dozing. I continue to pound on the window until she finally rolls it down. Hey, you might want to come see this!” I nearly shout. “Do I have to?” she mumbles, still sleepy. “Yes. You have to!” Her sleepiness vanishes when she sees what I had seen and she ran inside to get my dad and Charlee, my sister. While waiting on everyone else to come see the new arrival I count one, no, two, no… three, four, five, six, seven little noses beneath Mama pig. We knew she had been pregnant, but being new to pig farming (and Mama pig being new to being a mother) we were not sure of how long it would take for the new arrivals to make their grand entrance into the world.
Late that November night was the first birth Charlee and I had ever witnessed. We were not there for the other seven but as we stood there watching the piglets nurse, we were sent a little special surprise when out came the eighth piglet. The last one. The runt. We were amazed to find that they came out in their own sack, like a present all wrapped up! The runt wriggled around in it’s packaging until finally it burst out with a small grunt, then hit the ground running! Although pigs are a bit unsteady at first, they do, as some say, ”come out runnin’.” There we stood in the cold, watching the new life on the farm and we all smiled at Mama pig’s success as eight little pigs lifted their faces high in the air to greet us with their baby pig noses. That was the beginning of our many adventures with our happy pig bunch.
When we first got interested in raising pigs we wanted to research different breeds before diving head first into something we knew nothing about. My mom grew up with the 600-pound pink pigs and she knew that with I and my sister taking care of them she wanted a gentler breed. We ended up getting Ossabaw Island hogs. They are very gentle and rare. Over 400 years ago, this breed was brought to Ossabaw Island (just off the coast of Georgia) by Spanish explorers. A heritage breed, they resemble a wild hog, with thick coats, pointy ears, long snouts and long and wiry bristles as hair. Ossabaw are typically black though some are spotted and a few also come in tan, gray, red and occasionally white. Unlike most pigs these days, they are not waddling sacks of fat. In fact, they rarely exceed 200 pounds.
We started off with only three pigs: a male, known as Ralph, named after my Grandpa; a female, known as Mama; and then a runt who came with the other two because the guy told us he wouldn’t ever grow. The runt became Charlee’s little pet pig and she named him Pumba (as in Pumba from the Lion King). Soon Pumba lived up to his name. He began to grow (despite what we had been told). Though no longer a runt, he was short and fat. And that reminds me: Have you ever tried lassoing a fat pig?
To be quite honest, it’s not an easy feat but I’ve pretty much become an expert, if I do say so myself. Early one morning as I gazed out the window, I found myself wide-eyed, wondering if I was seeing a pig-mirage. Pumba was taking a morning stroll to the neighbor’s house and delighting himself with anything that fit into his chubby-cheeked mouth. “Pigs out!” I yelled and bolted downstairs to pull my boots on.
Charlee and mom joined me to corral Pumba. If you have never had pigs before, let me tell you they are stubborn — very stubborn — and strangely smart. We quickly found out that corralling the pig was not going to work, because even though he was short and fat he was also speedy. Charlee ran to get a rope before Pumba could make an escape to the luxurious green grass at the neighbor’s house.
Lassoing him was probably a strange-looking sight. It didn’t look like one of those rodeos where the cowboys swing their ropes in the air and then all-but effortlessly rope the bull. It was more like this:
Three girls in their front yard, one with a stick, one with a rope…and then one standing to the side “supervising.” I tip-toed up behind Pumba (who was already panicked from being chased all over the yard) but as soon as I would get my rope close enough to slip it around his chubby neck, he would take off running — all the while letting out little panicked pig grunts. It took several tries but finally I slipped the lasso around his neck and held on for dear life. I figured he would start running and I expected to be dragged all over the yard. But there was no tension on the rope.
I look down to find him just standing there. Head down, feet planted firmly in the dirt. In fact, he wouldn’t budge. Like a whiny toddler clinging to the swing set in the city park, he planted himself so strongly he wasn’t going anywhere. It took all of us to get him back in the pig pen! I dug in my heels and pulled for all I was worth. Mom pushed on his butt. Charlee kept poking him with a stick (which didn’t really help). After lots of hard work, and a few more panicked pig grunts, we got Pumba back in the pig pen. Can anyone say girl power?
Eventually we had to get rid of Pumba and by get rid of I mean get him into our freezer. The reason is that you can’t have two boars in one pen. Ralph and Pumba were fighting all the time and I thought they were going to kill each other. But hey, Pumba made excellent bacon! Yes, it is sad when it’s processing time but just knowing that the food is not going to waste makes it a whole lot easier.
I had someone tell me once that they would rather not know where their food came from or how it was processed. As they snarled their nose at the thought of processing their own meat, I kept quiet. That was hard. I thought of all the horrible things that had happened to the animals they ate on a daily basis. They said, “How could you be so cruel to animals?” Actually, I should be asking them that question.
When you pay for food that has been raised and processed in what probably wasn’t a humane manner, you are supporting that business’s way of operation. And even if they are processing in a humane way, hey, that big company is still getting the money — all because people would “Rather not know where my food comes from!” When we process any animal on our farm, we do it as humanely as possible. There is something rewarding about raising the animal properly yourself and then knowing that animal helps raise you. When I know how the animal was raised and treated, it makes the cycle all the better. I think we all could use a bit more respect for God’s creation!