About a year and a half ago, Farmer Dave had a plan. And that plan was to get pigs. Oh, and also to marry me. We got married on September 20th at the farm and it was absolutely beautiful (pictures to come). At the wedding, our buddy Carl Blake came and roasted a whole hog and also brought with him a little friend, a week old Mulefoot/Large Black cross. Because you can’t have a farm wedding without a baby pig running around, am I right?! Well that little lady pig wasn’t just there for the hell of it, she was our wedding gift! Little Britney Spears (as Dave named her) was the beginning of our pig herd but we had no idea what that was about to snowball into.
Let’s take it back a ways. About a year or so ago we met Carl Blake of Rustik Rooster Farm in Iowa. Carl isn’t just any ol’ pig farmer, he re-created a German heritage breed hog from the 1800’s and has since been featured on the Colbert Report, New York Times and the Travel Channel. But more than any of that, he’s just a super cool dude. Dave and our buddy Forrest have been up to visit and help him out on his farm a few times over the past year and have since developed a great friendship with Carl. We all believe in raising pigs in similar fashion and providing the public with the highest quality and best tasting heritage breed pork.
Fast-forward to the wedding and Britney Spears.Â Britney Spears is a cross between a Mulefoot (a very rare breed of hog that doesn’t have a cloven hoof like most pigs that also has beautiful and tender fatty parts) and a Large Black (a very, very large pig). So this little three pound pig will get to be about 450 lbs when she’s full grown! Ay yi yi! Because of her exceptionally rare breed and genetics, she will be our very first breeding sow! But that’s a little later down the line, for now she’s a cute little ball of squeals. So during the reception Carl gave us a quick rundown on what to feed her, how often to feed her, etc but we were both basking in the glow of our nuptials (and the champagne) we were starry eyed to the fact that we have a new bottle baby. In our house. Our very first pig is also our very first house pig! There’s just one problem, we have no idea what to do.
Bottle baby pigs are interesting creatures. They don’t have scheduled feedings like goats do, nor do they down an entire bottle like goats do. At just a few days old, Britney just took ate a few ounces of milk at a time, sometimes it seemed like it was only tablespoons. And then about 45 minutes to an hour later, she was hungry again and boy did she let us know!! Oh man, she’s got some pipes on her! Also, she is not cuddly like goats are, she does not like to be picked up, cuddled or sometimes even pet by strangers. When she’s not in the mood for touching she’ll make a oink that sounds like “nuh-uh!” But with some persistence, within a week, she was climbing up in my lap and taking naps next to me on the bed. She was even a lovely guest at Coralville, Iowa’s finest Holiday Inn Express.
But that’s not where our pig adventure ended! A few days after the wedding, we got the news that our first set of pigs were coming.. and they were coming the following week. Oh man.. the moment that we’ve been waiting for is here! It’s here WAY before we were ready for it, but whatever. When the opportunity presents itself, you have to go with it. So the countdown was on to get the temporary pig facilities ready. We had to get our barn and pasture ready to hold 11 pregnant gilts and 7 barrows (males that are not intact/meat pigs).
Since our permanent set-up is no where near being done, or hell, even started; we had to make a temporary set-up to buy some time before the gilts drop their litters in two and a half months. The plan is to transform the goats’ old temporary stall and pasture into a suitable set-up for pigs. We took two bays of our big barn and reinforced the snot out of it. We added fencing to the gates and pressure treated 2″x12″ to the bottom so they wouldn’t root underneath the gates. Then, we boarded up the hay feeder to prevent them from getting up in there and exploring. And by exploring, I mean climbing out of it (yes, these pigs can climb!) and running loose. That would totally suck. So we boarded it up and added fencing to the back just to be safe. A few railroad ties at the base will prevent any drafts from coming in from the barn and keep them from rooting underneath the feeder. Lastly, there are the pig feeders that we made with materials we had on site. We used a couple plastic 55 gallon drums that we had laying around, cut a big hole in the side of them and made a PVC pipe coming out the top and going through the fencing. This way we can put any scraps or grain through the PVC pipe in the main part of the barn without having to go in the pigs’ space. And the pigs can eat their food up off of the ground which reduces the chance of them eating soiled food. For extra security and strength, we secured the feeders to the railroad ties with some plumbing straps. Throw in some waterers and the pen is mostly done. A decent temporary set up for them!
It’s great that we had the goats in here to begin with, because getting this pen ready for the goats didn’t take all that much effort and we learned a lot about what we needed to improve on. So first it was a temporary set up for goats, then a little more finessing and it’s a temporary set-up for pigs and when they’re gone, this is the space that we’ll keep our goat buck in. So by the time we’re ready to get him, we’ll be more than ready!
But I digress… onto fencing! The entire perimeter already had fencing around it but parts of it were looking pretty sad, and honestly quite laughable for pig standards. Seasoned farmers will tell you to always make your fences hog tight, horse high and bull strong. So we took extra time to go around all of our fences to make sure that they meet these standards. A little jackhammering, augering, digging, cursing, sweat and more cursing is all it took to get this temporary pasture ready!
Now all we need to do is wait until Wednesday for our pigs, and the great adventure of pasture raised heritage breed hogs will begin! And our “last” big construction project commences. I say last in quotations because if any of you farm, you know that there never is a last construction project. Ever. But this “should” be our last BIG one. (Time travel forward to 2-3 years from now when we’re probably doing something crazy like building a micro-dairy or trebuchet or a space ship and I have to eat my words.) But as for now, we can’t wait to introduce you to our first set of pigs later this week!