Moving Pigs

pigs in coop

This week we have 6 new pigs arriving at the farm – a breeding pair of Gloucestershire Old Spots and their 4 piglets. We’re very excited about their arrival, but in preparation we need to relocate our current pigs. One of our winter goals is to install a permanent perimeter fence in our woods with multiple paddocks for moving pigs quickly and efficiently. But it’s not built yet…

We scrambled this weekend to get the training pen built. This is a smaller area with both woven wire fencing and an interior electric fence used for training animals to electric fencing. Particularly with pigs, their instinct is to run forward when they get startled. So when a pig, untrained to electric fence, touches their nose to the hot wire for the first time, they bolt through the fence, unless there is a solid fence behind it to stop them. It only takes a pig one or two times touching the fence before they get the idea and stay put.

Anyway, the plan was to move our 2 biggest hogs into that pen, since it will also serve as the loading pen and they are headed to the butcher in a couple of weeks. We then set up a smaller pen inside our garden to move our 5 smaller pigs, freeing up their pen, which has a covered shed for our new mama pig to share with her babies. The 2 big hogs moved easily. Which should have been a bad sign for the day. Pigs never move easily!

Then it came time to move the 5 smaller ones. We don’t have a good system for moving pigs. Usually we just skip their morning feed to ensure they are hungry and hope they follow us with a bucket of grain to their new location. Mostly it works, but we’ve never done it with five pigs at once. So, I opened the gate and five pigs ran off in five different directions. I managed to get 3 of them interested in my bucket before the dog decided to go after the other 2 and chased them toward the house. The three pigs and I made it into the garden, momentarily, but I couldn’t get to the gate in time to keep them corralled. The pigs, meanwhile,were running and jumping and squealing with delight at their new-found freedom.

Then I noticed the chicken coop and so did the pigs. Forget my measly, small bucket of grain, they had just found the motherload. All five ran to the coop. Which actually turned out to be a good thing. Locking them in the coop, at least they were all five together and contained. Though the chickens looked less than pleased about their new coop mates. Fortunately the chicken coop is close to one of the garden gates, so we channeled our inner Temple Grandin and created a makeshift chute to get the pigs from the coop and into the garden gate.

With the pigs now within the garden, I was able to get them to follow me to the small pen. I set down the feed bucket and ran to turn on the electric fence. Unfortunately, one of the big hogs saw the little ones getting some grain and decided to break free from her pen. She tossed our beautiful new fence like nothing and then broke through the garden fence, ignoring the hot wire. The little pigs scattered, also running through the hot wire, but not before she pinned one to the ground attacking it ferociously. The pig got away, relatively unscathed, but there was no way it was going back in the pen.

Bones ran for another bucket of grain, and some slightly soured milk to entice the big hog to follow her back to her pen. With her returned to her proper pen, we both worked on repairing that fence and strengthening it to prevent further escape. Still unsure how to return the little pigs to the electric pen, we returned to the garden to find our kids shouting triumphantly and waving big sticks. While we were gone, they had successfully rounded up the little pigs and driven them into the pen. Yay kids!

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But, alas, somewhere in the scuffle, the electric fence had shorted out and there was no jolt when the little pigs went to test the line. So, they waltzed right on through and went about exploring the garden. We were now several hours into our pig moving project, so I decided to just give up for the day and let the little pigs have the run of the garden. There’s nothing growing right now anyway.

And that would have been progress at least, but they day was not yet done. A half hour or so later, I headed out to the garden to take Gryffindor to work. As I approached I heard scuffling in the chicken coop and then saw the last pig pushing out from under the garden gate and heading straight for the chicken coop. I quickly dropped Gryffindor off in the garden and ran to grab the chicken feeder. All five pigs happily followed the chicken feeder… back to their original pen. So, after an entire afternoon chasing pigs, we were back at square one.

Anyone want to come help me move pigs tomorrow?

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