Thursday, September 5, 2013


                Last Tuesday, just after noon, I received a call from Kirk, whose neighboring farm resides one half mile from my own. At the time, I was getting things ready to go to the Tuesday farmer’s market in town. When I answered the cell phone call, Kirk asked me for a favor. It seemed another neighbor had called him to relay that some of his pigs were in the middle of the road and had apparently escaped their confines.
                And thus we have arrived at the title of this entry, “Breakout!”. Escape… freedom! Actually, that is not the case at all, but I will relay that through this entry. But just to ease the situation… before entering it… escape is only when something actually WANTS to leave their confines…
                The reason Kirk called me was that he was at school at the time. Kirk is a teacher with two young daughters attending an orientation at that time. He was over 30 minutes away from his farm. His hope was that I could swing over to his place to ease the situation… whatever situation there actually was.
                Now when one receives a call that relays that pigs are in the middle of the road, all kinds of thoughts arise as to what the scene might actually be. Maybe a pig lying in the middle of the road soaking up rays (which they absolutely hate to do!), or, perhaps… swinging from the electric lines overhead. That last statement is absolutely absurd, but the point I am making here, is that the phone calls are never, “I think one of your pigs has gotten out of their paddock.” It is always along a much more alarming line, such as “Your pigs have formed a goon squad in the middle of Murkle Road.” Of course I jest again on the latter statement, but, from the alarmed informant, not much is actually relayed other than that something trivial or something catastrophic may have happened…
                So, I got in my truck and drove the half mile toward Kirk’s farm. I will pause here to state, that it is not often that some of Kirk’s pigs or cows get loose, but it does happen. And it is not due to negligence. The last time I helped round up some pigs, a tree fell in one of their wooded paddocks on the wire fencing creating a breech that allowed for the escape at that particular time, although “escape” is a poor term, and I will get back to that. Preparing for a tree to fall in a wooded paddock, well, that would be like preparing for a six inch snowfall in October in our Mid-Atlantic region… It has never happened before… and THEN IT HAPPENS! I have brought this up, because some of the thoughts running through my brain as I approached Kirk’s farm was that if a similar breech had been the cause in this situation, it might take some time to fix, and I needed to get to the farmer’s market!
                As I turned onto Murkle Road heading toward Kirk’s driveway, I carefully looked to the right and left and saw no pigs. That was good, I thought. In fact, I saw no pigs as I entered the driveway. I saw chickens as my truck slowly moved up the driveway. Then, as I neared the first pig paddock on the left, indeed, I did see some pigs… and they were on the OUTSIDE of the paddock. It was not a false alarm! So, I pulled my truck into the parking area of the driveway and got out to survey the situation.
                The pigs that had “escaped” were mid-size pigs, easily close to my own weight, and easily twice as strong. (I will relay their strength in a bit.) There were four or five hanging out just outside of the first pig paddock. Many, many questions arose in my mind. It had been a while since I viewed Kirk’s paddock rotation for his pigs, (yes, a healthy pig farm rotates their paddocks), so I was not at all certain from which paddock those pigs had actually “escaped”. And then, the other main thought was that there was a breech in fencing somewhere, and I needed to find out where that was. Egads, but there was a lot to accomplish in a very short period of time.
                There was one major positive on my side in the situation, and that is the fact that Kirk treats his pigs so well. And this is very much key to the success of my simple efforts as will be relayed. I have titled this entry “Breakout!” and referred to the pig’s “escape” on numerous occasions to this point, but that is not at all the case. The pigs LIKE their situation… and they LIKE HUMANS! Even though I may have been completely foreign to them, they did not scurry at my approach. In fact, they followed me as I walked further up the driveway to discover from which paddock they… wandered.
                As I approached the first gated entry to a paddock, I thought about guiding those pigs into that paddock, but again, I was not yet aware of the paddock from which they wandered. I could have teased them into the first paddock, but, first, I did not know if there were another group of pigs in that paddock, or if they had “escaped” from that paddock, they could easily “escape” again. And as I walked further up the driveway toward the other pig paddocks, I became more and more aware that this was no simple task that lie before me.
                At the end of the first paddock’s fencing, I met another “escaped” pig chilling out in the shade. If these were truly “escapees”, they did not escape far. But as luck would have it, by the time I reached the second paddock, ALL of my questions and uncertainties were answered… immediately.

The bottom white horizontal board was not there when I approached this paddock entry, nor was the roll of wire fencing. However, there was a pig lying just below where the roll of wire fencing is in this picture… and another pig laying half inside and half outside of the paddock directly below the missing white horizontal board. I may not be all that brilliant, but it was quite easy to determine the “escape” point and which paddock was the origin. So, quickly… how to fix the situation…
                The first step was to get the pigs inside the paddock, and more specifically, the one wallowing in the mud under the fencing out from under it. After retrieving some feed in a scoop from Kirk’s barn, I entered the paddock and proceeded to toss some on the ground… And here is where it gets really interesting to me. The pigs have a constant source of nourishment through a feeding set up that I cannot explain. Those pigs were not hungry… at all. It was quite easy to determine that they look at humans as benevolent creatures out to “give” them something, whether it is food they already have or not. Anyway, my simple actions of entering the paddock with feed, and tossing some here and there, aroused the pigs to not only follow me into the paddock, but to steer their attention away from the gate through which the pigs and I entered, AND the breech in the fencing.
                That was when the roll of wire fencing joined the fracas, although fracas is a terrible term for what transpired. I realized I needed to “plug” the whole in the fencing… with something HEAVY. I estimate that roll of wire fencing to be at least fifty pounds, and naively, I jammed it through the opening as positioned in the picture above. The first curious pig walked up from the inside of the paddock and with its snout pushed the fence roll a foot without any effort. Damn but those pigs are strong! In order to thwart another “escape”, I tweaked the roll of fencing so as to pin it against the board fencing and that seemed to do the trick.
                Phew! The pigs were contained… or were they? How many pigs should be in that paddock? I called Kirk. He understood immediately what had happened and why. I asked him how many pigs were supposed to be in that paddock. Thirteen was his reply. I started counting, one, two…,eight, nine… I reassured Kirk that the situation was stable and hung up while a neighbor from two doors down walked up the driveway.
                The neighbor was concerned, and I still have no idea how she was aware of an “escape” issue in the first place. I asked her if pigs were in her yard and she assured me that that was not the case at all. Nonetheless, she was there, and I suspect that our dialogue was a very good thing… I explained what I had done, and entered the barn where perhaps the other four pigs could be hiding. Upon entering, I saw one snoozing immediately. Then, I leaned over the railings to peer around the inside barn corner and saw two more snoozing. Twelve. There could easily be another one around that corner out of view and that would make thirteen! Job done! Time to get to the farmer’s market!
                “Here comes another one!” shouted the neighbor from two doors down. By the time I exited the barn, another pig rounded the corner from the house! Now here was the REAL “escapee”. And as the pig approached us, that creature had no interest in re-entering the paddock from which it “escaped”.
                I will pause here to reassert how creatures, in this case, pigs, that are raised “humanely” view situations outside their confines, their paddocks. They are not looking to “breakout”, to “escape”, they are merely curious as to what is out there. Those pigs are kept in wooded paddocks to keep them out of the sun. Pigs cannot sweat, and direct sunlight is unbearable to them. Those pigs that “escaped” were not at all happy in that new HOT environment. And the last thing to mention is that pigs are incredibly social creatures. They LOVE companionship, even human so long as humans treat them well. And I am convinced that the reason that “breakout” was corralled so easily was because of how well those pigs were treated. The final pig to be corralled, number thirteen…

…I suspect it was this one… followed our voices because, once again, a benevolent posse, that is, human voices were heard. The pig sauntered up to us unconcerned. I grabbed another scoop of feed and offered it to the wayfaring pig. It did not seem overly hungry… but it did follow that scoop of feed… and me back into the paddock… most of the way that is. I had to prod its hind portion… easily inside so that the gate would close.
                Job done. Thirteen pigs once again were contained within their given paddock…

…and they immediately went about their normal routine. As the picture relays, a couple of pigs in the top of the picture dined from the feeding mechanism, the one in the middle foraged on dirt (that is not at all unusual for pigs), and the one on the bottom left of the picture wallowed in mud… oh so cooling!
                Kirk later thanked me profusely for my efforts, which were quite minimal indeed. I have to thank  Kirk for raising his pigs so well that “breakout” is not a concept. If these pigs had escaped from a confinement lot situation, as is most pigs’ situation, this story would have been extremely different!

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