|The 3-Bell Ranch||
Three-Bell team, Ganny, Sierra along with Molly-cule and Tara ~ Wishing you the very best in this New Year1
Dean, Brad, Molly-cule with Sierra and Ganny ~
Well, it's been two years now since we introduced pigs to The 3-Bell Ranch. There are so many things to report I simply do not know where to begin.
Our pig venture began when we bought an 18 week old Tamworth gilt named Izzy. Shortly after bringing Izzy home we realized that she would be desperately lonely without a companion, so Betsy and I drove to the other end of the State and picked up a pot-belly pig named Daisy.
That winter, beginning with the heat cycle of April and ending with June, I successfully artificially inseminated Izzy. She had a litter of 5 piglets on October 5, 2010. Childbirth seemed as much a mystery to her as how she'd gotten pregnant in the first place. She waited until I was there to assist her.
Midway through December, Dean and I captured and re-homed four of her children. When we removed the first piglet, Izzy was concerned. The second one left her distressed. She became agitated as Dean carried the next one off. And by the fourth she had decided that we were no longer her buddies and that she would have to resort to aggression to prevent further kidnapping.
Fortunately we kept one of the piglets, a gilt we named One-Spot. One-Spot has a terrific sense of humor and disposition and this is good because her mother lost hers the day we took those other four children away. In fact, I think that had we attempted to remove One-Spot Izzy might have eaten us.
Izzy's second litter, a set of 11 piglets, was born in the middle of June. This time she did not wait for me to be there to help her. She had things very well under control -- except that she'd lost one baby who had gotten trapped under her leg and had died and a second that was very, very cold. I took that little tyke into the house where I submerged it in a mixing bowl of warm water until it showed signs of life. Then I returned it to the litter and buried it under a pile of sleeping piglets. I have no idea which one it was for when I checked on them an hour later, they were all active and scurrying about.
Unlike her mother who seemed to be quite mystified by child birth during Round One, One-Spot had the benefit of seeing her mother giving birth. She was as gentle a nanny as ever there has been and they both delighted in taking the children out into their pasture to show them-- as Izzy had shown One-Spot and her sisters-- how to forage for roots and bugs and whatever else pigs find buried beneath the surface.
One-Spot with her first litter
One-Spot had her very own litter five months later, November 15, 2011. I wondered how this would be received by Izzy's piglets, six of whom were still in residence at the time of birth. One-Spot had spent the last three weeks slamming them into fences and smashing them upside the head -- I guess so that she'd get some respect and space when it came time for her to have her babies. It worked. As far as I know, she had no audience. The rest of the nucleus family entered the Taj Ma Hog Pig Palace with reverence if not a little trepidation. No one offered to hurt the little children though One-Spot made it clear that "Ya'll harm one hair on that piglet's head and I'll whoop your..." (You get the idea.)
Within a few days the piglets were up and active. They were taking forays into their pasture, and before the week was through One-Spot took them into the alfalfa field.
One-Spot with her children exploring the alfalfa field
Molly requests permission to boss the pig
Now, I have found this quite fascinating. When Izzy's children were a week or two old, they started pushing fence lines. They treated the electric net fence like a mere suggestion of boundaries. Over and over again I'd tell Molly to "get those pigs! Get them back in their pen!" and Molly would set off-- all ten pounds of her little terrorist self-- to tell those pigs to move it NOW!
About two weeks before One-Spot had her litter, Izzy's children breached the fence. And they made an opening large enough for One-Spot to get out. Alice spotted her in the household garden and gave chase. One-Spot headed back to the safety of her fenced pasture, but did not make it without injury. Alice took a huge chunk out of her rear end. And I suspect that One-Spot told her children that under no circumstances were they ever to leave the safety of their net fenced area for this litter had not been one to breach the fences.
Izzy's June litter and One-Spot's November litter return to the Taj Ma Hog Pig Palace after a day of exploring the alfalfa field
It has been a joy to watch the multiple generations -- grandmother, mother, half-sisters-- all working together to raise this litter of piglets. Izzy's children have slept with One-Spot's children and participated in their educational outings.
Two generations coming home at dinner time
Enjoying the comforts offered by the Taj Ma Hog Pig Palace
Now children, you must all pay attention!
The cows regard the piglets like old women do their grandchildren, "Oh now... Aren't you just the most precious little darling."
I'm not sure that raising pigs makes sense though. What I have learned is the following:
Pigs are the "tuna" of the meat industry. I have never seen any animal-- even a teenaged boy-- who can eat as much as a pig can in a day. In fact, you could easily feed that teenaged boy for a week or more on what a pig eats in a single day. Now if these pigs we have here were eating "conventional" feed, I would have grave reservations about eating them. After all: a critter that consumes 5 or ten pounds of toxic food per day cannot help but become a concentrated toxic soup himself. I have NO deisre to eat commercially grown pork ever again!
The expense of raising pigs organicially is numbing. With two adults, six 5-6 month old piglets, the feed billwas up to $30 per day.