Monday, July 11, 2011

The Three Little Pigs

My mother hated pigs, not with a simple hatred but a deep abiding hatred, it stemmed from being born and raised in rural England and having some horrendous incidents with local swine make her loath the beasts. She came to Canada in 1951 to work on a Ranch near Pincher Creek in the Porcupine Hills of Southern Alberta. This was the country for her. It was where she met my Father, he was a regular visitor at the Ranch where my mother helped the wife keep house and raise her sons. They Married in 1953 and I was born 3 years later. Farm life in rural Alberta suited my Mother but despite enjoying pork and my fathers repeated requests to have a hog around to eat the scraps and use the extra milk my Mother was determined not to have pigs.
She related to us the tale of the crazed sow in England. My grandfather was an author and the family was poor. Renting a small cottage in Yorkshire, my grandmother taught school to make ends meet. My Aunts and Uncles, along with my mother walked to school and passed a large farm on the way. The farm had dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep and swine. The mistress of the farm was a young woman who had just had a baby. It was all the talk of the neighborhood when one of the sows, while farrowing got loose and ran wild. She broke into the farmhouse garden and knocked over the baby's pram and killed the infant. It was a tragic event and I am sure embellished over many times in the mind of these children. My mother was five years old when this happened and still looked gray faced when she told the story so many years later. She hated pigs, she loathed them, hateful beasts!
Here on our farm we had all sorts of livestock from chickens to rabbits and sheep and cows. No pigs! However the neighbors up the road had pigs, lots of them, all outside in a field beside the road with a large pond. The were enormous beasts and smelled dreadful. The summer pasture where we kept the cows was up the road and we had to ride by the pig field to go to check the cattle. My Mother dreaded the ride past the pigs, her agitation seemed to work its way into the horses and they all seemed much wilder and spookier when we rode past the pig field. Of course not knowing about pigs being curious animals, my brother and I were quite terrified when they came running over to see what was up as happy pigs do, whuffling and grunting with all sorts of quite normal pig noises. This was my childhood memory of pigs.
As years went by I myself came home to farm with my father, the neighbors pigs were long gone and they were no longer a scary animal. I had shown cattle all over the place and seen show swine at fairs and exhibitions, large and yes smelly but not quite so fearful as they had been to a small girl. One day my father looked at the vegetable scraps I was about to throw out and said....”Maybe we should get a pig?”
The idea took and soon I had my stock racks on the pick up and we were off to see friends of my Fathers who's son raised pigs. The one pig turned into three weaner pigs. They were pretty darned cool. Named Peachy [after my Brother's girlfriend], Paddy [ I swear he looked Irish] and Fang [he bit me] they moved into a acre field we had near the house. They made themselves right at home and soon were eating all the scraps we produced as well as any extra vegetables we had. The local grocery store gave me their stale dated bread and I took to milking one of my gentle beef cows to give them slops to enjoy. I had no idea how smart swine are, they became gentle very quickly and seemed to know their names. Fang was always a bit standoffish but Peachy was sweet and Paddy just fun. They loved to be scratched and brushed. I made a wallow for them on hot days but the field was big enough they did not root very much at all.
However they did learn to escape. In the morning it was not an uncommon thing to be woken up by the trampling of trotters in the porch and the grunting wake up call of three hungry young swine. They rarely went anywhere but around the yard but the odd time I would get a phone call from the neighbor to the west of us. At the time my father and I were supplementing the cattle with what are called Range cubes, they are large pellets about the size of your thumb. They had become the pigs addiction. They would do anything for a range cube. So to get them home from their adventure I would fill an ice cream pail with range cubes and walk down to the neighbors. The three of them would hear the rattle of the pail and come to investigate. It must have been quite a sight, me, my border collie Boo and sometimes my cat and the three pigs, walking back up the hill to my farm. Every now and then I would stop, give the pigs a range cube to chew on, then keep walking on the trip home. It was kind of fun and the critters seemed to enjoy it. The pigs took to coming with me to check fence about the place, going with me anywhere I walked. We did end up barricading the garden but we never really successfully penned them in their field. I enjoyed those pigs and the converted me to a swine enthusiast, they are smart, social and very clean if allowed space to roam.
All wonderful times come to an end, much to my realistic nature I felt a pang of guilt as I took Paddy and Fang on their fateful trip to the abbatoir. [Well I have to be honest I really wasn't going to miss Fang that much, he had never become as friendly as the other two.] Peachy , I couldn't bear to part with so she had gone to find romance at the farm where she was born. A handsome young boar caught her eye and she got bred. I brought her home with another wiener pig called Greg [after the young pig breeder] for company and watched her get closer to farrowing. She thrived during her pregnancy and became enormously round, as her due date got closer it was amazing to see the bulges of piglets in her distended belly.
I had no idea what to expect and I am sure Greg got tired of calls, Greg the farmer that is. Greg the pig was doing very well too. Then one day about four days after her due date she got restless and made a huge nest in the old barn where I was keeping her. She kept leaning on me until I nearly fell over then she would go and lay down and burrow in the deep clean straw. It really is lucky nature takes care of itself as she set about having her piglets. She was so careful and farrowed 13 piglets. They were fat and hungry little babies and soon Peachy was flat out with her horde all suckling and grunting. All of them survived the birth but one did die overnight. Peachy was an excellent mother and the piglets grew quickly and were gentle and tame for the most part, removing their tusks, castrating the boars and giving them their shots heard some awful screaming but all was soon solved by eating lunch.
The happy chance of a simple question asked by my father had turned into a most satisfying adventure in raising livestock. I would often find Dad leaning on the fence of the pig field talking to Peachy or giving her a treat and admiring her brood. I sold those piglets and Peachy had many more litters over time. She gave more than she got for enjoyment and entertainment, a totally enjoyable conversion from my Mothers fear of pigs to discovering what wonderful creatures they are. So ends my tale of Three little pigs. Oh yes Fang....I got the last bite in, he tasted wonderful!

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