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Lower the squealometer to get more for less

April 11, 2011

This isn’t a complaint. I like living in the country, I like springtime and I like small farms where animals play amid the wildflowers in fields of green.

The problem is that things are always being born around my house. And while I was used to one or two new animals at a time, I was not prepared for the insurrection of piglets that arrive from a sow by the hundreds of thousands. Or at least it seems that way.

Since we are not allowed to have normal animals at our farm, our pigs are Gloucestershire Old Spots, which are to the porcine world what Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is to humanity.

They hail from the British Isles and were almost extinct over here before being helped back to their hooves by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They are still considered to be critically endangered, which is another way of saying that I am not allowed to string up piglets if they misbehave.

Which, of course, they do all the time.

I will say that our sow, Tilly, is a remarkable mother, and by remarkable I mean she gave birth all by herself without any help from me. This counts for a lot, in my book. I could tell that Chester, the piglets’ father, was with me on this point.

Chester has the best job in the world, period. It takes him 30 seconds twice a year. For his effort, he gets room, board, a large pasture and all the surplus goat milk he can drink.

Tilly gave birth overnight, and when I came out to feed her in the morning, the only thing different was that her pig hut appeared to be squeaking. In the next paddock over, I saw Chester just kind of staring into the hut, not quite trusting his eyes. While unable to read his mind, I am pretty sure he was calculating how this new event was likely to affect him.

Men go through life asking two questions: 1. What will it cost? and 2. Will it mean any extra work? That’s the place Chester was in until he finally decided that out of sight/out of mind might be the best policy. And, save for feedings, we’ve only seen him a couple of times since.

The piglets are cute when they weigh a couple of pounds and don’t move around much, but at four weeks they are a hornet’s nest of pork, in constant flight and constant argument, especially over seating arrangements at the food trough.

Piglets seem to experience no moral middle ground. They either are being treated properly or else being assaulted by the most heinous offense ever committed in the history of swine. They are never mildly offended. Should something dissatisfy them, they go straight to a full-blown, screaming at the top of their lungs outrage that is hard to ignore.

In other words, you can pick them up and pet them or pick them up and castrate them, and based on decibel readings from the squealometer, you really can’t be sure which is causing them more distress.

Piglet riots go on all day long as they chase each other all over creation and ambush their fellows from hidden locations. With all this exercise, they work up a healthy appetite and feeding time is when things really get interesting. One or two will stand in the middle of the bowl eating and taking up all of the space, while the others turn themselves into torpedo pigs designed to dislodge the one who is making a hog of himself.

Matter of fact, they seem to spend more time attacking than eating. If they would just sit nicely, they would all get more food with less effort. There’s probably a lesson for all of us in there somewhere.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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