Even though we hadn’t moved to the country until I was ten, and we could have justifiably been described as city slickers, my family liked to farm—to think we could farm. From oversized organic gardening to 4-H cattle and horses, egg-laying and meat chickens, even turkeys and pigs, we tried as much as we could.
We got the pigs when they were just big enough to feed without a bottle, when they were around two or three months old. Two almost completely black with a few white splotches Hampshires. We got two pigs for a four-person family, because we had no understanding of the economics of farming and, like Shrek and Sweetie, we wanted them to have company. We had even set up their pen adjacent to the horse field before building them a little pig hutch with a tin roof.
Building the hutch was a feat of its own. None of us was naturally crafty, and the sun blazing down did not inspire familial equanimity. Right angles quickly turned into “close enough” angles, and cross beams went from supporting to “that will probably hold.” Still, we ended up with a semi-secure, tin-roofed hutch for our new pigs. Once it was placed in the field, we weren’t proud, but we weren’t not proud. Many a neighbor was treated to a viewing of our new pigpen and its fancily tin-roofed shack.
As the pigs grew, my parents’ opinions about them diverged. My mother seemed most concerned about the cost-benefit analysis and how many dinners they would make. My dad, meanwhile, loathed them ever since they tasted him. The event occurred when he bent over in the pen, revealing what is colloquially known as the plumber’s crack, only for one of the pigs to try a taste of pink meat for himself. Since we found out that our pigs were willing to eat human flesh, it was judged too dangerous for either my brother or I to go in the pen or feed them. Most of the responsibility to care for the pigs, then, belonged to dad. I understood his hatred though—even supported it. My sympathy for them diminished from the bite incident on, but that didn’t stop my brother and I from tempting fate.
Even though my little brother Gabe and I were not allowed in the pen, one of our favorite games involved everything we were not allowed to do. We would get our dog, Joey, a German-shepherd Australian-shepherd mix whose instincts to herd were so strong that she once arranged loose trash in a circle behind the house, all riled up. Then we would give Joey the command to stay and, when we would be about ten yards away from her, we would bolt for the pig pen. Excited as she was, she would wait about ten seconds before jumping after our heels.
We would lose if Joey got to us before we made it into the pen. If we would make it to the pen without getting our feet bitten, it was on to the challenge of dodging pigs, who, by the way, are a lot faster than you think. The first person to the top of the pig hutch would be the winner. We would stand there with the hot tin of the hutch creaking under our weight and warming our bare feet, panting with fear and victory. Then, it was just a quick jump over the fence into the adjacent horse field for an easy escape.
As much as we pushed and prodded fate through the summer, the real battle came when it was time to send the pigs to the butcher. A family friend, John, suggested that we load the pigs at night because then they would be tired and docile.
The Good Pig
For the first-time farmer John, everything went just like the internet said. Pigs are very strong moving forward but they can’t push as hard backwards. He had constructed a chute his pig’s width so it couldn’t turn around. Then he had used a board the width of the chute and easily walked his pig up into the trailer. We should note at this point that he had one pink pig that had lived in a small enclosure, while our pigs had a half-acre in which to wallow and grow strong.
John arrived at our house around eleven at night, docile pig loaded already, that way we could load our pigs painlessly. Like John, we had consulted the internet, and had constructed a chute using our favorite materials: steel posts and cattle fence. As for me, I was bearing a large piece of plywood the width and height of the chute for pushing the pigs into the trailer.
The Bad Pigs
They were drowsy when we started. The first pig went down the chute before me and settled in the trailer without much difficulty. The chute worked perfectly, preventing the pig from turning around. He tried a few times, but I fought him on. They say that pigs are smarter than dogs; the second one must have suspected that something was wrong.
We were halfway down the chute when he began to bang left and right against the cattle panels. Even as I pushed him, I could see the fence posts giving and the chute widening. All at once, he turned and hit my plywood pads like a linebacker. I dug my feet in and held. John, my brother, and my dad began to panic-run over to help. Like I said, pigs are smart. On his second attempt he went low, snout down, and flipped me. I landed out of the chute and on my back, clutching the plywood with airless lungs. And now we had a new problem: the chute had gaps.
Like a running back ten yards from the end zone, that pig hit the gap in the line and was gone into the night. Seeing his companion, pig one mimicked pig two (if you’re wondering why they didn’t have names, that’s because we weren’t too keen on being friends after the bite incident). Suddenly, we had two charcoal colored pigs loose on a moonless night. Everyone panicked. Before I was even on my feet, my dad had dropped and stepped on his glasses. John, owner of the most docile pig that ever wore pink, had no idea what to do. Of the humans, Gabe showed the most form, attempting to keep track of the runners with a flashlight. But Joey, Joey was in her element.
The Just Right Dog
The pigs attempted to escape through some tall grass that grew outside their pen and then into the forest, but Joey was living her dream. Like a scene from Jurassic Park, the tall grass would rustle as a piercing squeal vouched that Joey had found her mark. We helped as much as we could, but it was Joey that got the pigs back to the trailer and up the ramp, barking in command and what I can only imagine was pure joy the whole time. Without her this story would end as the legend of the two black pigs who roamed the county at night eating children who were out of bed. Once Joey had the pigs in the back of the trailer, however, the narrative changed drastically to one large chest freezer full of ribs and the best bacon I’ve ever had.