Sunday, October 12, 2008

On The Fence

Why should I turn off the electric fence? It'll only take a few minutes...

Fifteen minutes later, I was straddling the wires with one wellie-boot on firm turf and the other sinking, slipping into the dark, stinking mass of pig-churned muck. Three days of rain had transformed a slightly overgrazed pig-run into a thick and malodorous mess. The soil, composed mostly of clay, had been churned by our six well-grown pigs to a consistency so perfect it could make a potter weep with joy--except for the smell.

Normally, we pride ourselves on the clean, fresh scent of our piggery. Given the opportunity, these wise creatures will confine their droppings to one small area and keep the rest of their run quite clean. With good air movement, fresh food, and frequent fence reconfiguration, we raise some mighty pure pigs--with the added bonus of cheap entertainment each time the pigs move to fresh ground, turning up new turf with eager snorts and soil-covered snouts.

They are amazing little landscape workers, these pigs. So it seemed like a sensible thing to set their Summer stomping grounds in the soft, damp ground at the orchard's edge where a future garden might go. It was great for the first few months. We moved the fence every few weeks and the little porkers trotted dutifully along, chomping down the weeds and the brush. But then came the Summer rains. Down into the muck sunk their so-called "portable" house, and we couldn't move them as often as planned. We compromised by simply enlarging their pen instead of relocating it altogether. They kept to the newer ground, for the most part, and all seemed to be working well-- until their Day of Destiny.

With so many hunters in Maine, it's hard to find a good butcher this time of year. The only date we could get was in early October. We had hoped to get a few more weeks of growth for our pigs, all of which are promised to local customers. The only other dates available were in December...and the thought of managing six large, well-muscled animals in ice and snow just didn't seem that appealing. It would be different if we had a barn and a way to keep their water from freezing, but we don't, so-- early October seemed like a good time to let them go.

We used a few spare poles and some extra fencing wire to make an "annex" between the piggery and the road. With a large bag of week-old loaves from a local artisanal bakery, we easily lured five of the six pigs into the annex. The sixth pig quietly stayed behind. She was the "omega pig," the most-bullied and least well-fed of the bunch, always crowded out at the feeding trough, perpetually teased and shoved by the other pigs at play. The sudden loss of her companions was, in her piggy opinion, no loss at all. She happily trotted away into the peaceful regions of the old pen, entirely unimpressed with the offer of bread.

Time was short. My farm-partner had to leave for a meeting and the butcher was due to arrive in less than an hour. I uttered words no THINKING pig farmer should ever utter: "Oh, you go ahead. I'm sure I can get this pig over there by myself."

You can guess how the situation played out--and how the pig played hard-to-get, daintily trotting through deep clay muck that grabbed and sucked at my big green rubber boots. And I--who had always laughed at stories of other farmers foolish enough to straddle an electric fence--well, now I was one of those very fools.

Now, with less than a month left 'til Election Day, there are a whole lot of other fools filling the air with malodorous muck... Some say we have to cut pork-barrel spending, and some say we have to focus on security and defense. As for me, straddling that hot wire with a boot stuck in the mud, I'd argue for a platform that addresses issues of offense--'cause, speaking from personal experience, OFF the FENCE is the best place to be!

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