I have to admit that I was a skeptic.
We'd had cattle for 2 years a few years back. Eventually, I was able to get past the fact that I could be squashed pretty easily if I wasn't careful and had actually enjoyed the cattle, although I still think they eat too much! (In the end, the cattle were sold off as we felt our measly 30 acres couldn't support both our sheep & goats and the cows at the same time.)
So 4 little Hereford piglets from Ohio joined our operation at about 8 weeks of age, each a 30 # missile of muscle and energy that I can best describe as a blur of brown and white for the first month or two that we had them. Anyone who thinks hogs are flabby and soft, has not spent time with pigs.
We coexisted quite comfortably for months until one day while standing in the hog pasture, I realized to my horror that 'my,-the-little-ones-had-grown-quite-a-bit' and 'gee,-maybe-I-shouldn't-have-worn-shorts-that-day' crossed my mind.
The email alert of the woman in Virginia that had been attacked by 4 adult females (sows) came to mind. Her mistake - she had thoughtlessly stepped between her girls (hogs she had known for years) and their piglets.
She suffered bilateral forearm fractures, bilateral radial artery lacerations, multiple bites and lacerations, and was in the ICU for days with massive blood loss. The only reason she hadn't died was because she was able to get over two fence lines, broken arms and all, and into the house where she collapsed.
So here I was, arms full of highly-prized house scraps as Laverne and Shirley lumbered towards me. For large animals, pigs can be surprisingly fast and can easily outpace a human.
Our uneasy truce continued through more 'getting to know you' experiences:
1. riding around backwards on the boar's back when he decided it would be 'fun' to run between my legs and play.
2. having to hand deliver multiple piglets when Laverne, the 600# sow, decided she couldn't spit out a dozen potato-sized piglets (I've delivered bigger turds than that and I'm 1/4 her size)...
Ahhh - good times!
But a gradual change occurred prompted by my time spent with Laverne's sole surviving piglet. Laverne was 'indisposed' for weeks after her traumatic delivery and her piglet was not getting milk. She had none and Gloria ('I will survive' Gaynor) became a bottle baby.
She hung out with the sheep and goats, grazing along with the adult ruminants, and would come running when the bottles came out for feeding time. I was really starting to understand the pigs and they seemed to look different to me. When you look into their eyes, pigs more than any other farm animal, seem to have the 'look' you get when gazing into human eyes. They seem to understand more than any other farm animal...
Now pigs are smart for a farm animal, but let's not get carried away - any animal that can't tell the difference between a solid wall and a piece of plywood I'm holding to move them along isn't really all that smart, but they're definitely leagues ahead of your average sheep.
So, it was decided, the pigs could stay! Unfortunately, Laverne went to the 'big pasture in the sky' after her farrowing (having babies) fiasco and Boris was butchered when he rubbed his penis raw on concrete and pissed blood for a month.
So we were left without a Hereford boar. We did bring in 3 Gloucester Old Spot gilts (young sows) and a GOS boar this past spring, so the option of doing all crosses was there, but I kind of enjoyed the Herefords and wanted some purebred animals on our farm. They were leaner than the GOS's, faster growers, and a truly American breed under-represented in the American farm landscape, especially here on the East Coast.
'Let's try insemination', Loran suggested...
'So you want to catch one of the sows, slide a plastic applicator into her and inject semen' I asked increduously.
Well, turns out, when ovulating, sows go into a pretty impressive standing heat and will respond with amazing stillness when you push on the small of their backs and rump! Any other time, and they will scream and run...
Greg's an optimist....
So we spent a few weeks pushing on hog butts, charting ovulation cycles, and ordering semen from the Midwest where Herefords are more commonly raised.
Hey beautiful...come here often?
Nope not ready ;)
Here are some pictures of Greg as we inseminate Shirley with semen from a boar named Lucky! (Lucky seems like an understatement to me). Don't ask how they get the semen...you don't really want to know.
We should know in a few months whether my girls settled or not - we'll keep you posted!