It has been five and a half months since Hammy, Bacon, and Pork Chop, our beloved pigs-turned-pork, left our little farm. The details of that day remain vivid in the minds of those of us who were there. We watched these gorgeous creatures go from fat and happy compost eaters to fantastic edibles in their own right; ready for the table over the course of a couple of days. The transformation was both violent and beautiful, torturously sad and wondrously happy, seemingly final and clearly just the beginning, in a relative blink of an eye.
And that ending was, in fact, just the beginning. We learned so much from raising those three little pigs into three big, fat hogs. They were brave, and fierce, and loving, and they dug their impressive snouts deeply into our hearts, scoring belly scratches and the occasional kiss on the nose, along the way. We never intended to keep any of the original three over the winter. We were told to raise them exclusively for meat the first season and to plan to overwinter one or two the second year. So that’s what we’ve done.
As we kick off season two, we’re applying the lessons we’ve learned and making some changes. The first year, we got our three pigs all at once. They were all the same age and, as a result, all were ready for slaughter the same day. We set a date (“Pig Day”) and assembled all the necessary items and people to get the job done. It was a long, cold, intense, and exhausting day. Finishing three pigs all at once was a bigger job than we could have anticipated and not one we relish repeating. There was also an added sadness to having everyone gone at the end of the day; no more grunting or snoring from the pig area… It was all just a little too quiet.
This year, we’ve decided to space out getting our pigs so that we’ve got different ages and, therefore, different finishing dates. We are picking up the first two tomorrow and are hoping to be able to grab two that are between four and six weeks old. We plan to wait about six weeks before picking up two more, also hopefully in that age range. Finally, we plan to get the last two about six weeks after that. These last two will not be finished but, rather, will be our overwinter pigs. These will both be sows who we will bred to a boar sometime in early February. Since pig gestation is three and a half months, this will get us piglets sometime in May, which is perfect for keeping the piglets warm enough without having to have a heated, indoor space (which we don’t).
The other lesson was about the pig’s den. Since we knew we weren’t keeping the pigs over the winter last year, we were able to build a structure that didn’t need to be able to survive beyond the fall. It was a totally sweet, Gilligan’s Island-esque sort of affair. It held up through most weather, needing reinforcements here and there (as well as the occasional tarp). Mostly though, it was great and the pigs were completely happy there. It would not have held up through winter, however, and there were some real changes that we needed to implement for that to be possible.
We knew that pigs can pretty much keep themselves warm as long as they have one another. Aside from being inherently social creatures, pigs actually use their bodies to keep each other warm. They snuggle. What they cannot do is keep themselves dry; that part was our job. We had to create a structure that was just big enough to accommodate the pigs without excess space for heat to escape or for water to come in. Dave came up with this very complicated blueprint:
We had been incredibly fortunate to have a friend who lost one of his sheds during the winter who told us that we were welcome to take what we wanted as long as we did the disassembly and hauling ourselves. This ended up being a veritable gold mine of reusable lumber and we built the goat shed and the new pig barn almost entirely from what we salvaged from him.
Each and every board had a minimum of four, and as many as 16, rusty nails to be removed. Dave and I set up a nail removing operation that took the better part of a day and ended up with a stack of usable building material that would have cost a small fortune new and, in our opinion, wouldn’t have looked nearly as good.
Once again, we enlisted the help of our good friend, applewood bartender, novelist, and chicken killer, Geoffrey Young. This past Wednesday morning, the three of us set to work on creating a place even a pig could love.
Since we always work best under a deadline, we waited until five days before getting the pigs to hammer our first nail. This played out beautifully and by the end of day one, we’d made this:
The idea behind the dramatically slanting roof is that we manage water runoff efficiently and also maintain a smaller, more cozy interior space. Because part of the salvage deal included corrugated metal roofing, we measured the top pieces of wood to suit the size of the metal we had.
By the end of day two, we’d gotten this far:
The side view with the roof complete.
We plan to add a sort of DIY pvc pipe gutter at the base of it to protect people and animals from the sharp edge, but also to direct rainwater away from the base of the structure.
Day three was colder and overcast. It was difficult to motivate to put on the finishing touches and Geoff and I had to drive down to Brooklyn anyway. So, we left the finishing work for Dave (and we’re pretty darned sure he liked being able to finish without all the distractions we tend to provide). He purchased a couple of hinges, as well as a barn door track and fashioned a door from the bits and pieces of scrap wood that remained. He also installed the window. When he was done, it looked like this: