It’s been an ongoing joke in my family to end our list of chores with “slop the hogs.” We would say things like, “I’ve got to go feed the dogs, put the goats in the barn, lock the chickens in the coop, and slop the hogs..”
This was, of course, before we actually had hogs to slop.
Now when we say “slop the hogs,” we actually mean it! Because now we actually have hogs. Well, they’re not actually hogs just yet. They don’t even qualify as pigs, really. They’re piglets, and they’re about two weeks old now.
I’m very happy to introduce Mabel (red and white) and Baconator (white):
We have been talking about getting a pig or two for a while now. We’ve tossed the idea around for a few years at least. Opportunity only knocked recently, however, and the timing seems to finally be right.
Pork prices, alongside poultry and egg prices, are up in the stores. (If you pay attention to agricultural news, you know this is due to illnesses in the commercial farms.) That means we’re paying high prices for average quality meat…and that means we don’t get pork often. We like to buy antibiotic-free, nitrate/nitrite free pork. Pastured pork is almost impossible to source locally or affordably.
It’s hard to even find an appropriate feed for the little porkers. The variety is very limited locally. The only true starter feed we could find around here is medicated, which means it has tetracycline and penicillin in it. Thanks, but no thanks. Animals, like humans, only need antibiotics when they’re sick…not “therapeutically.” But that’s another post for another day!
Enter the two little piggies!
We were only going to get one barrow (castrated male). A gilt (young female) was not in our original plans. We were just going to raise a single hog up to weight and bring home the bacon…literally.
When a friend of the family had a litter born July 10th, we reserved one right away. We were going to take him home at weaning. As you may have guessed, this is not how things worked out.
My dad and I went to help castrate the males and pick out the one we wanted to reserve. My dad and his family used to raise hogs commercially many moons ago, so he was teaching his friend and I how to castrate. Believe it or not, out of a litter of ten, only two were males! I’d love to see that ratio in my goats next year, that’s for sure.
I noticed the little red and white piglet right away. In addition to being the prettiest, she was also one of the largest in the litter. She was very calm and squealed the least when being handled and moved. I’m not a pig conformation expert, but she looked well put together. Some things, like general structural soundness, are fairly universally recognizable when you’re familiar with livestock. (We later counted 14 symmetrical teats, too — a very nice trait.)
Personally, I think she was easily the pick of the litter.
I coveted the red one. I’ll admit it. But we reserved one of the barrows instead. I knew if we brought home the red and white one in a few weeks, we would not get our bacon as planned.
At this point we were still expecting to bring home a single pig in a few weeks. As the saying goes, humans make plans and God laughs!
Unfortunately, the sow passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. This was a huge shock to everyone. As Shaye from The Elliot Homestead has so eloquently put it, the veil between life and death is thin. Painfully so for farmers.
I don’t know why things happen like they do sometimes, but I do believe that things work out for the good. Even as I am sad for our friend’s loss, and the death of the piglets’ mother, I am also thankful for the opportunity that presented itself through this loss.
Hand-raised piglets are just about the cutest things you will ever see. It’s impossible not to laugh at them. They have brought me such joy, and I suspect the rest are bringing joy to others as well.
And then there’s Mabel. Our little red and white bacon bit.
When we went back to pick up our barrow, we decided to bring home two piglets instead. We did this in part to make the adjustment easier for the barrow and in part to ease the burden from our friend who suddenly had his hands full with a week-old litter of orphaned pigs.
The second barrow was already spoken for. That meant we had to choose a gilt. And choosing a gilt meant that Mabel was coming home with us!
Of course, she’s just a future bacon-bit factory. She’s not a pet at all. Nope. Just a source for future pork. It was a purely practical decision, really.
And if you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.
Pigs are herd animals, so having at least two really is the best choice. Baconator will keep Mabel company until roughly January, when he will become our first homegrown, conscientiously raised, antibiotic-free, pastured pork. Our long-term goal is to keep a gilt from Mabel’s first litter for a permanent companion.
Then we will be able to alternate their farrowing times so that we have pork year-round. It takes roughly two pigs to keep a family of 3-4 in pork for a year, but we only have so much freezer space. Butchering one in spring and one in fall each year will be much easier than trying to find space for two at once. Raising our own will also be much easier than trying to find healthy feeder pigs to purchase each year as well.
I’m already dreaming of the bacon, sausage, pork chops, hams, lard…
Well, it’s time to go slop the hogs…(really.)