Friday, October 30, 2009

Yes, pigs are omnivores

Trust me, you don't want pictures with today's post.

I always think that I want to know everything -- and I really mean everything! But every now and then I learn something first hand, and I think, you know, it was really okay not knowing that. Such was the case of the pigs and the chicken.

Before I ever thought about getting pigs, a neighbor said to me, "You don't want pigs. They'll kill your chickens." I didn't think much of it at the time, because I didn't want pigs. We'd been vegetarians for 14 years, and I was perfectly happy with my goat cheese and fresh eggs. But after we ate a chicken and then a steer, I started to think about bacon. Well, there's only one way to get bacon -- pigs.

So, I searched all over Illinois for Tamworth piglets that weren't vaccinated and drugged up, and I found a farmer two hours away with weaners to sell -- that's what they call feeder pigs that are weaned and ready to be "finished." Geez, it's nearly impossible to explain this without a bunch of jargon. Okay, I bought two piglets that had just been weaned from their mother. And that's how we got into hogs.

Anyway, our first pigs were practically perfect in every way -- even by human standards. Looking back on it, they weren't very piggy. They didn't root up their yard. They ate the grass. They were even so sweet tempered, I hated sending them down south. I wasn't even sure that I would ever want to raise pigs again, because it was tough at the end to send them away. But then the meat arrived, and it was delicious. The chili reminded me of the what I ate at the local Mexican food restaurant where I grew up, not too far from Mexico. So, we did pigs again.

Each batch had its challenges, but just when you think you've got something figured out, life throws you a curve ball. Of course, that was my mistake -- thinking that we had this pig thing all figured out after five years! So, two days ago, Jonathan comes in and says, "Mom, I think the pigs killed a chicken."

"What? Why?"

"One of them is running around with a chicken foot in its mouth."

Okay, as horrified as I was at the thought that they'd killed a chicken, I was even more disturbed to think that a chicken was flapping around out there with only one foot. If he'd told me he saw a dead chicken, I'd have been content to live with his report. But I didn't want some poor bird out there suffering, so I pulled on my coat and went to see what I could see. It wasn't pretty. The chicken was quite dead and not resembling any chicken that I'd ever seen before.

But, why? Why did they kill her? I've always thought that if I kept my animals happy, they wouldn't do things like that. Well, the roosters were the first to prove to me that I could not make them happy. No, the only way a rooster is happy is if he has about 15 or 20 hens all to himself. Then he's happy. If there are too many roosters -- therefore not enough hens -- the boys start killing each other. Why can't they just get along like the hens do? But I digress . . .

Okay, back to the pigs. We've raised a dozen pigs now, and not one of them has even looked at a chicken cross-eyed. The chickens, being free-range, can go into the pig pen whenever they want. Normally, they even eat corn along with the pigs. So, I just don't understand why these pigs would decide they want chicken for breakfast one day. I'm leaning more towards the idea that they did it for sport, since their feeder had plenty of food in it, and they didn't even eat most of the chicken. I hate wasting food.

Just when I was thinking that maybe we'd try raising a gilt (girl pig) again and have babies -- I'm reminded of our one and only experience with that, and it wasn't pretty. Maybe we should just stick with getting weaners every summer and finishing them in the late fall or early winter. Having pigs for six months a year is challenging enough.


Melissa said...

Wow...good to know. Kyle and I were thinking of getting a pig in the spring but we were planning on keeping it with the other animals. Probably not the best idea I guess!

Deborah said...

I know a man in Vermont who keeps pigs and sheep together. He says that they're fine except when the sheep are lambing. The blood confuses them - what's dinner and what's not?

melanie said...

NOW you know why the hands jumped in to save Dorothy from the pigs in the Wizard of wasn't just to save her dress from the mud!

MaskedMan said...

Pigs are killers. No need to think on it too much - It's not a mystery.

Actually, what's more surprising to me is that this is the first time you've had it happen - your pigs must be well-fed and happy, indeed, to have waited so long. Meat is high-value food, and pigs are ALL about high-value food.

Horses will kill and eat chicken, too - I've seen it with my own eyes. My sister's wild-caught Mustang mare stopmed a straying chicken to death, then calmly chowed down on the results. More disturbing, perhaps, is that the Arab colt she shared paddock space with joined her in the grisly meal.

Garrett808 said...

when I was a kid, my family farm raised pigs. we had around 30 sows that we bred twice a year. Ours were always well fed, balanced mineral rations, dry and warm pens in winter etc. Heck we even made a mud hole for them to cool off in the summer!

One year we had a sow, after many 'normal' years attack and eat her entire litter. When reintroduced to the herd (which four of her daughters were in from a previous litter) they ended up all chewing off the tails of the other pigs, one by one. And then one morning I went out to find our boar (who was bigger than all of them) laying dead in the barn like he was sleeping.....only he was completely hollow inside. he had been eaten by the sow and her four full grown daughters. They were of Duroc lines and we had never had that problem before. We sold them all immediately and never had an issue again. But talk about traumatic. Best of luck to you!

pedalpower said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pedalpower said...

Maybe it's just that in nature, there would be some meat in their diet, so given the's natural for them to add it.

That said, animals do entertain themselves in ways that horrify us sometimes...I've watched cats drag out the killing process and they look like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. And birds sometimes are brutal to other birds in ways that look like they are just amusing themselves.

momanna98 said...

Oh yuck. We would like to raise a pig someday, but man, I don't know if we are "countryfied" enough for that yet. :-)

Franna said...

I've heard that pigs will go "hunting" if their protein is not high enough, or if they have vegetarian rations. Chickens beware!

Deborah said...

Needing protein makes less sense than ever because they're getting acorns this year. We've never fed them nuts before this year, so they're probably getting more protein than any pigs we've ever raised. Maybe the acorns are bringing out their wild side.

Garrett, your experience sounds terrible! Pigs are very interesting creatures, all with their own personalities.

We did have pigs that killed a mole one time. I'd pretty much forgotten about it, because we weren't at all sad that they'd gotten rid of a rodent that had been tearing up the pasture.

Susan said...

Hmmm...Deborah..sounds like we're going to have some of your chicken with the pig. I've been relaying all the info to the family about these pigs. We've been reading about mast years, et al. Now that there's a bit of chicken involved, it makes this food story even more interesting.
I'm glad that at least you didn't find a one legged live chicken. That would be awful.


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