One of the biggest challenges in keeping livestock is the need to separate the area in which they may roam from the area in which they may not. Each form of barrier brings with it a unique set of challenges as does each form of animal. And the saying is true, the grass DOES always seem to be greener on the other side.
Some people think that the larger an animal is, the harder it will be to contain. That is simply not true. One or two properly charged electric wires will keep most horses and cattle from wandering. In fact, once a horse learns that the fence is electrified, it’s unlikely to challenge it, even when it isn’t. Although our Haflinger Fred is an opportunist when it comes to poor fencing, the fence could fall over and Willy would still stay inside. A good fence keeps both in. The same cannot be said for the smaller beasts. It’s common knowledge in the goat world that to test a fence to see if it will contain goats you should throw a bucket of water at it. If the water can’t get through the fence, neither can a goat. Nobody has dared to make such a claim about pigs.
When we got our first two pigs I asked the seller about fencing. In an exasperated tone she told me that you could build “piggy Fort Knox” and at some point you’d still find yourself trying to chase them back home. She was right.
I’d claim that our first pigs were escape artists, but that would imply we had a good fence. In fact, the wooden fence that we thought we’d overbuilt was nothing but a toy for those pigs. They quickly learned that they could insert a snout under the bottom board and lift the entire thing out of the ground, exposing a whole new world to uproot. In case you weren’t aware (and we obviously weren’t) pigs have more power in their snouts than the subwoofer in a juiced up Miata. They can move mountains with their noses, and do.
Another point of interest. Unlike a goat or a sheep, you can’t just grab a pig and put it back in its pen. Pigs are heavy and not designed for carrying. Ask me how I know.
After the wooden fence debacle we did further research and against our better judgement decided to try electric fence. We were highly skeptical, but the internet assured us that if we trained the pigs to the fence properly it would be our best option.
Thankfully pigs are smart, and curious. It wasn’t long at all before they decided they wanted nothing to do with that fence and we figured the problem was solved.
Did I mention that pigs are smart? While they wouldn’t touch the fence itself, it didn’t take them long to realize that excavating a pile of dirt against the fence wires would ground it out. We found ourselves engaged in a game of wits with the pigs. Could we uncover the wires before jailbreak was achieved? What was obviously fun for them became an exercise in extreme aggravation for us.
The following year we moved the pigs to a much larger area. With almost an acre of forest fenced off they had plenty of room to root, run and play. It seemed to be the solution to our fencing problem.Sure, they’d pile dirt against the wires occasionally, but that appeared to be more accident than Houdini act. Pigs remained where they should for the longest time – until one day I stepped from the porch to find that a bomb had gone off in the night.
Well, not a bomb, but a hog. Every sod between our house and the pig pen (and that’s a good 150 meters or more) was overturned. It looked like someone had rolled through with a high-test beer in one hand and an excavator in the other. The place was a disaster.
As I followed the path of destruction towards the pig pen, one large red hog came barrelling towards me. He followed me back to the pig pen and I let him inside. The rest of my morning was spent trying to find the breach in the fence (I found nothing) and replacing sods.
Baffled by the escape I checked on the pigs several times that day, but they were always where they should be. Finally I did my last check for the night, giving the fence another thorough going over, and then went to bed where I didn’t sleep a wink. All I could think about was pigs destroying the universe.
The next morning things looked calmer, the grass was still green side up. But as I headed to the pig pen, a red blimp-like object surfaced in the garden amongst my cauliflower and trotted up to me with a maniacal grin.
As I escorted him back to the pen, I discovered the fence’s flaw. This time Mr. Piggy ran ahead, and with all the grace of a bacon-filled ballerina, flew over the top wire like a giant log of bologna sporting a jet pack. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a pig could jump like that, but my mission for the day was clear. I added another wire to the top of the fence.
From that point on, pigs were more or less contained, but every year we have at least one mishap.
The night before last some wild weather rumbled through and snapped off a post in the pigpen. As I ventured down to feed them yesterday morning I discovered not one, but two hefty hogs munching away in the garden and digging up Daikons. Fortunately they hadn’t been out for long, and a bucket of feed lured them back to their pen fairly easily. Another morning of mending fences.
People often comment that they don’t know how we can eat animals after we’ve named them and treated them like pets. It’s true, that makes it exponentially harder. Even though we ultimately keep pigs for meat, there’s something to be said for treating them in a way that their instinct is to run to us and not away from us, even when they escape. I think, in the grand scheme of things, it proves we’re achieving our goal of ethical animal husbandry. We can’t claim to have built Piggy Fort Knox, but with security in our animal relationships it’s not the end of the world when a fence springs a leak (or a pig), and I can sleep on that.
Baffled about how the pig escaped I was on edge all day. Several times I wander