Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One of Those Days

Today was one of those days that really shows how unpredictable it can be to work with animals, even though I spent most of the day clearing barns of manure and bedding that builds up over the winter. More on that "shitty" task another time though.

During one of my breaks, I decided to let our 4 yearling heifers out of their immediate corral so that they could graze some green grass in the temporary outer corral. I wanted to let them have a bit of a graze as well as to perhaps step into the shed in that corral. We are going to have to put them in that shed tomorrow and the 2 heifers that we purchased a few weeks back have never been in it. As such, I thought this would give them a chance to explore these new surroundings so as to be less frightened tomorrow.

Since this is just a temporary corral set up roughly, I stayed with the heifers while they grazed so that I could dissuade them from testing their boundaries too much. But all of a sudden there was a ruckus out of one of the heifers. She was kicking and jumping around, but not moving from the place she was in. Upon closer investigation, I could see that she had somehow gotten a hoof caught between two pieces of steel and in her fright, she was yanking back on her twisted real danger of breaking a bone. Thankfully I have been spending plenty of time with these animals so they are used to my presence. I was able to calm her somewhat and when she finally tired and calmed down some, was able to push her forward and slip her hoof from the impromptu trap.

Talk about freaked out. I was quite scared that she would have a broken leg but she seems to have escaped with just a limp that will likely last a couple of days. A few minutes later I was back at forking manure. Whoo hoo!

So after supper I was going to fetch and put in the cow that we are milking due to a lost calf back in February, when I noticed that the whole herd seemed rather freaked and looking off in one direction. All of a sudden I noticed that the excitement was over a pig that was out and running along the lake bank towards me. Shit!!!!

Turns out all four of our gilts, which are just days away from slaughter, had escaped their pen once more. This is the second time they have busted loose in the last couple of weeks. Considering how much space was available to them to run off, including out onto the lake, we had a far easier time getting them back into their pen than might have been the case. About an hour later we had them back inside and their pen patched up.

This escape brings up a sore issue between my folks and I. After so many years of dealing with penned pigs, my folks (primarily my dad) have gotten into the habit of walling the pig pens with plywood. The reasoning is that they are less likely to try to escape their confinement if they cannot see out of their pen. It is more complex than that, however, since our pens are usually rather run down. This is exacerbated by the fact that we penned these gilts in a pen that I repaired last fall...a pen that had not been used in perhaps 10 years, and had not been cleaned out since it was used. As such, many of the lower planks have become rotted and I basically patched it up in order to scrape by until we sold the pigs.

This whole thing kind of annoys me because I know that if we just built the pens large enough that they could exercise their natural tendencies, these pigs would not be so drawn to trying to escape. I also know that if we designed our pens in such a way that they could be cleaned out between uses, we could retain a slat-walled pen that the pigs could see out of but not so easily work holes into the pen, by which they could escape (and which we could easily climb in and out of).

Anyway, the pigs are back in their now re-patched pen. They are still only days away from slaughter but here's hoping I can build something better by the time we get the next batch of young feeder piglets.

One funny aside though:

The second escaped pig that I saw is the one I would most like to keep as a breeder, one who lays down for me to run her back and neck, came running over to me as soon as she saw me. Her excitement was so great and her mannerisms such that I could almost imagine her excitedly grunting out a question of "Hey buddy! What are you doing out here too!"

The whole thing just reaffirms my desire to pasture our pigs, letting them wander within a fenced area and follow their natural habits. I think we'd still need to pen them in a more confined fashion over winter but I'd sure feel a lot better about keeping them that way. The pens we have now are much better than being in a crowded, hot, industrial hog facility but we could still do a lot better.

I think that's all for now.

Peace and comfort.


Laura said...

If you feed the pigs in the same pen every night then you can train them to enjoy the pasture during the day and come in safely to be penned up at night or when the weather is bad. This will eliminate a lot of the stall clean up as well. Enjoyed your post, I have had lots of days like those. I discovered yesterday that my sow had eaten 6 of my young hens whole, not leaving even a feather behind. I was blaming a racoon or fox until my son actually saw her in action.

linda said...

I'm learning a great deal about the reality of raising farm animals through you. Great post overall. I do hope you can get your parents to see the wisdom of your ways, or that they will meet you at little more than half way on these matters. Still, very nice to read how humanely you care for the animals and that their welfare is on your mind.

teresa said...

I've certainly had those days. Right now I'm trying to make an old fence goat proof. I'm not real confident, but right now they keep escaping my brand new fence and getting on the road. Glad your cow wasn't seriously injured and you can still find the humor.

Anonymous said...

Fences are deceptively simple, but as I am sure you know it takes real skill to build good ones.

Cheaping out on animals always comes bad as poor health, injured animals, predators, time spent chasing escapees.

Escaped animals are so stressful for all...

Jerry said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Laura, that sucks to hear about your sow. So rare to hear of them going killer like that. If the bird is already dead, that's different. Once they get that taste though...

I'm glad to share the experiences, Linda. It's nice to have people around who want to know about these things.

Thank you, Teresa. I'm leery of goats for exactly the reason you give! Pigs can be bad enough!

Anon, my folks and I agree about escaped animals. That's why our pens usually allow no sight to the outside world. Costs DO factor in though. As I'm sure you know, one must balance a lot of factors, including not producing at a loss. It is not the best, but I think our method far outstrips the industrial, total-confinement-without-even-fresh-air method. That method also requires living heavily in debt which my folks have always wisely avoided.