First of all, not my backyard. Not my front yard. Nor my side yard. Nor my woods. To anyone who knows me: Don’t worry. I do not have pigs and I am not getting pigs. I do like pork though, and thank God some people want to raise them. There is a fabulous little breakfast place on 2nd Street in downtown Charlottesville called Bluegrass Grill. The first time I went in there I knew I’d love it because the staff wore t-shirts with “Don’t Worry, We Have Bacon” on the back. They even have bacon jam! It’s on a menu item called Smokey Joe, and available in little jars too, to take home. You want to try this, believe me.
My neighbor Tracy has pigs in her backyard, two of them this year. They are gilts, not barrows, which I learned from her means female, not male. These are fine gilts, each about 80 pounds now in early July. They will get to be about 300 pounds by the time their short but wonderful life is over.
Pigs love acorns, and acorns make very good pork. If you are going to raise pigs for meat, you had best put them where they can eat acorns. Tracy’s pigs live on prime real estate:
What you see is a fenced enclosure skirting the tree line. Those are mature oaks producing a feast of acorns for two constantly-eating pigs. Here, have some more, I imagine the oak trees saying to the hungry pigs during a rainstorm or a windstorm when their acorns rain down. What do I need with all these acorns? Every few days, or however often she deems it time, Tracy moves the fence along the tree line, which is not as problematic as you might think. The fencing comes in 100-foot lengths and has stiff uprights every ten feet or so with sharp points you can poke into the ground.
The beauty of the system is that she can make the fence any shape, she can go around or in front of trees or other immovable objects in the landscape, and she can contain the pigs in one part of it while moving another part. There is a solar-powered electric zapper around the perimeter to keep them from trying to escape, but seriously, if you were these pigs, you would not want to escape.
They have sun, shade, mud to wallow in, a terrific bath for cooling off, acorns galore, bugs, grass, leftovers. Pigs’ noses are as sensitive as our fingertips so they find the best food even among the rocks, sticks and other natural inedibles.
I met Tracy a few years ago after she and her husband moved in. We all have our busy lives – work, family, meals, rest, projects, outings – and I hardly saw her until a month ago or so when I needed eggs. What? I needed eggs?? I have 27 chickens in my coop and I needed eggs?
Chickens don’t start laying until they are 4-6 months old and mine hatched in early March. That makes them four months old now. I know I will be inundated soon, but I’m not yet, and I wasn’t a month ago. Tracy has 14 chickens I think, and I was happy to pay her for some. A couple weeks later she asked if I wanted some for free because she was about to be overrun. I gladly took them and gave her a jar of my homemade strawberry jam in return. She mentioned the pigs, and I said Can I come see them sometime?
There are pigs practically in my backyard! I did not see the ones she had last year, nor the previous year. I did not see this year’s until I needed eggs. I could have bought eggs at the supermarket but farm eggs are better. Most people know this. I’m so glad I needed eggs, contacted Tracy and got hers. She’s really nice, and now, besides getting great eggs, I have met her pigs, toured her garden, borrowed a book (Edible Landscaping by Michael Judd) and lent a book (Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier – she will love the chapter with the hog). I laughed when I asked her what those tall pretty flowers in her garden were and she said, “tall pretty flowers.” (None of us have to know everything!)
I got two bunches of wild onions for my woodland garden (aren’t they beautiful?!) and learned something about raised bed berms – and she told me I am welcome to come get rocks for my stream bed. If you had six feet of stream bed left to lay and you saw all the rocks in Tracy’s field and you could go collect them, I bet you would, just like I am going to. Right?
Maybe today is a good day to contact a neighbor of yours. Maybe you don’t need eggs, but you can connect or reconnect for some other reason. Chances are good you have a neighbor who is really nice too, maybe someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Maybe your neighbor is on the shy side or otherwise hesitant to call you but would welcome a friendly hello.
Maybe your neighbor doesn’t have pigs (okay, most likely your neighbor doesn’t have pigs), but you will find something very cool to talk about anyway. And you might learn something, or exchange funny stories, or find something in common that you didn’t know about before. And it will be a better day.