Life in the Slow Lane: The Remains of the Gate

Pigs in the Pokey

Pigs in the Pokey

So many titles fit this post. Like Pigs in the Pen or Pigs in the Pokey or even Pigs in HE-E-Eat. (Anyone out there remember the Muppets and 'Pigs in SPA-A-ACE'?) But, instead of rolling in the muck of what really happened, I went with a more literary bend.

Just as I expected, Oinker followed Boinker into heat last Thursday. And, just as I expected, she did it in her usual understated way. Why make a bunch of noise calling for the non-existent boar when all you really need to do is break down the gate and go on walkabout?

Thank heavens she waited to do the deed until I returned home from a chore run to Sedona. Even fifteen minutes earlier and I wouldn't have been here to receive my neighbor Kevin's call.

"Hi Kevin," I said as I picked up the phone, "what's up?"

"Your pigs are here," he replied calmly. Very calmly considering he's a guy who's had no experience whatsoever with livestock and isn't exactly certain he wants to have any experience with critters of size.

"WHAT?!" I shouted in true panic. I have no trailer and nothing that passes for a hog chute or other such hog guidance devices. "I'll be right there!"

Dropping the phone, I raced to the barn and filled a bucket with my mix of goodies--cracked corn, wheat seeds, barley seeds, oat seeds, peas, black oil sunflower seeds and milo. Although it's meant for the birds, the piggies love that stuff. Rather than drive the short distance, I jogged through the pastures to the fence that separates our properties. The gate that lets us pass back and forth is about 10 feet wide and made of cheap chain link panels bolted to a far sturdier line of cattle panel fence held in place with t-posts. Back when there was a working tractor on the property, this gate let us drive the tractor onto Kevin's property when the need arose. The gate had been knocked from its hinges. The only thing holding it in place was the dead electric tape that runs across the top of the fence.

I guess I had been lulled into a false sense of security. The pigs had ignored this gate since I moved them back here to my wild third pasture in September. It probably didn't help that this cheapo gate had succeeded in keeping my larger, more powerful cows in place. Then again, cows don't have powerful snouts that easily lift and bend everything but...dare I say it...pig iron. (Sorry.)

Up the hill I jogged. You know, for an old woman I'm in pretty good shape; I wasn't even panting. Chasing animals is really good exercise.

As I rounded Kevin's house I found my girls standing in front of a nearly completed shed. They were at their sweetest, making eyes at the contractors and workers surrounding them, one of whom was feeding them what looked like packaged peanut butter crackers. I nearly dropped my now useless bucket of goodies as my girls politely grunted for more. They were never coming home again.

"I need raisins," I told Kevin when he joined me, "I'll be right back."

My girls think that raisins are the bomb. Or they had thought that. Now that they had discovered crackers, all bets were off.

This time I took the high way and walked Page Springs Road to my front gate. I spent the next few minutes filling my bucket with raisins and trying to find what I needed to put together a makeshift hog chute that might get the girls into the back of the pickup. Yeah, right. That'd take a miracle. Then again, bringing this load of junk with me on this trip would save time if I wasn't able to lure them back onto my property with my newly revised bait and switch gambit.

I returned to Kevin's place, very grateful that I now own a truck. At their present size, one of my hogs would have needed to drive the Focus home while the other rode in the back. By the time I reached that shed, it was clear that the crackers were gone. The girls had moved on to Kevin's vineyard. Thank heavens my pigs weren't interested in eating the things that supply them with raisins!

Only then did I notice there's nothing between Kevin's property and the ranch next door except a pretty white plank fence. Oh no! The bottom plank of that fence was high enough that the pigs could easily duck under it. On the other side was almost an acre of carefully mowed lush green grass. A true pig magnet! If they made it under that fence, they'd be gone for, well, forever. I know the cows eventually come home (around twilight), but I have no clue if pigs do the same.

As I hurried up and down the lines of vines, Kevin gamely walked ahead of the pigs, doing his best to deter the girls from the fence line. I reached Oinker first and stuck the bucket of raisins under her nose. Her eyes lit up. She grunted her 'thank you'--I mean, seriously, how much better could the day get? First crackers, now raisins!--and stuck her snout into the sweet, sticky clumps of fruit. I pulled the bucket out from under her nose and walked backward a few steps. She eyed me for moment, then sighed as if to say 'Have it your way' and turned back to the much more interesting fence behind Kevin.

I went for Boinker. She didn't even bother looking at the raisins. All she wanted was that beautiful green grass. Yep, she had a snout and she was going do a little sod bustin'.

Crap! This called for the nuclear solution.

Just as I'd done four years ago when Brighty, my sweet Jersey girl, had made herself at home in this very same vineyard, I grabbed a nice thin branch from the ground and took after my girls. Much to my surprise, they both reacted positively to the switch, i.e. they turned toward home. God be praised!

Holding tight to my bucket of raisins, I drove them swat by swat out of the vineyard, down the hill, across the bridge over the Mason ditch and through the unused pasture on Kevin's side of the fence. Kevin followed, shifting back and forth to deter either girl from turning around. By now my forty-remaining turkeys had come down to see what was going on. The sheep followed, watching the commotion from a safe distance.

Oinker recognized home and immediately went through the broken gate. Boinker was a little more resistant but, once again, greed won out. I showed her the raisins then went inside and gave them to Oinker. Boinker was inside in an instant.

It wasn't until I turned around to close the gate behind them that I realized there was no way to do that. This thing needed some serious repairs. Double crap!

Leaving Kevin to hold the gate shut, I dashed to the turkey barn for--you guessed it--baling twine to sew the bits and pieces back together as quickly and best as I could. Patches in place, I raced back to the house for help. Another heaven-sent thank you is due here, because Derek just happened to be at home for the morning, entertaining his almost two-year-old son.

As Derek and little Jasper, now riding high on his daddy's back, went to collect the needed tools, I grabbed the t-post driver and made my way back to the gate. The gate was where I'd left it, but the remaining whole panel now hung crookedly in a new opening. Meanwhile, the girls were making their way back towards those crackers.

Out came that switch. Back the pigs went onto my property. Tom greeted them, huffing and gobbling as he scolded them for leaving the safety of his watch.

While I was herding pigs, Derek had taken an old t-post from the turkey barn and driven it into the ground next to the bent frame to hold it in place. I gathered more baling twine and lashed the other panel back to vertical. As I sewed, he went for more fence clamps. And where were the girls? Why, laying next to me on the ground, watching as I locked them out of the new world they had so enjoyed. Every so often the tip of a snout would dip to touch my fingers and a sad grunt would follow.

Tear that up! Just try it!

Derek returned with clamps and a bunch of scrap wood and screws. As he'd done in the pigs' smaller pen, he sandwiched the chain link between the wood and screwed it so the pointy ends of the screws faced the destructive forces determined to remove them. Each time the drill ran the pigs would snort and little Jasper would giggle. Oh yeah, it was almost starting to be funny.

By then, it was time for Derek to go to work. As he and Jasper departed, I was now praying this fix would last long enough for me to rustle up more t-posts and proper fencing wire from the front barn. So, after bungee'ing the gate shut, I told the girls to "stay" and rushed back across the almost two acres of the pastures.

Sure enough, by the time I returned with everything I needed, the girls had once more done their work. The bent panel was in place, but now the whole one hung horizontally from its clamps. Luckily, Kevin and Mike, the Mason ditch boss, had already identified the escape artists and were driving my pigs back toward the gate. One more time, my critters were returned home against their will and, one more time, I embarked on repairs.

So far, so good...of course the pigs aren't free ranging any more

But this time I had them. Driving t-posts into the ground on either side of both gate panels, I wired the chain link to the sturdy steel posts. Two sets of chains now hold the gate closed and baling twine keeps the properly set hinges melded in place. New fence clamps have been installed to pin the cheap chain link panels tight to the far stronger cow panels on either side.

Then, because despite all I'd done I wasn't certain they still couldn't take it all down, I locked the girls into the orchard. That fence is built of "real" chain link, the expensive stuff, and the posts are set in concrete.

Give it your best shot, girls! While you're at it, turn the rest of the dirt in there so when spring comes I'll be ready to plant. By then, I'll be building all new fences and gates so I'll be ready for the next episode of "Pigs in HE-E-Eat!"

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