Life in the Slow Lane: PCU

It's official. I'm not selling the farm. What makes my decision official? I bought piglets.

I made the purchase before I realized that I didn't have a surefire way to bring them home. The last time I bought piglets I still owned my Focus and I only bought two. I put them in a dog crate and brought them home from Chino over Mingus Mountain. Because they were in the back of my little Focus (I still miss that car), I could hear them "urp" each time we went around a hairpin bend. Who knew piglets could get carsick?

In retrospect, I should have gone with the crate. If you look carefully at this picture, you'll see the black piglets stacked up in the corner.

This time, I bought five piglets and not two. Hmm, what to do? The original dog crate, the same one that was Peanut's home for a few months, was too small unless I somehow managed to stack the piglets. Then I looked at my truck. Why buy or try to borrow a larger crate when I have a truck bed? All I needed was a top for the bed, something to keep the piglets from escaping for the duration. What I needed was a PCU, a Piglet Containment Unit.

Amazingly I found it waiting for me in the barn. These days, I'm not building things as much as I'm disassembling them. Last month, I disassembled an enclosure built of 2 x 4s and hardware cloth. (Well, hardware cloth and some chicken wire. This turns out to be an important fact later in the story.) I had six panels, all of them the exact width as my truck bed and less than a foot shorter.

I chose the best panel, strapped it place, and screwed shade cloth to the top. Then using bits of this and that I attached two boards to the end so the PCU reached the tailgate of the truck. Just in case I needed them, I threw a couple extra boards into the cab, then filled the truck bed with hay sprinkled with watermelon and a bit of hog food.

Once again, my piglets weren't local, but over the mountain. By the time I reached Jerome, the upper right corner--the chicken wire corner--of my PCU had escaped its screw. That's when I remembered I'd forgotten the drill and extra screws in the barn. Dang. Once I arrived at the ranch, I examined the loose corner. I was sure it was too small an opening for a piglet to use, so I bent the chicken wire around the frame again, and tucked the shade cloth tight around the corner. Silly me.

The first two piglets went in easily, then everything went to hell in a hand basket, as it were. As number three was sliding into the back of the truck, number four, clearly smarter than the rest, shot out of the pigpen. Then Just as number five was going into the back of the truck, one of the others discovered my weak corner. Out it went through that tiny hole, right over the side of the truck, dropping more than four feet onto the ground.

Leaving one of the owners to chase the two loose piglets through cow pens, around the alpaca, into the chicken coop in the over-100 degree heat, I brought out my spare bits of wood. A drill and screws were provided and in a moment the PCU was again tight. It took all our combined efforts to catch the two loose babies and once they were in the PCU, I headed for home. As I drove, I mulled over my previous, somewhat sketchy plan for getting the piglets out of the truck and into the orchard. What had seemed an easy task four hours previously now seemed a little naive.

The PCU did its job all the way home. I backed in through the front gates of the orchard, going as far as I could before hitting the interior fence. Then, closing the big gates around the truck, I got my drill and removed my temporary bed cover. Throughout that task, the piglets huddled in the corner farthest from me, shifting corners when I did. They kept their backs aimed toward me and their heads down.

I removed the panel, reached in and grabbed the one on top by its back legs. As I started to lift it, the piglet squealed like it was dying and writhed. Hokey smokes, that thing weighed forty pounds if it weighed one! I lost my grip on one leg and, in an instant, the piglet yanked its other leg out of my grasp. As I watched, trapped behind the half-closed orchard gates, it climbed onto the edge of the truck bed, leapt to the top of the cab, then slid over the windshield to the hood. It hit the ground outside the gates and took off toward the barn, only to see Moosie. Giving a piglet yelp, it did a 180 in the air, and took off toward the back of the property.

It's now three in the afternoon, 105 and humid. I'm withering into a big clump of damp lint. That I am in the orchard has convinced the sheep and cow that its time for dinner, so they're all calling. Meanwhile, there are four more piglets in the bed of my truck. There's nothing I can do but keep on unloading piglets.

I'm ready for the next two, and they go right where they belong with no trouble. Then I hit number four, who has clearly been waiting for just the right moment. I grab her legs, she pulls the same trick as her sibling, yanks free and flings herself over the side of the truck bed. But she goes in the opposite direction around the orchard, and immediately runs into fences. Confused, she turns and sees her siblings inside the orchard but has no idea how to get where she wants to go. As she paces the fence line, I unload the last piglet and start after her.

At this point, she's found her way onto the narrow bridge that crosses the ditch. It leads to a very steep set of stairs, which both she and I recognize at the same instant no pig could ever climb. With me approaching the bridge, that leaves her only one place to go. Just as I say, "Don't you dare!" in she goes. Knowing just how strong and fast that current is, I race down the ditch to an entry point and jump into the water, intending to catch her as she comes floating past.

Let me stop here to say that even though I have my phone in my back pocket and am still wearing shoes that I had until that moment considered "good", being in the water is heaven.

Sure enough, even though that piglet is swimming for all she's worth, she's moving downstream at a good clip. I grab her as she floats past me. She's not ready to give up yet, so we wrestle, which results in her going under water a few times. When I'm sure I have a good grip on her back legs, I drag her out onto the bank...only to discover she's too long for me to lift her completely off the ground. Dripping, my shoes filled with sand, still holding her back legs, I straddle the piglet. This puts her front feet on the ground and her head pointed behind me. Taking toddling steps that she can match whether she likes it or not, I walk her to the orchard. Once she's in and the gate is latched, I'm cool, tired, and still short a piglet.

I walk the property, looking for holes a piglet might exploit. Fencing has been my mantra for the last couple of years, so I'm pleased to discover only three possibilities. All of them are too hidden for a panicked critter new to the farm to find.

Still kicking myself for not realizing that a piglet could climb that well, I retreat to the house and have a glass of wine. It helps. By the time my glass is empty, I'm positive that the missing piglet has gone to ground like a cat. She's hiding somewhere near her siblings and will reappear soon. The hours pass. I walk the property two more times while doing chores. There's no sign of her.

Just as dusk settles in, I walk the property one more time. As I reach the back fence I hear the startled grunt. A tiny black juggernaut shoots past me, heading toward the orchard, Moosie hard on her heels. She is alive and well.

They're much calmer now.

Now I know what to do. Because they lived with Great Pyrenees, the piglets have all greeted Bear like a friend. The four in the orchard have settled down some, and found a "safe space" in the corner of the orchard fence close to June's pasture. So I put Moosie in the house, then lock Bear in with June. Bear complains until I agree to banish the cow. He's skittish around cows because Dixie thought it was funny to sneak up behind him and headbutt him into a somersault.

Sure enough, when I get up the next morning, I find piglet number five pressed up against the chain link, as much of her body as possible touching the bodies of her siblings on the other side. All I have to do is open the gate, walk around the piglet and she dashes into the orchard.

PCU mission accomplished.

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