Not long after my last trip to the farm I received some shocking news from Linda Derrickson. She and Mark Kessenich had decided to part with their mulefoots, selling seven of the piglets and two of the adults to a homesteader couple down the road in Argyle. She said they didn't make the decision lightly--it was something they'd been mulling for a while. Now that the piglets have reached weaning age they need to be separated from their mothers, who continue to be separated from the boars, Cong and Churchill (lest they create more piglets). That requires more land to be set aside and fenced off. And the mulefoots need the kind of daily care that their cattle, goats, and sheep don't. That's a lot of work for a couple who just wanted a source of quality fat in their diets.
Not long ago a woman named Valerie Weihman-Rock wandered into the Blanchardville co-op where Linda volunteers on Wednesdays, looking to give away a surplus of green beans she'd grown. Linda immediately volunteered the mulefoots to take care of them, and the two women got talking. Valerie, an artist and welding instructor, and her husband Mike, a metal- and woodworker, live on 151 acres about ten miles south of Blanchardville in Argyle. They have have the capability to grind their own organic corn and grains, and once the Rocks heard about the mulefoots they decided they wanted some of their own. An initial deal to buy two piglets from each litter to start a new breeding herd expanded to the whole group and two adults (Cherry and Churchill) after the Rocks got excited about propagating the breed.
As for the Reader's piglet, the Rocks have agreed to raise her for us. We've picked her out--she's the second largest female in the group, born of Cong and Crystal (more on her later).
Here's Linda's report on the big move, which happened about a week and a half ago: "Capturing and loading the piggies proved to be a bit more challenging than tagging them, mostly because they have been gorging on acorns that have begun to fall by the bushel-full and they weren't very hungry. In the thrill and excitement of pig roundup, Mike grabbed one, who let out a bloodcurdling squeal and then a couple of his buddies bolted out the door. From then on, it was a circus. . . . Once we got the piglets and their moms in the barn, we . . . closed the door and leaned against it to keep the pigs from pushing out. Inside, Mike and Mark got the piglets loaded into a crate, while Cherry and Crystal roamed around the barn. From our side of the door, the squeals, bumps and thumps had us wagering on who would emerge alive--the pigs or the fellas. All survived, and with the piglets in a crate, the door was opened to let Cherry and Crystal outside. We gave them grain and green beans to distract them from the piglets who were confined in the barn. Mark used our tractor to lift and transport the eight crated piglets out to our pickup truck and we drove to the Rock's Farm.
"Have to relate an incident that Mark observed in the barn involving Crystal. During the noisy chaos of getting the piglets into the crate, Crystal defecated on her own tail and then flipped it up on her back. Mark thinks this was a 'defensive' behavior, perhaps to protect herself from danger that she perceived due to all the squealing and pig-wrangling. Neither Mark nor I had ever seen or heard of this, but it was was done very purposely and skillfully."
Despite the disruption, things seem to have calmed considerably and the piglets have reportedly taken quite well to the Rocks and their new digs, contentedly chowing down on tomatoes, swiss chard, green beans, and organic rolled oats soaked in goat milk. "This afternoon I spent some time sitting and watching after they ate," wrote Valerie the day after they moved in. "When I walked away towards the middle of the pen, three little ones ran after me and one started squealing. Then all of them were there clustered around my feet squealing and talking. I talked to them in an excited happy tone and we all encouraged each other to be rather silly. Then I ducked into their round wooden house which they have looked at but not used yet. It has a front and a side opening so I went through it and they all followed. I ran around the outside and went back in. A piggie fire drill. Did it a few times and I was as excited as them."
After the pigs have completely lost their taste for mother's milk Cherry and Churchill will make the move from Hillspring Farm, probably in October. Thanks to Mark and Linda for everything so far, but we haven't seen the last of them. This fall they're planning to send Cong and perhaps Crystal to the butcher, and they've invited us to come along. Meantime we have a piglet and new farmers to meet. Who said the farming life was boring?
Stay tuned. . .