A few weeks ago I wrote about the temporary pallet pens that we built for the pigs to train them to the electric fence. My expectation at the time was to release the pigs into larger paddocks within a few weeks. To my dismay, that hasn’t happened. I wrote a bit about the frustration with the pigs in a couple posts during my weekly column on Farm Dreams. You can find them here and here.
The short of it is that the pigs remained very small and tightly wound. I wasn’t making a lot of progress with getting them to calm down and/or respect the electric fence. Sure, the electric fence was inside the pens and it would zap them if they touched it, but I noticed they were touching it a lot. At first I thought they might not be respecting it the way it was intended. I figured I’d give it a couple weeks and see if they learned better.
Well, a couple weeks came and went and honestly nothing changed. They got a little bigger, but not a lot bigger, and they were still touching the wire when I’d get in their pen to change the water or feed them. It’s not that they wanted to touch wire, they just spooked when I’d get in there with them. Actually, there’s one male and one female that start the spooking in each pen. One calm pig and one nervous pig. Once one of them squeals and tears across the pen so does the other one, and then it’s chaos. On a couple occasions the boars had actually trampled down the fence, pulled the electric wire off the energizer and proceeded to chew up the wires. Yikes.
As with most things on the farm, it wasn’t their fault. It was my fault. The pen was too small. I thought 8 pallets on their sides would be enough room for the pigs. They look like they have a lot of space, but it's not enough. With the water troughs and the feed trough and me in there they didn’t have a place to go for safety. They’d move a few feet away and one would get zapped and then they’d freak out. They needed more space to feel secure and safe. Sometimes problems click on the farm and you can resolve them right away, other times it takes some time. In hindsight lots of issues are obvious, in the moment it’s not always apparent. There’s a tendency to blame the animals, when in fact we should look at ourselves.
So I made them a bigger pen week ago, effectively doubling the size of it. I immediately noticed a difference in their demeanor, and some other positive signs too.
For one, the boars calmed down a lot. Now I get in with them and they don’t run around like maniacs getting zapped all the time. They come up to me and look at me like, “hey, where’s the freakin’ food, man?”, which is what I’d expect. Beercan, my favorite, actually climbed on my leg a couple days ago, which is WAY beyond the closest he’s ever voluntarily came before. I don’t want him to do that all the time, but I’m glad he’s being friendly and seems happier. The other one, Bristle, is still a little nervous when I’m around, but he’s shown improvement too. Neither of them has torn down the electric fence and I haven’t seen them get zapped by it either. I accidentally left it off one day and they still didn’t tear it down, which is a huge shocker. Before when I’d leave it off they’d get it all tangled in their pen and covered in pig mess and I’d loathe cleaning it up. Total change.
The boars were actually moved to an entirely new location when I made their new pen. The sows stayed put, but got a similar expansion. Aside from them calming down and being happier as well, the best sign was that they didn’t want to cross the line where the electric fence was before the expansion. One of them ran across the line, took a bite of grass, looked at me like I was an alien and then quickly ran back on the other side. It was pretty funny. Then neither of them would go on the other side again. Slowly they got comfortable with it and now they forage around the entire area. I'm glad to know that they respect the fence, it makes me want to let them out.
As they get bigger I’ll experiment more with removing the pallets and giving them free access to the woods and pasture. Ultimately, though, I like the pallets. They work very well and will make an easy way to capture the pigs in the future. I plan to open up one side to let them come and go as they please, but maintian the other sides and feed them in that area so it will be easy to catch them once their time comes to grace our Pasta Carbonara with some bacon (or Beercan?).