On Monday morning, after a full day of piglet searching with no luck and our heads full of disappointment, frustration, and some sadness, we faced each other in the kitchen. I could see from the look on Scrapple's face that he was still beating himself up and had almost lost all hope of the piglets return. The day before we canvassed the farm with two friends and Scrapple's sister. We walked through the woods, checked the ponds, peeked into all the brambles... no piglets. At one point we caught one escaping the perimeter fence and chased it back in, but otherwise we were piglet-less. We left food out at the two paddocks and turned off the electric fences for the night. I tend to be more of the optimistic (if sometimes unrealistically so) ilk and had remained relatively convinced that they would come back for food up until leaving the house that morning. However, after finding their food untouched on Monday morning and no sign of piglet hooves in the rain-soft-path through the pasture, even I was starting to lose my conviction.
What should we do? How far had they gone? Would they come back? We were so disappointed that we had screwed this one up. In retrospect, a lot of our choices seemed poorly thought out. But then again, they were amateur mistakes, and we're amateurs. Would we pay for it by losing these animals? We had heard the eerie cry of a Bobcat in our woods several nights that week, and we know that a coyote lives on the edge of the pastures as well. We had decided to keep all the dogs in the goat paddock and not allow them to patrol the perimeter so that they wouldn't chase the pigs, but that also meant that the dogs wouldn't be protecting the majority of our land from predators. Anything could happen.
Scrapple suggested placing food out around the pastures so after finishing some cereal, I headed back out. In the barn I filled up a bag with some food and went to grab the bicycle. I turned the corner and before I could register what I had seen, my heart started racing! There was a lone piglet standing right in front of me. I tried to think fast and slowly reached for the food in my bag. At my movement the piglet spooked and ran a few yards away. I quickly poured some food in a bowl and placed it on the ground, stepping a few feet away. I actually made some piglet noises and it seemed to help. She slowly and suspiciously made her way towards me and the food. Once there she started to inhale the food. While she was eating, as long as I didn't make any sharp movements, she would continue to eat. I crept towards her on my hands and knees. Scrapple had said that you just had to pick a foot and grab as fast as you could. Well, I'm not sure how anyone's fast would be fast enough to catch these little guys! I tried twice. The first time took a good 20 minutes to coax her back to the food, the second time she stayed only a few yards away.
I realized that this tactic was not going to work and remembered that we had a roll of electric poultry netting that had just arrived. While she was pushing her snout around in the food I half-crept half-ran into the barn to grab it. I hoped she was hungry enough not to notice what I was doing as I set up a corral around her. I moved at the pace of a snail, stopping every time she jerked to attention and eyed me. Finally, it was done! She was trapped and didn't seem too upset after a few minutes. She even laid down to nap. She must have been so relieved to have food and water after the last 24 hours. I grabbed our dog crate and slipped it inside the corral as she slept, putting more food inside of it.
Sometime during all of this I had texted Scrapple to let him know what was going on. He was on a conference call and couldn't leave his office but sometime during my dance with the lone piglet, he had spotted the other three at the gate! What relief! All of them were alive and at least interested in being found.
We pressured the lone, napping piglet by walking at the fence line behind her until she moved into the dog crate and started to eat again. I pounced forward and shut the gate. One down, three to go!
Next, I baited the perimeter fence line with whey, water, and food, making tiny food trails leading up to the captured piglet. I set up an electronet trap around her. Over the course of the day I lured them into several close calls, but wasn't having any luck.
Finally, at the end of the day, we caught the second gilt. Two of them came up to visit the trapped piglet. The gilt ran into the netting and got caught. The boar that was with her slipped under the fence and ran away. It wasn't our intention for her to get caught in the net, we just wanted it to contain her. The poor thing ran straight into it and got tangled. It was our first experience with an animal getting caught in the netting, as well as our first real unhappy pig squeal (they are LOUD and sound like you're murdering them). We slowly worked her out of the netting and then added her to the crate. Two down, two to go!
It was already getting dark as we refilled our baits. We went to bed with hope restored. The boars would continue living the weaner dream for another night, but surely on Tuesday we'd get them. Right? After all, we had their women.