Brian, my good friend and fellow traveller on this voyage into rural America, was more transfixed by the open packet of what appeared to be cream-filled
sandwich cookies on the counter than he was the inquisitive potbellied pig that spied us through the plexiglas.
“May I?” he inquired as he picked up a cookie, raising it to his mouth.
“Those are pig cookies,” Crystal explained, “but I suppose they can be people cookies.”
“Pig cookies?” I asked.
“That’s how we herd them,” she clarified. “We don’t use cramped conditions and cattleprods like other farmers. We give them free reign, and coax them with little treats to get them where we need them to go.”
I marveled at Crystal and Dan’s dedication to open-pasture humane farming. It seemed so unreal based upon much of the research I had done about farming. After watching countless hours of footage that detailed cruel, conventional farming methods, it was a relief to see farming in a way that I had only ever seen in children’s storybooks. E-I-E-I-O.
“We’ll have to cage him for now,” Crystal continued. “What get’s them to the cage, however, is NOT always what get’s them into it, though. For that, we’ll need these…”
Crystal reached into her pantry to produce two portions of spongecake, before handing one to each of us.
“You’ll need to break them up into tiny pieces so it’ll fit into his little mouth. Let’s get going while he’s close to the house. Otherwise we’ll have to drag the cage to him.”
Now fully armed with the implements of swineherding (cookies and spongecake), we stepped outside to meet our quarry… Austin.
As we stepped out of the house, Austin’s face lit up with glee.
“Hi Austin!” Crystal’s voice lilted with a sort of maternal endearment, as she reached down to pet and scruff the top of his head.
It was heartwarming to see the affection shared between the two.
As Crystal began to unfold and assemble the spacious cage, Austin watched with a brief fascination… until he got bored. As Crystal was paying more attention to gradually-expanding device instead of him, he decided to roam over to the sow pen at the far end of the yard to sweet-talk the ladies.
“Damnit,” Crystal groaned, “Now we have to take the cage to him. Help me lift this onto the cart, North. It isn’t too heavy”
Crystal, Brian, and I raised the surprisingly lightweight cage onto the cart as questions began to drift from the back of my mind to my lips.
“Why do we need to cage little Austin?” I asked.
“For his safety,” she replied. “He’s still unbarrowed.”
“He hasn’t been neutered yet. You see, Austin is one of our rescues.”
At that point we began to pull the cart across the yard.
“He’s a potbellied pig that was purchased as a pet for someone who didn’t realize that potbellies don’t stay purse-pets forever,” she continued. “He was getting too big to be a housepet to the college girl who had him.”
“So you don’t only tend livestock here?”
“Nope. We also serve as an animal rescue.”
“And the need to cage him?”
“Until we neuter him, we can’t pen him up with the other boars. They’d tear him apart. We just need to cage him until we can get him to the vet.”
“Vet? You don’t do castration on the farm?”
“No, we take them to be neutered under veterinary care”
I was truly amazed by the extent that C&D Family Farms went to ensure humane treatment.
We finally got the cage across the yard to our fuzzy, little buddy before lowering the cage from the cart. Crystal began chiming a litany of affectionate coaxes to the little pig as Brian and I laid down a trail of cookies to the cage.
The bait was working.
As Austin’s head breached the cage opening, Brian and I began breaking bits of spongecake through the gridwork into the cage. We almost had him until his left-front hoof put its weight down onto the floor of the cage. The floor of the cage hadn’t fully snapped into place yet (or had come loose as we were carting it). As Austin put his weight down onto it…
… the sound of the floor snapping into place startled him away. This was starting to prove to be more of a challenge than I had thought, based upon Crystal’s description.
Austin was swift, I was out of shape, and we were running low on spongecake.
Crystal and I hastily followed, dragging the cage along the ground behind him. Austin, clever and startled, found a nook between two trees that wouldn’t accommodate the broad cage she and I were dragging.
Little did Austin know that I wasn’t completely unarmed for this pursuit… I brought a Brian.
Brian, a large and imposing figure of over six feet in height was already blocking the exit between the trees. Austin, deciding that the lankish giant of a man was more frightening than the noise of the cage, darted back into the cage. Crystal closed the cage behind him.
It may seem silly to you, dear reader, but this was a big deal for me.
I… caught… a scurrying… pig.
I’ll admit that I felt more than a little boastful in that moment. Austin pouted and glared at me through the cage as if to say, “You win this round, North Roberts… but I’ll be back.”
We made our way back up to the house for coffee and conversation, pulling our Austin-cart.
I was eager to talk more with Crystal in the warmth of the house on an otherwise cold, late-winter day.
Pop by next time for “A City Mouse in the Country, Part 3 – Coffee and Cigarettes.”