Every spring we buy weanling pigs. We usually bring them home in a wooden crate and confine them to their room in the barn for the first week or two. After that we open the door to the outside pen and they have the run of the place – which is about 16 feet square.
Pigs are always digging and rooting in the ground looking for tasty morsels. They probably turn the soil over in their pen at least once a week and the only area they avoid is where they defecate. The self-feeder is located in one corner of the pen and they go to the far side to do their business. Pigs are very particular that way. We often throw vines and other vegetable matter into the pen and they will eat most of it and end up grinding the rest into the soil to make beautiful compost. They are little composting machines and nothing is wasted that goes into the pen. When it gets hot and the flies get bad, if we haven’t had rain for a few days, I’ll run the garden hose in the pen to make a mud wallow so they can cool off and cover themselves with mud as protection from the flies. Our pigs are an important part of our farming operation and they provide nutrient-rich manure to spread in the garden or on the fields. Sometimes however, this interest in excavation has led to some problems.
I remember one group of five we had that seemed to believe their purpose in life was to dig until you would think they were looking for water or, as was more likely the case, to get out of the pen. The leader was cute as a button, a brown-coloured energetic pig with an extraordinarily long tail which he kept tightly curled at all times. Naturally, we called him Curly and could he dig! Not only was Curly an excellent digger but he seemed to be able to motivate the other pigs to dig with him! I kept a close eye on this situation and noted with growing alarm that the holes were right at the edge of the enclosure! They
were beginning to get underneath the lowest plank, which I had dug into the ground when I built the pen. I cast around for a solution and it dawned on me that the metal lid from a 45-gallon barrel would work to stop up the tunnel that they were creating. Fortunately, I had ½ dozen or so of these lids that I was able to use for that purpose. I took the lid, turned it on its edge, drove it into the tunnel and screwed it in place securely to the bottom plank. It seemed to work and I breathed a big sigh of relief and thought the problem was over.
About two weeks later, I noticed that the ground in front of the pen was being rooted up and something was eating the roots of the grass and in the process making quite a mess of the lawn. I suspected Curly was up to something again. I carefully inspected the pen and the surrounding ground but I could find no evidence that the culprits were my pigs. This mystery went on for several weeks and more and more suspicious holes appeared in the lawn. I checked the pen several times and I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was going on. I even went so far as to consider that a wild boar might be hanging around the pigpen and causing all of this!
Finally I got a break when I was looking at the pigpen from the shop and suddenly I saw the gate open and Curly and his cohorts came out and started rooting up the lawn! I hollered from the shop and those pigs opened the gate from the outside and went back into their pen. The gate closed behind them and locked itself. I couldn’t believe it! Curly had figured out how to open the gate, let himself and his buddies go outside and when they were done feeding head back in and leave no evidence of what had happened! Needless to say, I went over, nailed the gate shut and, to my knowledge, old Curly never escaped again. If he did, he covered his tracks so well that I didn’t realize it!
Bill Massey is a retired School Principal who has farmed all his life. He and his wife Dorothy operate a small farm near Grosse Isle Manitoba. A community activist, Bill became active with Hog Watch Manitoba in 2019.