The Hog That (Almost) Got Away

Hogs are graceful in the way they run up and down steep ravines with only a two-pointed hooves to balance their massive bodies. Yet, they can also be found unrecognizable while wallowing in self-made waterholes. They are gentle, yet powerful and sweet, but also destructive. A picture tells a thousand words, and this one tells a story.

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Yes, this is the picture I took when I arrived to the butchering facility and checked on the hog before I went in to fill out my “livestock drop-off” paperwork. Except that, I had NO LIVESTOCK to drop off! I could blame it on a thousand reasons, but here are the top 5:

  1. I should have reinforced the crate with 2x4s across the sides.
  2. When I was driving, I didn’t check the passenger side rear view mirror often enough.
  3. My co-pilot and son, PeterXavier, fell asleep on the drive, exhausted from a day of pig wrangling.
  4. I was driving too slow.
  5. I am being punished by the corporate gods for raising free-spirited, pasture roaming, all natural pork.

At any rate, I had no hog. She was about 250lbs that just vanished into thin air. She was our Christmas ham, our sausage and gravy breakfast on the weekends, our pull pork BBQ sandwiches, and the list goes on. Then, to think we were splitting her with another family and they too had lost out on all those wonderful meals and family gatherings centered around a delicious free-roaming and pasture raised hog.

What happens next?

We called the sheriff’s department on the off-chance that someone would call it into Animal Control. They were very friendly and helpful, even suggesting we post our lost hog on the local Lost and Found Pets page on Facebook! Then we drove the same route back to the house scanning for a slow-moving black and white mass on the side of the road or rooting up a McMansion’s perfectly manicured lawn (praying for the latter).

Finally, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we may never see her again. We said a few peayers to St Anthony and headed to the ball field for PeterXavier’s game. We were sitting on a picnic bench waiting for the baseball game to start when my wife got the call from the sheriff’s department. A farmer had our hog in his barn! Our call in to Animal Control had paid off.

I headed home to repair and reinforce the crate, before heading off to retrieve my livestock. I also picked up my teenaged son, for some personal reinforcements!

When I got to his house, you can imagine my gratitude and excitment. We backed the trailer to pen in the barn and loaded her up. He said a neighbor from a few houses down the road had called him to say that a large pig was eating her flowers, digging up the lawn, and making a mess of the landscaping (I teach my hogs well). He walked her down to his place via the road, got her into the barn, then called it into the Sheriff’s office.

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As it turned out, the processing facility had another drop-off time the next morning and I could still bring her in for processing. I have no idea how I got so lucky. This time, the crate was reinforced with added 2×4 boards, I made sure PeterXavier was looking out his side view mirror the entire drive, and not taking any naps on the way. It worked!

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Oink!

We got her dropped off at 7am and she had a live weight of 254lbs. When I pick up the meat, I’ll be sure to stop by the generous rescue farmer’s house and give him a share of the bounty!

The Hog the (Almost) Got Away

Raising Backyard Hogs: A Beginners Guide

So, you have this great idea to put some of your wooded lot to use by raising hogs? Fantastic! Let’s do it! I had the same idea three years ago and have not regretted a moment of it. Yes, there was a time when eight piglets were running down road, or just the other day, a 250lb hog jumped out of the trailer just before I left for the butcher shop. Trust me, it’s worth it.

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After our acrobatic hog climbed out of the trailer, we stashed her in the chicken run until we could get the hog fencing set back up. The hens were not amused!

You’ll love it when every scrap from your garden, kitchen, butchering table, or dinner leftovers are turned into bacon. Even weeds, poison ivy, and, kitchen gray water gets devoured by pigs. Eventually, you’ll wonder how you ever got anything cleaned up without them.

According to Edmund Morris in the famous 1864 classic guide to independent farming, “The business of raising and carefully attending to only half a dozen hogs, is worthy of every farmer’s serious study and attention.” (link)

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These were our first hogs! They love the fresh air, green grass, and companionship.

The first step is to check and see if your land is zoned for agriculture use. If so, you’re well on your way. If not, you still may be able to raise hogs depending on your zoning and city/county ordinances. You can always raise them and see if anyone complains 🙂

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Hog love the woods. Trees provide plenty of shade, lots of roots and plants for a snack, poison ivy to munch on, and best of all – hills and ravines to run up and down. Hogs are like children. They need a space to play, make a mess, and shade for an afternoon siesta.

Piglets

Piglets are known in the farming community as feeder pigs. A feeder pig is a hog that has been weened from it’s mother and is less than 40lbs, give or take. I would look for a producer who is trying to support the heritage breeds and understands the value of trait diversity. Remember, you want hogs that can withstand extreme temperatures, exposure to the outside elements, and have the natural instinct to forage. A confinement breed wouldn’t last a season in my backyard, hence, I stick to old world heritage breeds. I raise Hampshire and Herefords because they are the earliest recorded breeds in America and because it’s what my producer grows! If you are in the Indiana/Illinois/Ohio area, I’d highly recommend using Maddhawg Farms.

Shelter

Although hogs love rain and don’t mind snow, I went ahead and built a three-sided 4 x 8 pallet shed for them to at least get out of a hail storm.

4 pallets

1 sheets of 4×8 plywood (roof)

3 2x4x8

1 box of 2 1\2 in deck screws (T25)

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These hogs are supposed to be napping, but I see at least one eye open.

For the flooring, I went ahead and built a deck out of leftover boards. The deck extends further than the front of the shed, which gives them an area for kicking the mud off their feet before entering, but they really only used it for sunbathing. Silly pigs! Otherwise, it can just be dirt, but keep in mind that you’ll have to constantly add bedding. I’ve found that the bedding provides warmth in the winter and soaks up their urine. For bedding, you can use just about anything: straw, pine shavings, ampalaya vines, grass clippings, or whatever you have on hand.

Fencing

The big questions is how to keep them contained. When they are piglets, this can be tricky. The best way is to acquire some hog panels (cow panels have larger spacing) and metal stakes to create a pen in front of your new pallet hog shelter. In the beginning I used the metal wires shaped for connecting hog panels to metal stakes, but now I just use zip ties. Zip ties won’t hold in a 150 pound hog, but do a decent job for the piglets. Zip ties are much easier to remove when we are ready to remove the hog panels.

Wait…remove the hog panels? Yes, you don’t want to raise hogs in a confined area right? Remember, they are like children. Can you imagine raising children with no access to parks, green space, creeks, mountains, ponds, or lakes?

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Look closely and you can see the electric fence wire connected to the round red posts in front of the hog panels. In the foreground, are hogs that are already trained on the electric fence wire.

Once the panels are up, you can toss the piglets inside and start planning for your electric fence. The plan is to get the electric fence setup and train the piglets on one or two lines of electrified wire before you remove the panels and run the fence anywhere you want. They’ll respect it even though it’s only a line or two – as long as it’s set to the proper height. A pigs nose is very sensitive, so make sure to run your lines right at snout height. I run one bit lower, as well, just to be safe.

With this set up, I’ve successfully run electric lines through ravines, creeks, and in an open field. I prefer using the following materials, in order to get a no-hassle fence setup in about 30 minutes. (This post contains affiliate links)

Gallager 110-Volt fence charger  – this is the only charger I would trust to really push back a big hog. It’s tempting to save money by going with a smaller charger, but the bigger one is worth the peace of mind. I wouldn’t use anything with less than three joules.

Gallagher Electric Fence Wire – I love this polywire because it is easy to setup and wind up on a reel for storage.

Gallagher Wire Reel – a reel is not absolutely necessary. You could wind up the polywire on a stick, but when it comes to setting it back up, you’ll be glad when the polywire isn’t a tangled up mess.

Zareba 50 ft Underground Wire  – after you measure the distance from your charger (mine is in the basement) to your electric fence, purchase plenty of hook up wire  the underground electrical connection. I buried mine 6 inches deep with a shovel. It’s always nice to have extra for connecting gates, paddocks across a road or trail, etc.

Posts and Insulators  – I started with 25 posts and 50 insulators (two insulators per post). This will give you a decent size area for three hogs. You can also always add more later.

Clothesline Tightener

Bolt Connectors  – I use several of these on every electric fence setup to connect the hookup wire to the polywire.

Gate Holders  – Normally, I would just walk over the electric line when visiting the hogs and lay the posts on the ground when driving the trailer into their paddock. But last year, I started using plastic gate holders and now I’m never going back. It doesn’t take more than a few mins to setup.

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Feeding Your Hogs

Back to Edmund Morris,

“they shared with the cow in the abundant trimmings and surplus from the garden, eating many things which she rejected, and appropriating all the slop from the kitchen. In addition to this, we fed them twice a day with boiled bran, sometimes with a handful of corn meal, but never upon whole corn.”

In essence, you can feed them whatever you have on hand and for the most part, if they don’t like it or it’s not good for them, they’ll stay away from it. I’ve never had a hog that liked onions, potatoes, garlic, or peppers. So, don’t bother with those. In order to ensure that the hogs have a balanced diet, I would recommend that you purchase feed from a local grain elevator or supplier and only supplement 50% of their diet with food/garden scrapes. The feed ensures that they receive the proper vitamins and protein to grow strong and healthy. If you don’t have a lot of food or garden scraps, I would suggest looking at other supplement food sources to keep your feed costs down. Here are 3 that I use regularly:

Spent Grain – talk to you local brewery and ask them if they would fill-up a tote for you of their spent grain. Spent grain is the boiled grain used to make the wort. The wort is then poured into a secondary tank for fermentation, while the spent grain is dumped into a compost or trash bin. Yet, there are a lot of nutrients left in the grain and it still has about 8-12% protein (hog grower feed has 16-18% protein). If you are able to convince the brewery that giving you the spent grain is mutually beneficial, then you need to provide them with containers to fill. I’ve heard of farmers using everything from storage totes to trash cans to load spent grain, but you want to make it as convenient as possible for the brewer. I would highly recommend purchasing used IBC (intermediate bulk container) or pallet tank, which is a reusable industrial container designed for the transport and storage of bulk liquid and granulated substances, such as chemicals, food ingredients, solvents, etc. Be sure to buy ones used for food grade substances only.

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Typically, your brewery will have a fork lift to move the IBC/pallet tote to your pickup truck or trailer once it is filled. Once you get it home, you can use any number of creative or labor intensive methods of unloading it into the hog pen.

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The hogs love spent grain from the brewery, but always best feed it to them fresh. Since it’s basically, boiled grain, the moisture content is high and it’ll spoil quickly in the summer.

Food Distributor or Grocery Store – unlike the spent grain, you have to be picky dealing with these folks. They want to get rid of everything to save space in their trash compactor, so I have a few rules on what I’ll pickup from a food distributor or grocery store with whom I have partnered for food pickup.

Rule 1: I only pick up bulk items that are in their natural state. Fresh veggies and fruit are the most common. I’ve picked up totes of apples, tomatoes, watermelon, cabbages, etc.

Rule 2: Don’t pick up anything with excessive packaging. Trust me! When you are opening a 1000 bags of lettuce and your farm is littered in plastic, you won’t be happy. It’s not worth the work. If it comes in large 20lb bags then that works. But opening individual salad bags then having multiple little bags of croutons, dressing, and cheese fall out? You’ll be cursing your beloved hogs!

 

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Although, the hogs aren’t allowed to eat junk food, we made an exception for the Button vs PeterXavier pie eating contest.

Community Garden

Just about every community garden has a scrap pile where everyone dumps their rotten veggies, vines, weeds, etc. Stop by with your pickup truck and help them clear it out! When I stop by the community garden scrap pile, I’m looking for melons, tomato vines, and pumpkins. Every garden has too many pumpkins.

Finally, have fun with your hogs. They are like children. Joel Salatin has a great line from his book, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs,

“one of my favorite joys, is stepping across the electric fence to commiserate with a group of our pastured pigs. My special treat is to sit down, preferably on an old stump, get real quiet and still, then just wait. Sure enough those pigs eventually ease over to check me out. They snoodle up and down my pants pushing their wet noses into creases. Others nip at my shoelaces and chew at the soles of my shoes…the friendliest and most docile sidle up alongside and place a chin on my knee, waiting for a rub. Feel free to pet  your piglets often and they’ll reward you 6 months later with a gentle snout on your lap when they are twice your size.”

 

Beyond the Piston Cup to the Main Street of America

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Leaving for this mega road trip to California proved to be more difficult than expected. Of course a 5000 mile road trip through the mother land would be a huge undertaking for anyone, plus the fact that my wife and I were out numbered by the kids 3-1. But we couldn’t even make it out of the driveway! We locked ourselves out of the car just after we locked up the house. Seriously? Stranded outside our own home without the keys to the van wasn’t a good way to get an early start. After calling in an emergency set of keys held by my father-in-law, we were finally on our way only to realize we left our phone chargers and had to make a U-turn. Arrrhhh! How we managed such a feat, could have only been coordinated by Uncle Murphy himself.

We figured that the first part of the trip would be tough because we were on a timetable for my presentation in Los Angeles, so we decided to drive as far as we could the first night. If we made good time, then we might be able to spend more time at unique sections of the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park, such as the Rainbow Forest and Petrified Ruins.  There is lot to see and only a small amount of time, so lets get driving!

Lucky for us, we got all the worst weather out the way on the first day. Throughout Missouri, our radio was blasting one severe weather alert after another. The announcer seemed to rotate between her three favorite warning scripts: hail storms, tornado warnings, and high winds.

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After blasting through Missouri and Oklahoma (I couldn’t sleep for more than an hour at the truck stops, so we pressed on) we finally arrived in Amarillo, Texas. We arrived just in time to catch Mass then grab some famous TexMex for breakfast and hit the road again.

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Route 66 – Main Street of America

As we sailed through New Mexico on the open road, we soaked in the beautiful small towns of Route 66 and listened to podcasts about how the movie Cars brought new life to this almost forgotten roadway that defined American exceptionalism. Our constant search for new challenges, exploration, diversity, and adventure could be delivered through a new medium for the middle class family – the road trip. Yet, traveling on Rte 66 is more than just any road trip. Once it begins on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, this Main Street of America crosses the rivers, plains, mountains, deserts, and canyons of eight states and several Native American reservations before ending on the Santa Monica Pier in SoCal, 2448 miles later.

Beyond the Piston Cup

The podcast we were listening to was an interview with Michael Wallis, a historian who consulted for the Pixar creative team to develop characters and sets for the movie that related to life and culture on the historic byway. In fact, Michael even became the voice of “Sheriff” in the movie. He explained how Radiator Springs, although fictional, related to many small towns on Route 66. If I had to pick one town it resembled the most on our trip, it would be Tucumcari, New Mexico. It had the neon signs, dated hotels, and even a mountain in the shape of a radiator cap!

Lets see if we figured out any other similarities between the movie and what we saw on the Mother Road.

The ill-behaved herd of tractors seen wandering through town and invading a store in Radiator Springs are a likely homage to the wild burros that roam along the Route 66 ghost town of Oatman, Arizona between Kingman and the California border. The animals are descendants of the burros once used in the gold mines there. The burros are definitely a tourist attraction unto themselves. We had to stop on the side of the road when we saw this unlikely foursome hanging out in the bush without a care in the world. Although they don’t make the “moo-ing” sounds of the tractors in the movie, the burros definitely made their presence known.

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Lizzie’s Curio Shop in Radiator Springs resembles any one of the crazy gas station/mini-museums you see along the long sections of Route 66. They don’t sell gas any more, but you can find everything else from a jumble of memorabilia and knickknacks to rocks and bottle caps. 

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Tow Mater, everyone’s favorite character in the movie, is played by Larry the Cable Guy and he’s a homage to the owners of Sandhills Curiousity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma who describe it as the “Redneck Capital of the World.” My opinion is that Tow Mater’s character pays homage to all the hard working Americans who wake up every morning to swing a hammer, wrench, or other tool to make a living. Below is a picture of the kids and I hanging out with Tow Mater’s cousin, Tow Tater?

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In the movie, “Ornament Valley” is a reference to Monument Valley, in the far northern portion of the state, but you can pretty much see these monuments everywhere on varying scales. After we woke up one morning, we scaled this monument rock next to our campsite near Kingman, AZ.

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Finally, when Sally and Lightning McQueen drive into the country along old Route 66, the forest road resembles the highways winding through the Kaibab National Forest west of Flagstaff, Ariz., and the twisting, turning road that leads to Oatman, Ariz. 

 

Unfortunately, our “exceptionalism” has also spurned the development of highway improvements that have replaced many of Route 66’s sections with four-lane interstate highways.  In fact, they even removed many traces of Route 66 signage, which guarantees you will easily miss all of this scenic byway, along with the small dinners, curious museums, and wild burros. Skip the fast food highway by picking up a Route 66 guide to get you off the humdrum of interstate travel, beyond the Piston Cup, and back to Main Street America.

Book Recommendations:

Route 66 Tom Snyder

Route 66: The Mother Road Michael Wallis

Full map and descriptions of the Cars characters and scenery found along Route 66

 

How far to California?

Growing up in San Diego, I have vivid memories of taking road trips every year to see my grandparents, uncles, and aunts up north in Mammoth Lakes or Sacramento. Then I started to think of my own kids and how they don’t have those memories, because they are fortunate enough to have both sets of  grandparents practically in their own backyard. Yet, I wanted them to have the joy and excitement of going somewhere adventurous or maybe the adventure would be that the car would breakdown but we’d still get there on time…yet an adventure nonetheless.

It was nearing the end of the Spring and I had a presentation proposal accepted at a conference in my career field. The only catch was that the presentation was in Los Angeles. The idea of driving to the airport, catching a flight, then another flight and finally getting there (without a vehicle) after around 10 hours, didn’t appeal to me and I knew there had to be a better way of reaching LA. The only other option I could think of was crazy to even think about….drive the family 2500 miles to Los Angeles through Route 66, then go another 2500 through Utah and Colorado to arrive back home? We could take our time on the way back and see 5 or 6 National Parks, not mentioning the view and adventure of driving through 13 states. But, would our 16 year old Ford e150 van, nearing 200k miles, even make it that far.

We had camped in the past but not for long periods and always in an established campground. We had mixed results. One particular weekend in a campground was a nightmare. The tents were too small, I didn’t bring flashlights, and raccoons attacked our food supply. The campground manager practically lived at our site during the day, constantly making small talk, hanging out, and giving the kids rides on his go-cart. Something wasn’t right with this man. He might of been a functioning alcoholic, I don’t know. At any rate, we didn’t camp much because the space was always insufficient for our large family, we always forgot important camping items, and none was comfortable at night. Plus the kids were always grumpy, probably because they went to bed hungry due to my inferior cooking skills on an open fire.

Yet, the only way we could make this trip work, would be if we camped every night while traveling. We don’t fit in a hotel room or two and all the kids hate being stuck in a 20 x 20 room after being in the van for 10+ hours anyway….including mom and dad. In comes dispersed camping to the rescue! All Bureau of  Land Management, National Grasslands, and National Forests are open to free dispersed camping up to 14 continuous days at a site. How much land is there available? There are 450 million acres of dispersed camping available throughout the United States with the majority of in on the western half of the country.  This sounds perfect for our road trip! The USDA Forest Service definition of dispersed camping is camping that is OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no picnic tables, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates, which equals – no fees!

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We got to work right away and ordered the National Geographic Road Atlas – Adventure Edition. This was the edition recommended to us by National Geographic after I told them what we where doing. The nice lady on the phone said that not only does it mark all the developed (fee) campgrounds in National Parks, State Parks, Recreation Areas, National Forests and on BLM land, it also shades in National Forests and BLM lands, where you can camp almost anywhere (no fee).

National Forests and BLM land are both almost always marked with large brown conspicuous signs that say: “Entering Public Lands” or “Entering National Forest”. Once you’re sure you’re on public land, watch for dirt roads that lead off the main road. In National Forests you’ll see dirt side roads (not trailheads or jeep roads) that are usually marked by a brown fiberglass post with three or four white numbers, indicating the Forest Road number.

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As you drive down the forest road, you’ll see multiple spots that are out of the way, cleared and leveled. These are all fair game for camping, unless marked with a “No Camping” sign. Ideal spots will be off the road far enough for privacy, have plenty of space for pitching a tent, build a fire pit, and have a great view.

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Other useful links:
We love these Benchmark Maps for each of the states we plan to visit.

We also relied on the website FreeCampsites to help us find out of the way, gorgeous campsites.

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