Why add a pig to my urban homestead?

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Monday, August 25, 2014 10:20 PM

In early June, I got a text from my friend Maya over at Soul Flower Farm on a Thursday evening.  A friend of hers had to move that weekend and was looking for a new home for her 8 month old pot-bellied pig.  She wanted to know if I knew anyone who might want him.  At this point, her friend didn't even care if it ended up in the freezer.  It just needed to go right away.  *sigh*

Pigs.  They are so cute!  And they do make great family pets.  But so many people don't realize how intelligent they are, or how big they get, or how much care they need, or the training involved, or... or... or...  I have a friend that works with a pig rescue group that told me the other day she sees 100's of pigs a month cross through her e-mail looking for good homes.  A pig should NOT be an impulse acquisition.  Period.

But back to this little fella who was desperately in need of a new home pronto.  I have actually been considering getting a pig for a long time.  No, not for food.  If I want to put some pork in the freezer, I'll go to the county fair and buy one from a 4-H kid.  I know they are well cared for, the money goes to a good cause, AND it's tax deductible to boot.  So when this opportunity dropped into my lap, I decided to give it a try.  I said I'd bring him home and test it out.  If it didn't work out, I would try to re-home him.  If that didn't work, then he might just end up in the freezer.  But that would be a last resort.

So I picked him up and brought him home.  Although I consider the pen he was in to be inadequate, it was not extremely bad and the young girl who's pet he was had actually socialized him decently.  He was friendly.  But he was also scared.  Getting him into a crate in the car proved to be a matter of picking the 45 lb pig up while he screamed bloody murder.  Did you know that a pig's squeal can range from 110 - 115 decibels?  Um.. my right ear sure does...

Luckily I had prepared a separate pen for him so that he could settle in without having to deal with all the other critters.  It didn't take him long.  I spent a lot of time with him and he seemed to be reassured by my presence.  I hoped he would soon forget that I was the mean lady that yanked him away from his home and family, stuffed him in a crate, and drove away with him.

He spent the first night here rooting around for worms.  Lots of worms.  Lots of bugs.  Lots and lots of protein.  Although he wasn't drastically underweight, it was obvious he was protein starved.  They had been raising him on veggie and table scraps.  I immediately switched him to an active adult mini-pig ration specifically designed for his needs.

Between the food, three times the space, and all the extra attention, I won the little guy over.  He LOVES belly rubs!  He came with the name Mr. Oink, which I couldn't stand.  Ridiculous name given to him by a 12 year old.  But it's bad luck to change a livestock animals name, so I shortened it to M.O. or rather just Mo and let it stand.  Just between you and me, I sometimes call him Mo Bacon :)
He settled in quite nicely and started to gain some confidence.  Meanwhile, I revisited all the reference materials I had on pigs and spent much more time online doing research.  Luckily I know a couple of pig owners, and my good friend Ally who has a lot of experience with Pot Belly pigs proved to be an amazing resource.  I think her value came with the reassurances rather than actual detailed information.  But she did point me in the right direction with several good links.

When I first released Mo to run around the barnyard supervised, Snowberry, my herd queen, immediately gave him a very forceful head butt resulting in a double barrel roll.  Little Mo got up and gave her a look that said "OK, I get it.  You're the boss."  My other animals basically accepted him without a second thought.  They are so mellow!

Fast forward about a month.  Lulu was the first of my does to have kids - quads.  And in the barnyard, we reached cuteness overload.  It was official.  I wasn't going to find a new home for Mo.  He was mine.

So back to the title of this post.  Why did I want a pig?  Was it for meat?  No.  Was it for the cuteness factor?  No, although I'll tell you it does make the decision easier.  Was it because I'm all about rescuing unwanted livestock.  Um... NO.  Definitely not.  I do help to re-home some from time to time.  But I have specific limits on how many animals I can and do maintain based upon space requirements as well as time, labor, and expense requirements.  I may only be an urban homesteader, but I have farm cred folks.  I've put in my time.  Yes, it's immensely satisfying but it's also not cheap and it's a hell of a lot of work.  If you don't believe me, I can direct you to a number of other homesteaders that will back me up on that point.  This lifestyle isn't for everyone, and it is not the idyllic utopia it might seem based upon what homestead bloggers choose to post about.  It's rewarding, but it's hard work!

Nope.  I wanted a pig specifically for one reason and one reason only.  Actually, it can be summed up in two words.  The Snout!


When I moved in here, the soil was hard pan clay.  Sticky, mucky, stick to your shoes and everything else clay.  I have done a lot to improve it since I've been here, especially with the help of all that wonderful manure I've gotten from my animals.  My veggie and flower gardens do great!  But there is also a drawback.  All that raw material - hay, poop, deep litter - needs to be harvested.  It needs scooped, raked, and shoveled out of the yard and barn.  It then needs to be deposited into the compost bins so the various micro/macro organisms can work their magic.  And that, my dear readers, is a LOT of hard labor.

As you may or may not know, I had spinal surgery a few years ago and foot surgery about 9 months ago.  I have spent the better part of the last 3 or 4 years on and off of disability.  So I'm not exactly able to handle all that hard labor any more.  I can rake and scoop the loose material no problem.  But the hard packed partially composted deep litter in the barn requires hiring someone or bartering for the labor.  And I've also built up an 8" or 10" layer of beautiful top soil above that awful clay.  And therein lies the problem.

That extra depth of topsoil make it hard or sometimes impossible to open and close various gates and doors.  I am constantly trying to keep the area in front of the barn door dug out and the loose hay in front of the entry gate is a twice daily challenge.  So what's a girl to do when she's broke and partially disabled?

Enter the pig and that amazing snout!  Yes, I now own an environmentally friendly rototiller.  It's a compact model, appropriate to the size of the job and my needs.  I get great "mileage" and performance powered by bio-fuel.  And it's "exhaust" is biodegradable.  Add the fact that it's user friendly with little required maintenance, and what more could an urban farmer want?

Here's a short clip of Mo in action.  Watch that powerhouse GO!!!
Once Mo finishes rototilling an area the chickens move in to scratch through his handy work and break it into nice fine loose material.  And THAT is something I can easily scoop up and haul around.  This is exactly why I have considered getting a pig for the past few years!  It's all about the SNOUT!

Mo has been a part of my life now for a couple of months and yes, I am in love.  He's sweet, smart, and well behaved.  We've been working on clicker training over the past few weeks.  I wanted to wait until he was fully comfortable and confident in his surroundings before trying to get him into a harness and walking.
After just three short training sessions, Mo was sporting his harness like it was an awesome fashion accessory.  After that, it was time to start training him to walk on a lead.  And how long do you think it took him to get the idea?
Two.  Count them.  Once in the garden and then we ventured out into the front yard.  A pocket full of grapes and the clicker and Mo was walking down the sidewalk.  This video is of his first foray into the world outside.  He did quite well.  Since then, we have been back out front for several short walks around the yard.  Nothing too stressful or too far.  Pigs require constant reassurance when they aren't sure of a situation.  Luckily, I was smart enough to spend a couple months bonding with him before beginning these new experiences.  He looks to me when he gets nervous, and I've come to recognize the tell tell signs that he's unsure of something before he gets scared and tries to bolt.

I am so proud of his progress, both in training and in health.  He is now up to 58 lbs which is a much healthier weight for his age and build.  And although I had been thinking of a pig for a long time, I was no where near buying one.  So Mo is just a case of the right place at the right time, AND knowing the right people.  Thanks go to Maya for thinking of me when she heard about him.  Maybe she'll want to  borrow him to rototill her beds when the harvest is over.  In fact, I might consider bartering that snout out to my homesteading friends now and again.  Either way, this boy is now earning his keep.

Me?  I'm a happy homesteader who is wishing you a wonderful harvest!  And please please PLEASE can we get some rain around here?

2 Response to "Why add a pig to my urban homestead?"

Anonymous Says:

Oh my goodness. This pig is the cutest ever! You are taking such good care of him!!

Juniper Says:

Very cool! I found your blog just recently (via a business card at Pollinate). I love reading about homesteading. Congrats on the happy union between you and Mo!