|So tiny! But not for long.|
But not just any pigs, mind you. Given my preoccupation with obscure winter squash, and our love of our heritage breed chickens, only a heritage breed would do. Better still if the breed were endangered so that we could be part of helping to preserve it.
An extensive search of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website led us to narrow our focus to two swine breeds, Large Black, and Gloucestershire Old Spots.
The drawback to the Large Black for us at this point, as we are just a smallholding, was the large part of the equation. The sows reach 600 to 700 pounds at maturity, the boars can top out at 800 pounds, a fact which, as I read it aloud to JR, caused both of us to envision certain destruction of our corral (even with the restoration of electric fence) and pigs run amok. Very, very large pigs run amok, surely rendering us each persona non grata in our little community.
The incredible scarcity of the Gloucestershire Old Spots (GOS) was a big draw. The oldest spotted breed in the world, in their homeland, the United Kingdom, they had dwindled in popularity from the end of World War II on, nearly becoming extinct in the 1960s.
In 1995, with only 4 GOS pigs in North America, Robyn Metcalfe, the original founder of the United States' Gloucestershire Old Spots Association, and owner of Kelmscott Rare Breeds Foundation in Maine, worked with U.K. breeders to come up with a plan to reintroduce the breed to the United States.
In 1996, after a U.K. to New York flight on British Airways (during which I'm sure they were rather well-tended to - these piglets are first-class charmers, it would be nearly impossible for the flight crew to resist providing a back scratch or two hundred during the course of the flight) and a few months in quarantine, 20 GOS piglets were delivered to Kelmscott, then distributed to interested breeders. Even still, in 2009, there were fewer than 200 breeding animals in the U.S. and fewer than 1000 in the U.K.
So the backstory was very compelling. And then I read that these are laid back pigs. And everyone on our farm - maybe excluding the roosters - is laid back.
The breeder who we bought from had indicated on her site that the pigs were good around children, which is important for our nieces' and nephews' sake, and thus, the decision was made. I mailed a deposit check on New Year's Eve - ending the old year and starting the new one well and with purpose.
A few weeks later, on the only serious snow day we'd had all year, JR and I piled into his truck at 6:30am and drove 45 minutes in increasingly slippery conditions to the Prudence Island ferry dock.
Initially, we had planned to park the truck on the mainland, ferry over with our dog crate/pig transport device, and be carted out to the farm by the farmer.
Fortunately for us, the lack of demand for travel to a small island in a snow storm opened up a spot for our truck, and we floated across Narragansett Bay until, approximately 4 feet from shore (fabulous visibility that day), we spotted the dock, and the farmer, Pat Rossi, in her truck, waiting for us to follow her out to Rossi Farm.
|GPS knows it ain't paved, but they don't seem totally clear about the fact that it's ocean.|
In near-blizzard conditions, Prudence Island's inland landscape is a bit surreal, dotted with sculptural evergreens, spare, yet contorted, or more likely windswept.
The island is also desolate in winter, as the year-round population is only 218 people, all but two of whom - Pat Rossi and her son in front of us in their truck - were hunkered down in their homes.
|That's the ocean to the left. It's the gray, stormy-looking thing.|
We followed the ocean road to Pat's farm, where a small herd of gorgeous Gloucestershire Old Spots of varying ages greeted us. I had already selected our two gilts (females that haven't yet been bred) from photos Pat had emailed earlier, 77-06 and 77-07, each with a green number tag in her ear.
Of course, 77-06 and 77-07 would not suffice as names, so upon making the selection from the photographs, I began the brainstorming of proper names.
06 is very spotty. You should see all the spots: on her back, on her face, on her ears. She's uber-spotty. I'd name her Spotty. Perfect.
07 has one big spot on her lower back. I'd name her Big Ass Spot. BA Spot for short, and to keep it clean. You know, for the children. Even though children are only visitors to our house.
No matter, even with a G-rated name, I'd be sure to slip up like I normally do with ducking ossoles, which are small birds that duck rapidly during flight, and also when invoking Duck's sake, because I care deeply about Duck and her well-being. I mean, what the duck? Who wouldn't give a duck about Duck?
JR, trying to be polite (obviously far more polite than I am capable of, Ms. Longshoreman-Mouth over here), mentioned that being of the breed Gloucestershire Old Spots, and also being spotted, that perhaps those might not be the most original names for our pigs. Geez. Way to burst a new pig-mom's bubble.
|At Rossi Farm before heading to the ferry dock.|
On the drive home, pigs safely tucked away in the dog crate, I proposed new non-spotcentric names: Prudence (aka Spotty) and Rebecca (aka Big Ass Spot). Prudence is obvious, I know. Because they are Rhode Island island pigs, they were both given Rhode Island island names, and Rebecca's is in honor of the statue of Rebecca that graces the teeny traffic rotary in downtown New Shoreham, Block Island, our favorite beach vacation spot. (Spot! More spots! Spots all around!)
|Just before the carrying to the pig pen - and the horrific squealing - begins.|
After a bit of blood-curdling squealing during the carrying from dog crate to pig pen (totally normal, pigs don't like being carried) - during which no police were called, which was good in the moment, but possibly bad in terms of our neighbors' overall concern for others - Prudence and Rebecca settled into their straw bed and new surroundings.
Within days, apparently having not heeded Pat Rossi's warning that they want to be pigs not pets, they began running to the gate for back scratches whenever they spotted us, sometimes even charging out of the straw bed at the sound of our feet. Within those same few days, JR and I were both completely smitten.
Soon, we'll be bringing a boyfriend - yes, a stud - to the farm for them, and will breed the girls to help perpetuate the breed, as well as to raise and sell some of their offspring for market, and for our own consumption.
For now, we're quite content to treat them a bit like pets (hey, they really like having their backs scratched!), and get to know their personalities - Prudence is the more outgoing gilt, though Rebecca has warmed up to us. It's amazing what a little spine-scratch will do to increase swine friendliness.
|Prudence being treated just like a pet. Aside from the living in the barn part.|
In the short time they've been here, Prudence has made it known that she is the alpha in this pen, behaving in a quite hoggish fashion around the trough, but still quite content to have her sister sling her hoof over her side while they lay side by each basking in the afternoon sun. A lovely sight, indeed. I'll have to be extremely stealth to sneak up and capture a shot of it for you before they hear me and rush the gate for scratches, but I'll do my best.