Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Houston, we’ve had a problem."

With these immortal words, the astronaut Jack Swigert announced a catastrophic technical failure on the Apollo 13 spacecraft. Not quite the same magnitude of disaster but these are the words that came to mind when I opened the front door early one morning last week, to be confronted by a hungry pig. You might have read in my blog of 14th October of the great permaculture idea of letting our pigs out of their enclosure to forage for acorns. Now pigs, if they’re anything, are both intelligent and hungry, probably in equal measure … and pigs really like acorns!

They have spent months inside their large square of pasture, kept in by a barrier, which is visual, electric (painful) and psychological. I’d unwittingly removed the psychological barrier so the pigs were left to weigh up the pain / pleasure equation and work out whether it was worth the effort and suffering to get to an unlimited supply of tasty food. The smaller pig (they’re brothers from the same litter but one is notably larger than the other) is the braver, or more foolhardy, and it was he outside the front door!

Getting him back—having moved the electric fence bands—with a shaken bucket of pig nuts, was easy. I thought the lowest band low enough and spent over half an hour raising the upper band a peg and tightening the whole thing up, then turning the electricity up to the top of the scale. No sooner I had done this, than the little pig put his very bristly (perhaps therefore insulated?) nose under the lower band and ran for it. The large pig, seeing this, just ploughed through the central gap, now made bigger as I’d moved the top line up … “bo****ks!”

Gabrielle usually prepares breakfast for us both while I get the animals up each morning and breakfast was ready. We sat downstairs on the picnic table so as to keep an eye on the free-roaming pigs while we ate. I was considerably perturbed as we had to find a solution and it wasn’t yet obvious what that might be. So, after breakfast and over a coffee, still at the picnic table keeping an eye on the acorn-grazing porcine escapologists, we had a meeting to look at all our options, assess their relative strengths and weaknesses, settle on our vision of a pig-secure future and roll out a raft of changes. OK, I’m jesting, we haven’t turned into a pair of business consultants but we DID have a meeting and, when I realised what we were doing, it made me think of some grizzled, weather-beaten, old and wise Welsh sheep farmer faced with an escaped livestock problem and just fetching a roll of sheep netting, some fencing pliers and a rather large hammer and getting on with it, rather than holding a “meeting”.

Thankfully, we had a “and everyone lived happily ever after” end to our story as we tried one last time with the electric fence, lowering the first line and adding a third line, then turning the voltage (or amps?) up to maximum. The Status Quo (see photo for all you rockers!) has now returned and we are again on our hands and knees, manually collecting acorns to feed to our once-more obedient piggies.