If you are friends with anyone on the Bellair Crew, you may have already heard the Tale of the Missing Pig. If you haven’t, well this is your lucky day! Read on:
Our story begins Tuesday, October 3. We had purchased a pregnant sow and were bringing her home to Bellair. We knew she had lived in an electric-fence enclosure with other pigs at her old farm, so we just opened the door to the trailer into the area with the other pigs. At first all was fine, and all the pigs were snuffling around getting to know each other. There were a few tussles, but Mama Pig is so much larger than the others; we didn’t worry about it. Mama Pig, on the other hand, had other plans. Getting tired of these smaller pigs and their attitude, Mama Pig surprised us all and stepped right over the electric fence. Well, that got our attention. Jamie and Nat corralled her back into the pig yard, but confidence was low that she would stay in, considering her blatant disregard of the fence just a moment ago. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this all happened around 4:30 pm and no one was free to think of a more permanent solution. Sure enough, by 7pm, she had gone.
The first few days, we tried the search-and-rescue approach. Jamie and Nat combed the area right around the pig yard on foot, then used ATVs to explore along some of the trails in the surrounding woods. They did have one fleeting glimpse of her, but she was gone before a plan could be hatched. By Thursday, we got the entire crew involved. We all went out and lined up, exploring the woods in a methodical manner. We almost lost some crew members and we did not find the pig. But alas! We encountered our first evidence: a large, scuffed-up area that Jamie surmised was her bed the night before. We decided to dump some food at the bed site and then in some other spots around the area, hoping that it would keep her well-nourished and close.
The next day was Crew Day, a celebratory occasion in which the crew spends a fun day together off-farm. We of course were disappointed not to have this pig thing wrapped up before Crew Day, but the upside was we had plenty of ammo for prank-calling Jamie throughout the day. Then was the weekend, where we continuously checked on food supplies and whether or not she had been sleeping in her spot, but we did not have the staff on hand to launch a full capture mission.
On Monday, we began executing the best plan we had been able to come up with: we were to slowly start building cattle-gate-pen around her preferred sleeping spot and when the time came, we would shut the door at night while she was sleeping. By Tuesday morning, it was unclear if she had slept in her spot the night before. We had noticed some new areas of rooted-up ground in other parts of the farm. “Where is this pig?” and “What is she doing all day?” we wondered. Each morning we would regale our coworkers with dreams and perceived premonitions we had had of Mama Pig the night before. “I think she’s moved on,” said someone. “I feel like she’d keep to the lowlands,” said someone else. It was beginning to feel like an enigma, slipping out of our control. We started to worry about what would happen if she gave birth to her babies out there. Would we be the source of a wild-boar scourge that would wreck Southern Albemarle for years to come?
The mood changed abruptly Tuesday evening, when Chelsea spotted Mama Pig by Mike’s Pond while she was running. Chelsea sprinted back to the barn to sound the alarm and all us farm residents rushed over. We snuck up on her so as not to scare her away. The whole ordeal took on a spooky tone as we shivered in the first fall air and felt the cockleburs scratching at our ankles as we crept up through the tall browning grass. Well, indeed, there was Mama Pig. Looking quite pleased with herself, too, I might add. She was sitting there like a dog with her butt in the mud. We were electric with excitement. “There she is!” said Jamie. “But what do we do with her? we all wondered.
We decided to try to corral her in the general direction of the barn. We would either try to get her into our old piglet enclosure, or even the barn itself. It was then we realized this pig’s true potential. The second we would take our eyes off her, she would vanish. Her reddish brown Tamworth coat blended perfectly with the fall grasses in the field and she would sink her body down as if the pasture was an ocean she could traverse as covertly as a submarine. Seeing what we were up against and racing the setting sun, we spotted Tom’s sheep flock. “Let’s just put her in the sheep fence,” suggested Jamie. The next part worked a charm and lickety-split, she was in with the sheep. We tried futilely to get her into the trailer from there, but it was too big a space and there weren’t enough of us. We decided to leave it till morning.
But when morning came, she was gone, as were all the sheep. We got the sheep rounded back up, but no Mama Pig. The mood on the crew had sombered. Were we ever going to get her? We still had a good lead, though. It quickly became clear that Mama Pig was still visiting Mike’s Pond quite regularly. Not only were there large wallows where she laid to cool off in the midday sun, but there was evidence of her feasting on cattails and even a scrape beneath a nearby tree that looked like a pig-shaped bed! We decided to leave the trailer near the pond. Over the next few days, the farm residents compulsively visited the pond, morning, noon, night, and weekend. Even my evening walks with my dogs began to include the pond in our route. I’m pretty sure Nat was thinking about sleeping out there. Mama pig was sleeping in the trailer and eating the offerings we left for her. The time was nigh.
Monday we made a plan to meet out by the pond at 9pm to (hopefully!) shut the pig in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nat decided to spend a little time by the pond before then. I got a phone call at around 6:30 from a frantic Nat. “I have eyes on the pig!” he hissed. “Everyone’s coming. You should come.”
I put down the spatula I was stirring up a batch of brownies with and ran to the pond. We all arrived just in time. Mama Pig was on her way out. We got her turned around and slowly and methodically herded her to the trailer. We failed the first time, spooking her at the last second, and I had to sprint up the hill to get back ahead of her. “I guess I was wrong about the lowlands,” I thought. We got her turned back around and this time, finally, she walked into the trailer and we shut the door behind her. Loud whooping, high-fives, and celebratory beers ensued.
Now all is well. We are all sleeping better and spending less time stalking swine at Mike’s Pond. As for Mama Pig, she also seems fine, quite at home in her new enclosure, where we will train her to OUR electric fence. She hasn’t quite lost her elusive posture, though, and she looks at us with her amber eyes through tall stalks of ironweed and goldenrod.