This is our sow, Lily. She is carefully nursing her nine piglets. Her story begins with Richard the Pig Guy. At least that’s what Keith and I call him. Neither of us can pronounce his last name. Three and a half years ago, we paid him a visit. He met us in his driveway. Then, he led us back to his pig lots. From there, he showed us his available pig options. We chose our feeder pigs and loaded them to take home. Afterwards, we shopped for a gilt.
We needed a young female that was old enough for breeding, before winter. As it turned out, Richard didn’t have many that fit our needs. However, he was willing to part with a white gilt, who had only one tassel. We were very grateful. Besides, Keith and I were breeding for pork, not tassels. Most pigs and goats with tassels have two. They are fleshy and hair covered; about three inches-long. They are finger-shaped dangles of fat that attach under the chin and at both sides of the neck. I’m unaware of their biological purpose, other than as decoration. I tease they are a pig’s earrings or necklace.
Anyway, I named our one-tasseled pig, Lily. Yes, I named her even before we’d purchased her. After we paid for all our new pigs, we only took the feeders. Lily would stay behind. The next day, Richard would walk her to an adjacent and drier pen. From there, it would be easy to load her.
Later in the week, we returned for Lily with a cattle trailer. Loading went smoothly. Keith raised up the front end of the trailer, so the back was flush with the ground. Richard used a hog panel to guide Lily from the holding pen to the entrance of the trailer. I tossed a handful of corn into the trailer, Lily followed, and the door was closed. It took no time at all and required very little effort. Compared to most of what we do, it was a cinch. We’d be on our way home, as soon as we said our goodbye to Richard.
Minnesotans have a goodbye that is hard to explain and frankly, best experienced first-hand. It’s not the no nonsense, “See ya” and “Yep” finality of the Midwest. And it’s not the sweet blessings of the South, “Ya’ll be careful now, ya hear?” and “We will. Take care and tell your mama, ‘Hey’ for me.” In fact, it shouldn’t be called a goodbye at all. It should be pluralized to Minnesota “goodbyes” with a capital “S”.
Sometimes it’s cumbersome and usually it’s drawn out. It’s a ritual of, “Well, I best be going” and “Before you go, did you know…”. More information is shared and the process of saying goodbye, starts over again. This time with “Well, it’s getting’ late. Got chores to do.” And “Sure is getting’ late, but it won’t be long before we have more daylight. Speakin’ of chores, did you hear that…” And the process is repeated, yet again. And if you’re special or your host family simply enjoys your company, the process may repeat more than the typical three times. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just -as Minnesotans would say- different. Lily patiently endured our Minnesotan goodbyes.
When we made it home, Keith backed the trailer up to the south side of Lily’s pen. I opened the gate and the trailer door. Keith got in the trailer to escort Lily out. She dashed out and headed to the northeast side of the pen. As Keith closed the trailer door, Lily touched the hot-wire fencing. She squealed and instead of backing up, she ran straight through it. And there were no hog panels to stop her.
Lily continued running North into the horse pasture where she came face to face with another shock; our mare, Daisy. She has an ornery streak. Daisy zeroed in on Lily and chased her all over the pasture. It was fun entertainment for the horse. However, it wasn’t funny to us and we ran as fast as we could to intervene. We were too late.
Lily had run into the woods bordering the east pasture. Fortunately, the pasture fence stopped Daisy from following. Unfortunately, Lily was loose and scared. She was also in the woods during a time where coyotes, bears, and wolves are active and hungry. Lily never even slowed down to tell us goodbye.
Keith and I shook our heads in disbelief, as we headed to the feed shed. It seemed we had just purchased a fresh pork dinner for four-legged predators. We grabbed a bucket of cracked corn and returned to the pasture. It was easy to see Daisy’s n-shaped hoof prints. They nearly overtook Lily’s v-shaped hoof prints. We followed Lily’s pointy-toe prints to where she had entered the woods.
Once there, however, it was too difficult to track her. Fall leaves still blanketed the ground. We searched and listened intently, but couldn’t find any sign of her. Though not an expert, Keith’s a darn good tracker and we’re both persistent. However, it was getting dark. And we really didn’t want our efforts to chase her further away and deeper into the woods. We stopped and removed some leaves from the base of a tree. It would serve as a bait station for Lily.
There I poured out some feed and we returned to the house. Keith took the four-wheeler over to the north side of our property. There was no sign that she had exited. We were hopeful she’d stay close by. Maybe, she’d even seek out the company of the two feeder pigs. Meanwhile, I called our neighbors, just in case. When Keith returned, he also called his cousin. Together they made plans to build a hog crate.
The next morning, I took more feed out to the tree. When I arrived, the feed I had left the evening before was gone. I found only a couple of hoof marks. I listened intently, but couldn’t hear her. I left more feed and waited a short distance away. If she was anywhere near the bait tree, she wouldn’t see me. However, she could probably still smell me. She didn’t show up and eventually, I left. I returned a couple more times in the afternoon. She still hadn’t been back to the tree and the feed was still there. Before nightfall, I returned, yet the feed remained. I was concerned Lily was gone for good.
The second morning, I caught a glimpse of her near the bait station. She didn’t run and acted interested in more food. I tried dropping a trail of feed to get her to follow me. She was still nervous. When I stepped on a limb that popped, she disappeared again. Throughout the day, I checked and rechecked for any possible sign of her. There was none.
On the third morning, I was told that the hog crate would be completed by evening. Meanwhile, I still went out to search for Lily. This time she was waiting near the bait tree. I must admit I was surprised. And I’d find out shortly, that I also was unprepared. I put out a little trail of feed, leading out of the woods. It took some time, but I got her out and into the east pasture. She was following along with her nose to ground and I was walking backwards, dropping the trail of feed. It was pure luck that I’d brought just enough feed to make it all the way to her hog pen.
We made it halfway ‘cross the pasture and her return looked promising. That is until her head popped up and she did an about face. Lily never looked back as she bounded into the woods. I looked behind me and saw Daisy racing toward us. I squealed in frustration. Daisy ignored me, thundering past. Her nostrils flared, her head was held high, and her tail flowed long behind her.
Daisy stopped at the horse fence where Lily exited. Daisy then stomped a couple times before returning to our geldings. As she trotted, I failed to see her raven beauty. And I smelled nothing but her arrogance. I was mad…or more honestly, I was pissed.
The horses have four rotational pastures, each fenced and gated separately. However, in the early spring, we let them have access to all four. This was day three of playing Loose Lily. Yet, it still hadn’t occurred to me to lock the horses out of the far east pasture. I felt both stupid and exasperated. I had worked so hard and Lily had come so far. I sulked and headed directly to the gate and closed it. The horses no longer had access to that section.
Sadly, I had little hope that Lily would come back out this day. I didn’t figure she’d be enticed by more feed. She’d already eaten her way to the half-way point of the pasture. I left the pastures and wanted to fling the bucket. I resisted only because it still had feed in it. I left it by the feed shed and stomped inside the house. I was done for now.
By late afternoon, I was willing to give it another try. I added some more feed into the bucket and headed for the east pasture. Instead of walking all the way around to the gate, I ducked under the fence. I was only a few steps inside the wood line, when Lily appeared. She greeted me with a grunt. Instantly, I dropped a handful of feed and stepped back. She took the bait.
Step by step and fistful by fistful, we crossed the east pasture. We were 90% across when Keith arrived home. In the back of the pickup truck was our new hog crate. He waved, but wisely stood by the truck, watching us. When Lily arrived at the northeast side of the hog pen, she hesitated. It was where she’d been shocked. I decided to move the trail of feed farther East, away from the pen. It made our journey a little longer, but it worked and she followed.
As Lily neared the south side of the pen, I quickly opened the gate. I also left a generous trail of feed into the pen. She entered and I quickly secured the gate. As I squealed with delight, Keith walked over to tease me. He said here he’d brought home a new hog crate and I had ruined his fun. I smarted off and offered to let Lily loose. Then, I reached for the gate handle.
I’d expected Keith would try to stop me. Instead, he dared me. He knew there wasn’t a chance in Hell that I’d let Lily loose after working so hard. Defeated, I let go of the gate handle and he laughed. Soberly, I reminded him that he may still have to use the crate. After all, at any moment Lily could still bolt through the electric fence, instead of backing up. I told him if she did, it was his turn to catch her and I emphasized, all by himself.
However, Lily stayed in her pen that day and the next. And for the last three years, she’s never run out. She maintains several summer homes in the north pastures; complete with mud spas. Come winter, she moves South to cozier quarters. She has continued to grow, but maintains a happy disposition.
Lily is also a wonderful mother. She tries her best to keep all her piglets in one place. Boy, you should hear her bark, when they run out under the fence! Goodness, she’s not happy about it. Fortunately, they never go too far from their mom, before returning. And for some strange reason, Keith and I enjoy watching their escapes.