Circus

With all the stress and bad news in the world today, I thought you might enjoy a little laughter at my expense. Farming certainly provides some amusing anecdotes!

Of all the things I hadn’t imagined about farming, the sheer number of times I need to change my clothes has been quite surprising. There are ruined clothes, of course. Blood, mud, and grease have taken their toll on my wardrobe. I’ve split the crotch and ripped the knees of countless pants. I squatted down once to weed a row of lettuce and snagged the seat of my brand new Carhartt pants on a stray length of rebar. Even my best attempts to designate some “city” clothes are thwarted by a sudden need to chase down an escaped critter or the “let me just go check on the garden quickly” that almost always turns into dragging a muddy hose or getting lost in pulling weeds. Shoes are the same. I’ve yet to find a muck boot that actually stands up to test of real farm work. And then there’s the summer heat and humidity that has me dripping in sweat within minutes of going outside. On those unbearable days, I change my clothes two or three times a day just to feel somewhat human.

So it should come as no surprise that I sometimes get caught with my pants down.

One sweltering summer day, I had come into the house, stripped down to my skivvies to cool off when I heard one of the dogs barking. I glanced out the window to see 4 piglets streaming across the driveway and into the woods headed for the neighbor’s place. Knowing how fast those little buggers were I jumped in my boots and ran out the door, clothing optional! I grabbed a bucket of feed and chased down the piggies, who then happily followed the grain and my mostly naked self back to the pen. Thankfully no delivery drivers came up our driveway that afternoon!

The first few times an animal escaped I freaked out. Running after them in my underwear, dropping everything to look for them, driving back from over an hour away because the neighbor texted me a picture of a pig in her front yard. Over the years it has become such an ordinary occurrence that it no longer sparks the same intensity of reaction. Most of the time, the critters take a quick run around the property, exulting in their temporary freedom, but a bucket of grain or a splash of milk almost always entices them home.

Now and then the escapes are more exciting. I was in Charlottesville one day, about 45 minutes from home when a friend called me to say another friend had called him because animal control had called her to say some pigs were out on Route 6, the main road through the county. “Shit, those are my pigs!” I moaned. He didn’t have any further information and thought animal control may have picked them up. So I hopped in the truck and sped home as quickly as I could. As I approached my area of route 6, I slowed down a bit to scan the fields for my pigs. Nothing. I drove a couple more miles, to the neighbor’s farm who had been called by animal control. Nothing. I drove home hoping maybe they had returned home. Nothing. I called the Sheriff’s office to speak with animal control. The officer said they had been called about some pigs near the corner market, but they had not picked them up. As far as he knew they were still there. I hopped back in the truck and headed up to the market.

I had missed them the first time, but there they were – five little rascals rooting around on the edge of a horse pasture right by the major road. I pulled off the road and got out of the truck. I just stood there and stared at them lest my approach makes them scatter. Leaning against the truck bed I wondered how the hell I was going to get them home. Even at only 4 months old, there was no way I could lift one. Even if I could have, I didn’t fancy making a spectacle of myself on the side of route 6 trying to wrestle a pig. It occurred to me I might be able to get some milk at the market. I walked across the street to the little store. Inside was the usual cast of characters who hang around the store, old farmers mostly taking a break for a stiff cup of coffee and some local gossip. My hay guy was leaning on the counter by the register.

“You know anybody got some pigs missing?” he inquired jokingly as I walked through the door.

“Yeah, mine.”

They all laughed heartily. I grabbed a gallon of milk from the fridge and handed the store owner my money. “They’ve been out here behind the store for a while. Our bread delivery guy’s been giving them loaves to keep them out of the road. One almost got hit by a big truck.”

“Thanks,” I said, “But you know they’ll just be back tomorrow now that they know where the snacks are.”

Not really feeling up to the banter, I took the milk and headed out the door. I grabbed a bucket from the back of the truck and headed for the pigs. Just as I reached them a car pulled off the road and a guy jumped out. He had a loaf of bread and was getting ready to toss it to the pigs.

“These your pigs?”

“Yep. Hoping they’ll follow this milk home.”

“Can I help?”

I poured a little of the milk into the bucket and handed it to him. The pigs got a whiff of the milk and immediately showed interest. Slowly we began walking toward home, lowering the milk to snout height every now and then to keep up the interest, while five little pigs followed me and a kind stranger down the road. We had about a mile to walk to get them home. Once off the main road and on to the side road with access to the back of my property, a truck pulled up and out hopped my hay guy. He grabbed a switch up off the ground and walked behind our little parade giving a swift correction to any pig who lagged behind or tried to veer off. Cars stopped and drivers gawked periodically. I could see a neighbor and her grandson looking out their picture window taking video and laughing hysterically. Finally, we turned on to our property. Halfway there. The last bit through the woods was harder to keep the pigs collected and moving forward. It was a banner acorn year so the temptation to stop and forage was great. Still, we finally made it back to their pen. The pigs, exhausted from their adventure, found the nearest wallow and flopped down to cool off.

I could go on with animal escape stories. There’s the time we missed church because I went to check the rabbits before I left and found that eight were missing. All of us, dressed for church, ran around trying to catch rabbits, the kids armed with butterfly nets and the adults lunging to snag wayward bunnies. Or getting the call that my sow was in the neighbor’s garden while I was away in another state and Bones was an hour away at work. Or coming home to find everything in the yard completely defoliated because the goats got out. Meanwhile, two were standing on top of the cab of the truck. Or the time I was away at a conference and my mom, a self-avowed city girl, stayed at the farm to take care of the kids. She ended up having to round up a bunch of escaped piglets while she swore the goats stood watching and laughing at her. It’s a circus around here, I tell ya!

Sometimes I think maybe I’m just really bad at this whole animal farming thing, but I hear plenty of stories from friends that assure me I’m not alone. And there’s the time I texted my neighbor to say, “Should your horse be standing at the end of your driveway?” Only to see her running out of her house in pajamas and muck boots to grab the horse and lead him back to the barn where he should have been.

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