Yesterday afternoon I found an ad on Craigslist and immediately emailed the ad’s poster. Large Black Hog piglets for sale, they were 8 weeks old and located not too far away (well, about an hour and a half, but you gotta do what you gotta do to get piglets.) I was so elated when the guy emailed back last night- you have to act fast on craigslist- he said he had 13 available. I told him I’d come in the morning, cash in hand.
So after a quick run in to Menards to get a faucet for our newly installed kitchen sink, as all the reused ones were leaking, I drove as fast and as safely as I could to the address. A youngish looking man and his son came out of the side door of the big farm house perched on the hill. It was frigid out, the strong gusts of wind stirring the coldness beyond anything remotely comfortable.
When you connect with a seller on craigslist, you never know what you may walk into, so I had opened my swiss army knife and stuck it in the leg pocket of my carhartts, just in case. I arrived a bit later than I’d planned and apologized immediately as he pulled on his boots. Neither of us knew if we could trust the other at this point. I then smiled and shook his hand and said “I’m so excited!” He smiled back and we walked down the steep and crunchy ice path to the side of the run down old dairy barn.
This morning, right as I was leaving the house, he had called me to give me directions and ask how many I thought I’d want, so he could collect them, as they were all running around loose in the barn with their mommas. He asked if I wanted one or two? And I said well, if I like how they look I would like to get all 13. He kind of chuckled, but said ok in an amused voice.
Now, he pulled back the tablecloths that were stapled over the barn door opening to cut the drafts, which looked suspicious and janky. Sometimes this can indicate what you are about to see inside is a gross mess of sad animal husbandry. And it could also be a serial killer lair. But I soldiered forward to peek inside and saw a mass of tiny almost-sleekly black skinned piglets, their humongous ears flopping as they swirled to hide beneath each other, scampering in clean and fluffy golden straw. Brad poured out some feed and the army of little pigs came forward in a line, tentatively, their black eyes watching us. They were so gorgeous! He said he hadn’t had socialized them too well, but they’d warm up after getting settled into their new homes This is true. Pigs and piglets are very intelligent and responsive to kind and careful tending. After a month, they won’t leave your side and want all the attention you can give them.
There were actually 20 piglets in the group from 3 litters, but 7 of them were quite a bit smaller, as they were 2 weeks younger. The size difference was nearly half again as much! Piglets grow very fast. He told me how his sows actually all nursed the babies in a big group together, that this heritage breed indeed was so gentle and docile. He also told me that when they’d gotten their first LBH (Large Black Hogs) they’d also bought one to butcher so they could see if they liked the pork. LBH are known to be incredible foragers and grazers, even more so than other pigs who tend to root the dirt more than actually graze, and LBH pork has intramuscular fat versus it mostly being on the outside of the pig, like a blubber coat. (Which there is nothing wrong with! Our pigs are always delicious no matter the breed.) LBH take longer to grow to “market size”, but their meat is supposed to be out-of-control amazing and different, ruby red and very intensely flavored. He said it was true, and that’s why they have continued to raise these pigs. He just has the 3 sows and a boar, and that’s working for them, they don’t market the meat but instead raise their own pork and sell feeder pigs to people like us. For him to do this then as a labor of love, basically, he really has to like the animals they work with, and this breed works perfectly for them.
The only problem was he hadn’t castrated the young males, which was worrisome- the dreaded “boar taint” concern. He said he hadn’t learned how to castrate piglets yet, but shared that their family had eaten their 2 year old intact boar after he’d grown to 600lbs, and he was delicious, no problem with the a feared “boar taint.” We have also eaten an intact young boar, Lance, who was our part of our first (failed) attempt at breeding pigs. There is much to be read online about people’s opinions about this condition which makes the meat smell awful, but generally you get the feel that because it could be an issue, why not do some preventative castration on the boys so they are less likely to have stinky meat? I have also read that boar taint is more common in certain genetic pools and more likely if the boar is older and has been actively breeding sows. Still, I didn’t want to come home with intact young boars without Andrew knowing about it and having a say, so while I backed the Subaru down the very steep snowy path on the hill closest to where I could get to the piglets, I called him. We both thought the same thing at first- let’s just get all girl piglets. But then we’d not be ending up with the total number of piglets we were attempting to get, which would mean more searching for piglets on craigslist and driving all over the state. I told Andrew Brad’s story about eating his boar, the pig who was actually the grandpappy of these piglets, and that I thought we should go for it. Sometimes there is fright based hype around certain unknowns with animal husbandry, like boar taint. I have seen videos of piglets being castrated, and it is not pleasant. If we could know these boys were not genetically predisposed to have boar taint, and they wouldn’t have to have their tiny scrotums punctured and their testes ripped out, wouldn’t that be better? It’s still a risk, but we decided to go for it.
One by one, Brad lifted the bigger 13 piglets out of the barn for me to carry down the hill over the fence, and into to the car. They screamed at first, as worried piglets do, but immediately as he held them in his arms like a shepherd is pictured holding a lamb, they quieted and watched me approach. I clutched them, one by one, to my chest, hoping, praying, to not fall or let them drop and run off. Huffing and puffing, I climbed back and forth, from the barn to the car getting the 13 piglets settled into the transfer tubs lined with hay. This was much less awful than any piglet-getting experience I have ever had. There has always been chasing, screaming and shrieking, stressed out pigs and often the poor piglets are carried upside down by their back legs as that’s the “only way” to calm them down. These little black piglets, and this man too, had such a calm way about them A very positive experience.
After I got them loaded and secured, and the cash money paid out, he asked if I wanted to see the sows. I did, of course. The LBHs are just so unusual in an ancient and primitive looking way, their excessively oversized ears flopping forward, covering their long faces and hiding their eyes. The 3 sows were very calm and came forward to check me out, and as I offered my hand like you do to a dog, they all started making my favorite pig noise, one which is impossible to mimick in person and definitely not in words. Kind of like a huffing gorilla sound? It’s an endearment as it usually means, from what I can tell, that they are excited and welcoming you. Brad was talking about something, I was just paying attention to the mommas, but then my ears perked when he said he’d give us a bit of a deal on the other 7 piglets so he could take them off the ad. He said, “you could mail me a check, I trust you.” With 13 in the car, I knew I had no more space to fit baby pigs, so I said I’d let him know when I got home.
13 of anything new is a pretty big commitment, especially pigs, and unlike the breeder, we haven’t tasted LBH pork yet. Why not add 7 more and make it a round 20 Large Black Hogs? I was thinking all the way home about Andrew’s recent mention of maybe we should think about breeding pigs again. Large Black Hogs are on the Critical List for heritage pigs, according to The Livestock Conservancy. The only way we can make this idea make sense financially is to build a market for this pork in our customer base, but this is tricky, as we don’t have the meat to sell yet. So, we shall see how this goes and if we try breeding again. There is this incredible video by Karma Glos who raises Tamworth pigs in NY state, and in the whole series she shares so much valuable information for aspiring pig breeders abut scale, logistics, breeding tips, etc. You should definitely check it out.
Aside from the delicious rare breed pork and social goodness of propagating exquisite heritage pigs, every year we have the same issue of finding a good and healthy farm to buy piglets from. Since the good ones we’ve found don’t raise pigs as their livelihood, they can exit the scene as soon as it is not enjoyable for them. Sadly this outstanding LBH guy may not have piglets to sell us next year, we never know. Breeding our own would hopefully eliminate that unknown (while creating tens more of potential issues of course.)
The 13 arrived home safe and sound and Andrew was ecstatic over these beauties. The difference in their demeanor is incredible! Most piglets just freak the frick out if you even look at them the first couple of days, but these sweeties just waited in their tubs, looking up calmly with a touch of trepidation as we picked them up and lowered them carefully down into the hay bedding in the hoophouse.
I texted Brad and said we’ll take those last 7, but could we wait for 2 more weeks? He said that sounds good, the longer they are with their mother the better. That’s not something you’d hear from the usual pig breeder, they want the piglets out and paid for so they can breed the sows again. Nervously, I just checked to make sure, and he’d removed his ad off Craigslist.