Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Tragi-Comedy of Hamlette

Just how ignorantly, blithely, and naively did we embark on this pig adventure?

Here is the fact of it: CSB has always wanted a pig. Did I know this when we first dated? No, I did not. Would it have dissuaded me from continuing the romance? I like to think I am not so shallow; but I might have been daunted. The kind of pig he always wanted was not a small pink frolicking thing, or a pet pig of the pot-belly variety. He wanted a large pig, a farm pig. He wanted many of them. A herd of pigs. A pantheon of pigs.
As a young man he worked on Ruth Sharp’s farm, Cantitoe Corner, in Bedford, under the tutelage of her foreman Will Perry who was wont to exhort his underlings with this classic phrase*: “What’s time to the hogs?” CSB took the words to heart and has made the expression his own.

*Is this in fact a classic phrase? I have never heard it before, and when I try to use it to effect I am generally met with cookie sheet expressions, or mockery. And what does it mean anyway? Only CSB truly knows.

Then he thought it would be a great idea to have a pig roast for our 60th birthdays. Yes, that old.
So, with the help & advice of Annie Farrell we bought a piglet from Millstone Farm in Connecticut. We went up there one afternoon with a dog crate, bought the little piglet weighing about 30 lbs, and drove her home in the back of the car. Ethan, the pig farmer suggested that, since we planned to ultimately eat her, it would be a bad idea to give her a name. Of course that was not going to happen.
Initially, CSB called her Let’s Eat, but I called her Hamlette, and perhaps it has been that dialectic of nomenclature that has led her to the great existential questions. Or perhaps it is in the nature of all Hamlets to question existence.
We installed her in the pigpen CSB made – a nicely shaded outdoor area about 30 x 40, surrounded by a white picket fence and with a little house for shelter and privacy. She gamboled and rooted and oinked in classic porcine fashion. I had assumed she would eat anything and everything she was fed, that being the nature of a pig. I was wrong. Hamlette, it turned out, was a fussy eater. CSB of course gave her organic pig feed, and choice pickings from the garden. She prefers beet greens above all else. Soon the pigpen was living up to its name. When it rained, the sty became a living room entirely of mud, and also, whenever it rained, the manure smell became quite overwhelming. It could not be confused with ammoniac perfume of chicken poop. (And by the way, we frequently cleaned out the manure. But it kept coming.)

Meanwhile, Hamlette grew and grew.

Did we know anything of pig breeds? No.
Did we know of the proper age at which to slaughter a pig for a pig roast? No.
Did we know the correct age to slaughter a pig for anything at all? No.
Did we know how we were going to slaughter the pig? No.
Did we have any idea how to transport the pig to a slaughterhouse? None whatsoever.

And then – suddenly so it seemed - Hamlette was huge, too huge to roast, and we had to find a decent slaughterhouse for her. A humane slaughterhouse. I wanted to fly in Temple Grandin for the task, but she was busy.
CSB did some research and found an FDA-approved slaughterer (And very nice person) in Connecticut, and made Hamlette an appointment with her maker for the last day of August. Then arose the question of how Hamlette would get to the abattoir.
CSB toyed with the idea of asking his sister if one of her Bedford friends had a horse trailer we could borrow, but then decided against it. I thought it was a good plan. But no.
Then he rented a small closed U-haul trailer. He spoke with the man at the slaughterhouse, who said we were insane to think of bringing Hamlette that far in a closed trailer: she would pant, overheat and be DOA. And then we would have a dead pig but NO ham or bacon, because a dead pig cannot be slaughtered, not least because she is already dead.

So Chucker cancelled the U-Haul rental and cancelled the slaughter appointment. The next plan was to build a crate for Hamlette and put that on an open trailer. He remembered that Ned has a trailer and thought that would be a good thing because then he could bring Ned’s trailer over here right away, and build the crate on top of it.
But Ned’s trailer has Quebec license plates, no brake lights, no turn signals, and no lights at all. So we decided against Ned’s trailer.
But the fact of the Quebec plates made us start to worry about crossing state lines. Is it legal to cross state lines with a live pig for the purposes of slaughter? For any purpose? I have no idea. Should it be? Should it be more or less legal than crossing state lines with a minor for the purposes of sexual acts?
Apparently that is illegal.
So Chucker will have to build a subtle crate, a crate that does not have stenciled on it: LIVE PIG WITH NOT LONG TO LIVE. But also a crate with air holes, a comfortable crate Hamlette can travel in without undue stress.
He will build this crate inside her pigpen and start feeding her inside it so she gets comfy, and then we will lure her into it with food.
But how will we then get the crate (which itself won’t exactly be made of balsa wood) filled with a 300 lb pig onto the rented trailer?
With great effort.
CSB built the crate – quite a nice crate – and lined it with fresh wood shavings and made a gap in the fence around the pigpen, and situated the crate right there.
And then without any suggestion from us, Hamlette sauntered in. She likes it in there? All day long we have watched her go happily in and out of the crate that will transport her to the abattoir.
By the time this is over I may well be a vegetarian.
Then CSB went to pick up the rented trailer and drove all over the lawn to bring the trailer to the crate. The trailer has a ramp and we are thinking that we will coat the ramp with Vaseline and push the crate bearing Hamlette up the ramp and onto the trailer.

There is an element of the unknown about how well this process will work, not least because we really don’t know how much Hamlette weighs. In her piglet-hood CSB would pick her up to gauge her weight, as compared to the bale of peat moss. Obviously, the results would not pass FDA muster. She has long since gone past the weight and size to be hoisted, even by CSB. So we are placing bets on what she will prove to weigh once she arrives in Connecticut:
CSB came in the lowest at 225 lbs.
Honorable son bet 300 lbs.
I bet 310 lbs. Big.
Steve (who grew up on a farm in Iowa; probably has a clue) bet 280 lbs.
Mim, (who has a dramatic flair) bet the highest with 350 lbs.
Oscar (who grew up in EL Salvador) bet 250 lbs.

Well, the deed was done. After a sleepless night, CSB was out there this morning. He was a bundle of nerves. Hamlette, however, needed no coaxing to get into her comfy crate lined with wood shavings, with a stylish water bucket installed in the corner. In she went, as if she had known all along this is where it was all headed. CSB flipped up the door, and sealed up the crate. Then we pushed. And pulled. With Oscar’s help and a minimum of cursing (in deference to Hamlette’s sense of propriety) we pushed and pulled the crate onto the trailer, tied it down with ropes, just in case CSB encountered a tornado en route.

CSB just called in from Connecticut. They arrived safely. He sped past the state border weigh stations. (Actually, I have no idea.) Hamlette is fine. She is now in a bucolic pen. The butcher said that he no longer tells customers the weight of the standing pig because once a lady accused him of cheating her when her packages of pork came to less than the standing weight. Then, on seeing our documented bets, he relented and assessed Hamlette’s avoirdupois as around 250 lbs. Several of us (Honorable son, Mim and myself, specifically) were very wrong.

1 comment:

Mickey and Flea said...

When's the next piglet coming in?