Half a dozen, short, solid figures with black, beady eyes stared out at me from inside the hay barn. The beam of the flashlight illuminated the long, curved tusks protruding from either side of the snout of the lead pig. They didn’t charge me, but they thought about it. To my enormous relief, they turned and headed around the backside of the barn on up to the hills. The initial six pigs were followed by more and more short, stout bodies as probably two dozen pigs poured out the small mountain of hay in which they had been foraging. It looked like rats abandoning a ship.

Someone asked me today what I would have done had they charged. I said I would have climbed on top of the truck, but the truth is I wasn’t that bright and, when faced with numerous, massive, malevolent suidae sus, I hadn’t a clue what to do.

The truck and trailer had been brought to the ranch in Paicines at Haley’s request. Haley (soon to be sixteen) has decided that it was high time the foals get acquainted with a horse trailer, a task easier to accomplish when you still have a reasonable expectation of being able to maneuver them because they are still only about half their ultimate size.

To load any horse, the trailer must be attached to the truck and, preferably, truck and trailer parked in a wide, open space that is not asphalt or concreted, the area at the ranch best fitting this description is the large lot directly between the arena and the hay barn (which holds something close to a thousand bales of hay?). It also provided a place for me to sleep.

Haley, who was the initial motivation for starting KidsLoveHorses and who has been kind of off horses of late, has decided that bringing along the foals is a very important task and, much to my delight, has attacked the problem with every ounce of intent and intelligence she possess. This includes being very put out by the fact that the morning feed doesn’t take place until around 9, when, in her opinion, 6 am is the ideal time to feed.

With horses, kids, dogs and house of my own, I don’t normally spend the night, although a random assortment of teens usually does stay on for another day or two, Haley and Maddie included. During her previous visit, Haley was particularly bothered by Maddie’s complete unwillingness to budge from her bed before 8:30. “She kept telling me to go read a book!” said an indignant Haley. Moved by her plight I told her that, as a Christmas present, next trip to Paicines, I’d stay the night and feed the barn in the morning with her. “Yes, we have to feed at 6am”, said Haley. I pleaded for 6:30, but only got her to acquiesce to 6:15.

The caretaker’s residence, where Michelle and Tim live, does not have any spare bedrooms. When the girls visit, Haley gets Kailey’s bed, Kailey sleeps on the small couch, Lauren gets the big couch and Maddie sleeps on the air mattress on the floor. They were more than willing to scootch the air mattress over and give me two or three feet of floor space next to the Christmas tree. I demurred and chose the freezing cold, but very private and very quiet loft in the tack room in the trailer out by the hay barn and hence, around 10pm, encountered the tribe of piggy raiders.

It was still dark outside when Haley rousted me from my little citadel. As we backed the mule (farm vehicle) into the hay barn, even in the dim light, the ocean of damage from the nocturnal visitors was plain as day. The pigs must pick the bales up and toss them around as if they are toys. About a third of the barn was a lunar landscape of hay. The pigs had obviously had a marvelous time rooting and foraging around in the many violated bales. There were burrows and tunnels and nests and mountains out of hay, almost as if the pigs were creating some kind of collective art. To the morning feeder, it looked like utter disaster.

Michelle had told me they had a pig problem; clearly an understatement. (She also told me that the wild pigs are generally referred to as field rats.)

After a quick breakfast, Haley, Maddie, Lauren and myself spent an hour or so pilling pillaged hay into the bed of a pick up truck and hauling it off to feed the cattle, who didn’t really need it, but who were more than pleased to eat it. We actually managed to make a real dent in the mess, but as we cleaned Haley became more and more incensed and, true to form, turned her imagination to all the possible means by which pigs could be deterred: motion sensing lights, hanging bells, sirens and charging them on horseback.

After I left the ranch, she evidently persisted with her thoughts. When I called to check in with Michelle that evening, she was alone in the house. Tim and everyone else had, not wanting to be caught on foot around wild pigs, piled into the mule and drove over to the hay barn, shot gun at the ready.

They succeeded at surprising the pigs early on in their raiding and few blasts from the shotgun convinced them to head back to the hills. Due to our cleaning diligent the day before, they were able to tell, in the morning, that they pigs had, indeed, stayed away. But Haley corrected me on one point. “Those aren’t pigs, Deborah. Did you see the tusks on those things?! Those are boars, Deborah, those are boars!” One things for certain, if I ever again approach the hay barn at night, I will do so with a great deal more caution.

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