Itty Bitties

My passion for reading began with my mom reading me nursery rhymes and myself reading me Shel Silverstein books. My first writings were poems written for my family members’ birthdays. My maid of honor speech at my sister’s wedding entirely rhymed. As you can see, I like a good rhyme time, homes for my poems. So, when I titled this “Itty Bitties” for reasons you’ll discover later, I couldn’t stop myself at “Bitty”…

Itty Bitty Witty Titty Shitty Pity City Kitty. I think that covers all the words that rhyme with Bitty. I could’ve included “nitty” but no one wants to hear about that time I had lice or the summer I was a camp nurse and picked nits for two weeks straight.

So, anyway, itty bitty witty titty shitty pity city kitty. This blog post will include details of each of the above. I’ll spare you some and not spare you most. I’ll start from the latter and work my way to the former. Here goes.

Kitty. Should we get one? My childhood at Grandma J’s house (the house we now live in) was synonymous with kitties. We dressed them in doll clothes and made them houses out of sticks. We cuddled them and snuck them treats. I think this kitty love might surprise some of my friends as I have never had interest in having a house pet… except for Turts, the little hard shelled love of my life.

This is the thing- our childhood pets were always outside. I’ve realized that some people believe this to be cruel as the elements in Minnesota can feel borderline unbearable. However, shelter, some hay, and even cozy companions make all the difference. I remember having envy for the cats that got to cuddle in the barn’s haystacks while my caregivers wrangled my cousins and me to come inside for food, sleep and the dreaded shower. Lucky kitties.

Anyway, no one tried to sell us on dogs or cats when we lived on the boathouse. Somehow, having any sort of acreage makes you a prime candidate for pet ownership. After all, our little farm has a lot of bunnies and some mice too. “A cat would help with that,” they say. “The kids would love a cat,” they say.

Unfortunately, we love our wild bunnies. They make us smile as they run around at dusk, and they leave our cabbage alone. What more could we ask for? For now, no farm kitty… maybe next year.

City. Or as we call it, “going to town”. It is an event these days. It’s a mere ten minute drive but we plan for it like we’re going cross country… “Can you change Hutch’s shirt? Did I grab the diapers? Winnie hasn’t pooped today… I’ll pack a spare outfit. Where should we stop first? Will you bring Hutch there while I go here? We should probably be back by nap time. Winnie might sleep in the car. I’ll bring her pacifier. What if the weather changes? Should we stop at the riv? I’ll bring snowsuits and also lifejackets… just in case.” Let me clarify- this is all my dialog. Michael will forget his own shoes. He likes when things are forgotten… makes him adapt, keeps him sharp.

And then I remember the days we traveled out of a backpack. Gosh, being a mom has made me weird.

Pity. Specifically self-pity. Something Michael has never known. This makes him an excellent hobby farm companion. He will wake before the sun with his son, do all the dishes, build a treehouse with his nephews, clear out all our poison ivy plants, shovel a trench for our woodstove water pipes that’s 18 inches deep and 80 feet long, and chase Rosie, our escapee pig, back to her pen. This might all happen in one day, and Michael loves it.

I could move right on to Shitty, but I just cannot let the runaway Rosie story go untold, so here it goes.

We started the summer season with three pigs- Rosie, Finn, and Sawyer, all mangalitsas- a wooly and fairly docile foraging breed. Rosie is our big 250 pound sweetheart and more mild-mannered than the little guys- Finn and Sawyer. However, on this particular summer evening, Rosie was anything but sweet and certainly not mild. 

Finn and Sawyer, the “Itty Bitties” as Hutch immediately named them, are smart little piglets who mastered the art of escape. We had all three pigs contained with three lines of electric fence. The Itty Bitties figured out how to root up the ground near the fence and pile the rooted up soil onto the lowest line. This maneuver pulled the lowest line down enough to ground it out so they could escape between that low line and the middle line… stinkers.

Well, this was perhaps the third time Finn and Sawyer escaped, so when my aunt Arlette came to our door to let us know, we weren’t too alarmed. I stayed back with the kids and worked on dinner and bedtime while Arlette and Michael went to round up the Itty Bitties.

The Itty Bitties are smart, but like me, their love for food outweighs their intelligence, and they were easily coerced back to their pen with strategically placed oats.

This would have been a quick chore except when Michael opened the electric fencing to allow the Itty Bitties back in, Rosie made her unexpected big move- she bolted.

The setting is dusk. Unlike the Itty Bitties, Rosie is a good student of the fence so she’s typically an easy keeper. Also unlike the Itty Bitties, Rosie is not easily manipulated with oats… or any other tactic that Arlette and Michael employed in the two hours to follow.

Like I said, Rosie bolted, and what I would give to observe the following two hours of chaos… Arlette and Michael are like good cop, bad cop when it comes to the animals. Arlette gives them the treats and all the TLC. Michael plays hardball. I’m sure they were both staying true to these roles. In this scenario, Arlette had food and sweet talk. Michael eventually utilized the skid-steer and booty slaps.

I will preface with the fact that the skid-steer and booty slaps were last resort moves. Before these were implemented, Rosie bolted for the cornfield, was steered away from there, tempted with treats to no avail, and then ran toward the creek that separates our land from the state land.

Before reaching the creek, there is a cliff, and yes, Rosie ran straight for it. While Arlette and Michael did their darndest to steer her away, Rosie had no regard for their wishes. It was Rosie’s wild night out and she went full bore in that direction. The next thing Michael heard was a crash, tumble, and silence. Rosie had fallen off the cliff.

As Michael peered over the edge, he saw nothing but brush for a handful of seconds and then observed Rosie clumsily rise to her feet, slightly disheveled but uninjured, just caught in the brush. Whew… kinda. Now she was trapped on three sides by fallen trees and one side by water. This is where the skid-steer comes into play.

To get Rosie out of that space, Michael had to move one of the trees surrounding her. He had fear that Rosie’s next move would be toward the water, and if she got free on the state land… the DNR would eat us for lunch.

Michael got the skid steer down the hill and moved one of the fallen trees. The sun was now set and only a glimmer of daylight remained. Time was ticking. Michael got off the skid steer, positioned himself behind our wild Rosie, and from a place of pure desperation and adrenaline, Michael ran at Rosie full steam ahead slapping her ass over and over as he chased her up the hill. “Git Rosie, git! (slap) Git Rosie, GIT!! (slap) GIT ROSIE!!!”

Once up the hill, Rosie had one of two ways to go- back to her pen or straight for the cornfield. Lord knows she wanted that corn, but Michael was dedicated to the cause and slapped her left cheek to make her go right and her right cheek to make her go left.

I can only imagine that all parties involved were stunned. Arlette watching as they barreled up the hill with all the shouting, spanking, and running. Rosie having never experienced this side of her usually mild mannered caretaker. And Michael himself, wondering how in the world his life had come to this- slapping pig butts in the moonlight. The process was not pretty, but Rosie was home, safe and sound to rest her cheeks.

Shitty. There’s not much to say here except that a big chunk of my days revolve around shit.

The constant diapers of a three month old and the two year old who wants me to hold his knees so he doesn’t fall in the toilet. In return, my two year old insists that he hold my knees as I take my turn on the pot. Michael gets the same undesired assistance from our little helper.

Lucky for me, the poop fun doesn’t stop when I step outside the home. I have the pleasure of addressing many bowel needs in my workplace. My patients either desperately need to poop, desperately need to stop pooping, or need some level of cleanup assist. Basically, there’s a lot of shit happening.

We can’t forget about the farm poo. Hutch’s favorite is the chicken variety. Quite unfortunately, he likes to pick it up. He also simultaneously calls the chicken coop and the chicken poop, “the chicken oop”. So, when Hutch says that he wants to check the chicken oop, it’s up for debate what his actual plan is.

Titty. They have milk in them. It’s a real hit with the three month old.

Witty. My favorite kind of banter. One of my favorite nights this summer was when our little family ventured out to Prairie Island Campground for some live music. The artist was Ben Weaver and his lyrics aligned with our souls.

On top of the lovely musical experience and perfect evening weather, our boathouse neighbor Gerty and friend Paul were there to chat with, which is another soul-fulfilling happenstance.

Anyway, what I meant to get to is a little joke that Paul told us that night as we discussed the bounty of our garden. It went something like, “This is the only time of year I keep my car locked.” In compliance with being a good joke recipient, I ask, “And why is that?” Paul responds, “Because it’s zucchini season!”

I think a person would only understand this joke if they had just pulled out six zucchini that they needed to pawn off on somebody. Lucky for Paul, I had done just that. And two days following this joke, we left our largest zucchini on the hood of Gerty’s locked car.

Gerty and Gina made for beautiful zucchini parents. 

Itty Bitties. I’m not sure why I left the saddest story for last. This feels like poor planning but here we are.

You now know that the Itty Bitties are Finn and Sawyer, the name chosen by Hutch for our two piglets who were indeed itty bitty upon their arrival at 8 weeks old. We planned to raise Finn or Sawyer to breed with Rosie and eventually, at the end of a beautiful free ranging life, we would turn them into pork.

Michael and I both have a deep respect for the lives of animals and for the meat that we consume knowing it comes from a living being. We were able to consume primarily venison this past year from three deer hunted and processed by Michael. We rarely purchased meat from the store; we didn’t need to. It felt fair to know that the animals we consumed had lived a good and healthy life that was local to us. It felt like we lived within the natural food chain, not mindlessly above it.

As described before, the Itty Bitties mastered the art of escaping their pen. After that third time with Runaway Rosie, Michael and I knew we had to make some changes. On a beautiful sunny day during nap time, we deconstructed the pig pen, reconfigured it so that it included fresh forage (maybe this would be incentive for them to stay), moved the lowest electric line higher, and installed a stronger energizer. We were so proud of ourselves for getting this all done within the naptime window allotted us.

While we worked on the fence, we had the Itty Bitties in a smaller pen adjacent to this one. After our task was complete, we were excited to put the piggies in their new pasture.

Now, this is when the story turns sad. Michael picked up Finn around the abdomen just like you would pick up a puppy and lifted him over the fence. From a three foot height, he dropped squirmy Finn into his new pen. Finn quickly scampered away to explore the new digs. Michael then grabbed Sawyer in the same way and dropped him over the other side of the fence. This time, Sawyer did not scamper away. Sawyer had squirmed in such a way that he fell right onto his backside immediately paralyzing his hind legs.

Michael and I watched in horror as Sawyer dragged his legs behind him. “No, no, no,” I remember saying. “Shit, shit, shit!” exclaimed Michael. We were heartbroken. It was evident that Sawyer couldn’t feel his legs, so at least there wasn’t pain. We debated our next move. I argued that we should see if he could recover, and Michael wanted to put him out of his misery immediately. Michael’s plan was probably the kindest, but jeez, it is so hard to know. We ended up keeping him around for one more night in an enclosed pen to protect from predators. The next day came but Sawyer’s impairments remained the same. We decided to put him down.

I knew this day would come. The day when the line between pet and livestock becomes too blurred to distinguish. When it came down to it, we didn’t turn Sawyer into pork. We simply buried him. Sawyer wasn’t the deer we never met. He was an animal that we knew and loved. The part about allowing him a full free ranging life was only half true. He was just a piglet.

If this happened all over again, we would probably use the meat. It didn’t feel right at the time but it also doesn’t feel right not to.
The death of an animal has always gotten to me. It is the reason my seven year old self elected to be a vegetarian for two years. It is the reason I wanted to be a veterinarian and took an animal first aid class at the same young age. It is the reason I have avoided having pets. Now, here we are, trying to be hobby farmers… what in the world.

For the record, when handling a piglet, you should pick them up by a hind leg and then support under the neck as you move them. When you set them down, set them on their front legs first. Arlette shared this tidbit of wisdom after we lost Sawyer. She would know as my grandparents raised pigs on this very farm. She grew up around them. I even remember them in my earliest memories. I remember them as funny and lively animals. They stunk too but that never bothered me. This tolerance of smell has served me well (as evidenced in the “Shitty” section).

Our first summer season come and gone,
Spent too much time mowing lawn.
Live and learn,
Pickles, Lillian, and our Fern.
The three sweet goats,
They sure love oats.
Almost forgot to trim their hooves,
Having a newborn makes you aloof.
Got it done,
Was kinda fun.
Thank you Kristy and Arlette,
My hooved animal mentors who got me prepped.
The goats love walks,
And Hutch loves rocks.
The chickens free range all over the place,
The pigs root up all their space.
The creek keeps flowing,
And we keep mowing.
The kids need naps and so do we,
So much to do and so much to see.
The shed rebuilt,
Plants that wilt.
Oops, gotta water the garden too,
Learning about pasture is something new.
Ryegrass, bluegrass, alfalfa, clover,
Hoping to help the soil start over.
And just like that, fall is here,
Time to plan for the next big year.