Monday, November 19, 2007


In the old days in New England, there were small, stone walled square enclosures found in every town. They were called "animal pounds" or "town pounds." Not far from our farm, there still is one. Julia and I went up to look at it the other day and we met the landowner who now cares for it and is restoring it. (Coincidentally, he and his wife live in what was the local tavern – supposedly complete with a dance hall which I have never seen – but would love to - one day.) He thinks his “town pound” was built in 1764 when according to town records in Bernardston, some men were sent to build the walled structure. Isn’t it amazing that this walled enclosure still exists?

For the early settlers of America, their livestock was perhaps their most important asset. From a cow, they could live on the milk and the on the beef offspring. From a pig, they could live off every bit of it – fresh pork, preserved (smoked and salted) hams and bacon, and rendered to make lard for pies. When you think about it this way, it’s amazing they all survived the cold, rugged, brutal New England winters, isn’t it?

Back then animals did sometimes escape their official enclosure and wandered away. The town pound was where stray animals were kept until the owner could claim them. The owners were fined for having a loose animal and if they couldn’t afford the fine, the animal was auctioned off.

Throughout New England, stone walls are found throughout the woods and forest and around fields. I don’t know much about them, but find them fascinating to say the least. I’ve done my share of wall building over the years and can’t imagine how those miles and miles of walls that run through our property were ever built. It was a different time, that’s all I can think. Most of the walls seem to follow the property lines or enclose different pastures. I can’t imagine that any of them would keep our sheep in. Maybe sheep back then had shorter legs and they couldn’t jump so high.

It seems like around here, we spend a large amount of time and energy and money trying to keep our animals in and other critters out. We’ve got hog fencing for the pigs – it is made of galvinized steel rigid, rather thick wire soldered together. The panels are rather long and unwieldy but not too heavy -- I can lift a 20 foot section myself. We attach it to metal posts that are pounded into the ground with bendable wire.

In the fall of every year, my pigs seems to go crazy with the smells the earth is putting off. I think it must be some kind of inbred survival mechanism. The pigs inevitably break out of the fences and start rooting around, looking for whatever is under the earth to sustain them through the winter.

This happened last week – three pigs were running loose all over our farm and of course, visiting our neighbors. I let it go on for about a week because we just didn’t have the time to deal with it. Every night, they headed back to their pig shack, rested up and began the process the next morning. Finally, last Sunday, after my neighbor’s yard got pig-plowed, we managed to round them into their paddock and the fences got fixed once again. They have been contained for a few days now. I know they aren’t having quite as much fun as when they were running free.

When they get this large, pigs eat with great abandon. I have been told that for every pound of food I feed them, they gain an equal amount of weight. The Farmer thinks this is a great wive's tale - otherwise, why wouldn't everyone raise pigs. At any rate, it’s about time to make the pig's annual appointment. I’ll miss the daily ritual of “good morning piggies” but at least I know that I can re-experience the same pig process next year with new piglets. When it’s snowing and icy and I could be slip-sliding away in ooky, gooky manure on my way to the pigpen, instead, I’ll be happy they’re in our freezer.

Besides, there’s really nothing better than freshly smoked, home-grown bacon or a roasted pork loin in the midst of winter. Since I first tasted my first home-grown pork, grown by my friend Kevin Gray, I have never bought a bit of commercially raised pork. It doesn’t compare by a long-shot. It's all something to be thankful for during this week of traditional American Thanksgiving.


Sassy said...

adorable pics

Anonymous said...

I remember our first experience with pigs, we kept them in the barn so there was no running around the countryside, but getting them in the trailer to go to market was another thing. We had to call in my daughter's boyfriend, who got us started in this venture, now son-in-law. He made it look so easy. We had been at it for an hour. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

maryse said...

my grandparents had a farm where they raised cattle, pigs, and sheep. by the time i came along, there were no more pigs or sheep but my grandparents still would buy a whole pig, have it butchered and my grandmother would make sausages and boudin (blood sausage), etc. a very funny sight to me, the city girl, was to see hams drying from the rafters in the bedrooms.

have a lovely thanksgiving

Anonymous said...

A good friend of ours is a very small scale farmer with a few hogs and a couple of cows (this is a sideline not his income). Right now we've got a pound bag of freshly made and hand spiced pork sausage in our freezer, and are looking forward to his annual Christmas gift... several cuts of either pork or beef.

Kathleen C. said...

I'm sorry I didn't mean to be anonymous, blogger wouldn't let me sign in.

Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Julia's beautiful pink coat looks lovely in the photo.
I have known of people clearing land by having a movable enclosure and letting the pigs 'root' over an area for a time and then moving them along. I can almost taste the pork and will you serve it with some applesauce made from your own trees? Happy Thanksgiving from Vancouver Island!

maymomvt (or Sarah) said...

This may sound silly, but I've always loved town pounds. They evoke so much about what life was like in the past.

I REALLY want to buy some local pork. Guess I'd better call a few farms.

marit said...

Thanks for sharing! I've never heard of town pounds before, but we have miles and miles of stonewalls/fencings around us, and none of them would keep a sheep in place any more!
Love the piggies- homemade ham and bacon is delicious!

Mama Urchin said...

I live in an area of colonial history too and I am always amazed by the stone walls. I often wonder about the people who stacked all those stones.

Joanne said...

Hi there, I'm late to the conversation, but in Colonial Virginia, many animals just sort of ran free...not even stone fences! I used to do living history on a farm for tourists to visit and we penned the chickens and turkeys at night so they weren't eaten, and we had to pen the razorback hogs to keep the tourists safe. However, they sometimes got loose, and the historians at the farm said that was far more usual...feeding became much less of an obligation that way, and the meat tasted richer, apparently. It was a little frightening when they were rootling in the woods though--they weren't really tame!