Big’Un in his Prime
On May 12th, 2010 one of our largest boars, Big’Un, died in his sleep in the south field. I was surprised. Nothing seemed to be wrong with him prior to that. He appeared perfectly healthy. We had talked the previous day. He simply didn’t wake up in the morning. I was sad to see him go – he was a real gentleman.
So what do you do with 1,200 to 1,600 lbs of dead boar out in the pastures? I certainly couldn’t move him by hand. Heck, I couldn’t even budge him in the slightest. It felt like moving a building. Big’Un’s father predesced him at 1,064 lbs hanging weight. Strings say probably about 1,477 lbs live weight. I had no way to weigh this whey eater so his final weight will remain a mystery.
Normally I would take a dead pig to the compost pile. I managed to get the tractor up the muddy mountain to where he was. Even the 48 hp machine strained a bit with the effort to lift and move him to a somewhat better place. Carrying him down the mountain on slippery steep slopes was not an option. I pickup 800 lb bales regularly with the tractor. Big’Un was a lot heavier than those. I have picked up 1,600 lb bales with the tractor on occasion. He felt about that heavy – surprised me. He was a Big’Un. Because he was so huge in the shoulders he may be even bigger than Spot although Spot is longer from nose to tail.
The consensus was he would stay there. I laid Big’Un’s body on a thick bed of hay under the cover of a field shed. Will and I covered him with many more bales of hay. It’s what we have available for carbon following along with the recommended practices for dealing with on-farm livestock moralities – a.k.a. death on the farm. Composting recovers the nutrients to the land. The cycle is completed as we return to the Earth from whence we came. Big’Un will once again be part of the mountain.
Yesterday Hope and I went down to examine the deconstruction of Big’Un. He doesn’t smell. You might think a thousand pound or more dead body would smell something awful in this heat. Plenty of carbon is the secret of composting. There really wasn’t much left though. All his bones are there but almost all of the soft tissue is gone. Holly wants to recover the bones to mound them as a study. I suspect that will be a project for a different year and a different pig. Big’Un’s skeleton is enormous and I wouldn’t know where to put it. Certainly not in our tiny cottage nor in our nano-butcher shop.
Big’Un Boar Tusks
As we examined the skeleton we were presented with a most amazing sight. I knew that Big’Un had very large tusks. In fact, when he died he had about one year’s worth of fresh tusk growth because he had broken both off late in the spring of 2009. Now with just the skull and no soft tissue we could see just how massive his his tusks were.
How big are those tusks? The longer lower tusks measure 5″ across on the circle and from tip to root the larger one is 11.5″. The smaller lower tusk is 10″. The upper tusks rub against the lower tusks to sharpen them. Boar tusks can be razor sharp. Caution!
Hope doing Dentistry
How did Big’Un’s tusks get so long? Archimedes and Spots are always shorter. Big’Un’s secret is simple, he is not a fighter. He has always contented himself with playing second or third fiddle. The other two boars break their tusks off against each other much more frequently than Big’Un so his tusks have more chance to grow long. Eventually they get so long that his upper tusks cut them off or he breaks them on rocks while digging. So far I’ve never seen his tusks get so far around that they actually cut into his face – something I watch for.
We’ve seen all of the boars lose tusks over the years. Somewhere out in the fields are a dozen or more sets of ivories. You might think that with our many field walks we would find them but it’s like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Or a tusk in 40 acres of fields. Maybe someday.
Basa Tusks (top – 30 Months) and Longson (18 months)
The tusks above from Basa were when he was 30 months old and Longson at 18 months of age. Basa was Big’Un’s litter mate brother. Basa went to Kielbasa at two and a half years. He was pretty big then but the smaller of the brothers. Big’Un is about four years older now and as such his tusks are far larger both in thickness and length.
Also of interest is that the anchors in Big’Un’s skull were massively buttressed areas of bone, far bigger than Basa’s. It was truly astonishing. The bone structure is very different than what I’m used to seeing with the typical finisher pig who is only about six months of age.
Big’Un was survived by his brother Spot, friend Archimedes, sisters Petra, Anna and Mouse. He led a long life out on our pastures and was probably the calmest pig I have ever met in my life. A true gentle giant.
Want to know a bizarre story? California, home of “Green”, bans the composting of livestock mortalities:
“California permits composting of poultry carcasses, but prohibits composting of mammalian tissues (Higginbotham, G. E. 2006. Personal communication).”
–Swine Carcass Disposal Issue Paper
I found that very strange. I hope they turn around on that and start encouraging composting
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Well he certainly had a good life living in the pasture as he did. The whole tusk thing is very interesting. So when the boars fight, don’t they sometimes stab each other? Or do most of them grow rounded like Big Un’s? I would think that might make for some nasty cuts/infections.
Yes, the tusks are for stabbing and they try very hard. Boar fights consist of pressing their shoulder up against the other and spinning. They would like to stab and thrust and lift and toss but so would the other boar so the compromise is a Ying-Yang symbol of spinning energy with lots of heavy breathing but little actual injury. Fortunately pigs have very good immune systems and fight off infection quite well.
Boar fights are rare though. Little boars don’t attack big boars. Big boars don’t need worry about little boars. They grow up together so they know each other and are established in their hierarchy. The problem is really the introduction of new boars into a group. Same though for new gilts or sows too. Strangers get initiated, inspected and ranked.
Facinating post, thank you for it. The picture of Hope reminds me of my oldest (now 23) and a raccon’s skull she found at about that age. She might not have been as eager to take it apart had she known it personally, but you never know. May your Hope’s curiosity about the world never wane…
Oh…I am so sad. I never met Big un personally but I felt like I knew him through your posts. May his memory linger on. I plan to tell his story to a few of my boars today. Something for them to strive towards. And thanks so much for the tusk clinic. I learn so much from you Walter !
Hi Walter I want to just thank you for such wonderful storries from your farm. I read your blog with my kids. We love hearing the storries of the animals and their lives and your family’s life on the farm. It is like reading little house on the prairie. My daughter who is five got a really big kick out of seeing Hope doing her dentistry! I am curious about how the new tusks compare in size to the ones that you showed in hour hand? Any chance of a side by side photo with all of them?
Condolences for the loss of such a great pig! You’ve mentioned in other posts that the wolves, I mean “dogs” will eat the dead to keep the farm disease/predator/vermin free. How did the dogs react to Big’Un’s death? Thanks for all the informative posts!!
The dogs just sniffed. With dead piglets they bring them to me. They don’t eat them until told they can. With a bigger dead pig they take me to it. In Big’Un’s case he wasn’t moveable by either me or the dogs until I had the aid of the tractor. Even then it was a strain.
What makes you decide to use certain dead pigs as food for the dogs? Is it simply the size? Or do certain pigs hold more sentimental value compared to others? I find myself thinking quite often about what to do with dead animals on a farm, and I’m sure some animals will be “more equal than others”.
No sentiment. A dead body is a dead body is meat as any pig will tell you. See today’s post for more details…