Jerry Thompson starts his workday at first light. He has cattle, horses and goats to tend. One morning, he made a grisly discovery. Wild pigs had come down out of the Polipoli forest during the night and eaten 50 to 60 newborn goats.
He knew his nannies were ready to kid and was looking forward to selling his meat goats to Maui's Filipino community and others for holiday meals. Thompson found just the skins. He was furious. In addition to the wanton destruction, it was a major financial loss, some $8,000, not counting the cost of feed.
Small ranchers need every dollar. It's a tough business, one that requires constant hard work and dedication born of love for the lifestyle. Thompson runs a diversified ranch, raising 90 cows, 100 nanny goats and "too many" horses because he keeps them even after their working days are over. Feed alone costs $400 a day.
Thompson raises livestock and conducts trail rides. His wife, Toni, has a part-time job in addition to wrangling the horses.
Thompson has to take advantage of every hour of daylight. It's a physically hard life that is deep in his bones. He grew up on his family's ranch. He loves working his livestock and being outside, usually in the warm sunlight. In the winter, it means dealing with 50-degree cold and in the rain when he's lucky. Rain means green pastures and less feed to purchase.
The Upcountry's five-year drought appears to have ended this year. For days now, dark-bottom clouds have covered Kula and Keokea, dropping much-needed rain. Upper elevation pastures have been moistened by lazy clouds normally called fog.
The first excursion of meat-eating wild pigs came last year. Perhaps hungry hogs developed a taste for fresh meat when they killed and ate the fawns of axis deer. It was an easy step for them to move on to kids.
"Somehow they figured it out," Thompson said. "I used to like having the pigs around.
I'd show them to tourists on the trail rides. We would hunt them for their meat. I liked wildlife." Until last year, "I never had a problem."
He said "I tried to keep them in check by setting traps and shooting them, but my dogs got old. I just put the last one down." He brought the trapped pigs home. "I'd raise 'em." The meat was shared with family and friends. "I don't want to waste nothing," he said.
Thompson began raising goats to benefit his cattle. He watched Haleakala Ranch bring in goats to clean pastures of brush and weeds horses and cattle won't touch. A few goats were purchased.
"Uncle Moki Medeiros told me 'better raise some more goats.' He was the one who encouraged me" to get in the meat-goat business. There is a steady market, especially around the holidays. The pigs ate kids that would have supplied that market this winter.
Thompson bought South African boers, a breed that gets heavy. To improve their durability, Thompson cross-bred some of them with wild goats.
"When I went out to feed them around 9 or 10 in the morning, I'd call and they would come. When he moved them, "they would follow me. I don't like to overgraze the pastures. Goats do a good job on my ranch."
Last year, and again this year, he went out to check his pasture-cleaning, meat-producing goats and found all the kids "pretty much gone." Wild pigs had come out of the forest bordering his ranch during the night. They ate everything but the skins of the young animals.
The uphill boundary of the ranch is the beginning of the state's Polipoli Recreational Area. "The pigs bed down in the trees during the day and come out at night." Somehow they discovered baby deer and goats are easy meals. "They hunt them down. They got every one."
Thompson has no doubt about the killers. Friends on the Big Island told him wild pigs were killing goats and even calves. "Neighbors told me pigs were coming into their yards at night." After this year's hog-raid, he caught 16 of them in a big trap.
Now, he moves the nannies into a special pen when they are ready to kid. The pen is made of hog wire with strands of barbed wire along the bottom where "their noses will hit 'em. That's worked so far."
Thompson plans to go hunting with his grown son when a puppy is trained. There's no taking the wild hogs for granted. Wild pigs are smart and ready to eat most anything.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.