Black Hill Ranch is on low-lying land in Katy. Since he purchased the property in 2011, Felix Florez, also co-owner of Houston restaurant Ritual, has done what he can to raise the farm without purchasing pricy digging equipment. Even when weather isn't extreme, the farm floods a few times a year. "I don't think anyone expected the kind of storm we got," he says.
Before Harvey hit, Florez and his crew moved the animals to the highest part of the property, raised further with hay. Then Florez and his family were trapped in their home for five days, marooned by floodwaters. In fact, no one could access the farm. "Nobody could get out to feed the animals or to check on them," he recalls. When Florez was finally able to get to Black Hill. "I was excited and scared at the same time. I was excited to help the animals and feed them but scared about what I was going to see."
As he drove up, "The sun was basically eclipsed by buzzards," he says. "It was like day turned into night with buzzards."
The pigs in areas elevated enough to survive had to stand in place for five days with no food or water. Lying down to rest or sleep would mean a watery grave. By the time Florez got to them he had to carry many of the animals to dry land, as they were too exhausted to walk. "The ones that survived would collapse on the ground. We had to put food in front of their mouths just to get them to eat," Florez says.
But the deluge was a sodden holocaust. "Here we are in the midst of moving all these dead pigs floating in the water," he recounts. He saw an area of mud with lumps in it. "I thought it was rocks, but it wasn't. It was a fresh litter that had just been farrowed an hour or two before we got there," he estimates. "I saw all of the babies were dead." He picked them up and started putting them in a bucket when he noticed one was faintly moving. He was still covered in an amniotic sack, with his umbilical cord attached. Florez used his pinky finger to clean the piglet's mouth and get him to breathe. He put the tiny baby in his front pocket to keep him warm.
Florez couldn't give the piglet to another mother to suckle, as other babies were older and had exhausted the colostrum in their mom's milk—and were too big to let an infant hook on among them. "I was already prepping myself that this one was going to be another casualty," he admits.
But that didn't mean he wasn't willing to do everything he could to save the baby. Florez and his wife decided to see if they could find an open feed store where they might buy baby formula to keep him the tiny piglet alive. What they found was "this little mom-and-pop feed store in Waller County." There, a 15-year-old staffer named Erin fell in love with the baby. She begged to be the one to take care of him. "We told her this is a very tedious process," Florez remembers. Besides the obvious formula and colostrum, he'd need supplements such as the iron that he would normally get from his natural, soil-covered habitat.
Erin sent Florez the picture above late on the evening of September 25, one of a series of photos showing his growth, improving health and profound cuteness. Says Florez, "He's kind of like a symbol of hope rebuilding after a disaster." Though the Berkshire, Large Black, Ossabaw Island cross was conceived as a meat animal, no one will be eating the piglet Erin named Clarence. "With this guy, there's way too much story around him, too much emotion," Florez says. "We want to keep him and use him as a breeder. He's going to have a good life."