Our pigs are now 16-18 weeks old. In the two months we have had them we have learned the truth of the following myths we were told about pigs:
They’ll pick one place and relieve themselves there alone. Our little ladies let loose wherever they happen to be standing. I have wondered if this is one of those situations that depends on the ground. I know that when our family dog, Bear, had his run on our concrete patio he lined up his landmines in a precise and orderly fashion – six inches from the wall and six inches from each other, in a line down the south wall of the run – but when we moved him to pea gravel he abandoned the system. What is true is that they will not foul their beds. I never have to clean their little shed; I just toss in another flake of straw from time to time.
They’ll eat anything. Not if it’s too hard, they won’t. Older folks have clarified for me that pigs will eat anything if you cook the crap out of it first. For our pig pen we fenced off 3/4 of our vegetable garden and left in anything we weren’t interested in harvesting, such as the punier carrots, the lackluster variety of lettuce that wilted within 1/2 hour of picking, and the potatoes that were attacked by tuber flea beetles. They ate the lettuce readily enough, when there wasn’t something tastier in sight and rooted up every inch of the potato plants, eating the leaves and stems, and leaving the potatoes out to soften for about a month before consuming them. The carrots are still whole. In the ground, tops on, untouched. Our elders have told us that when they helped their folks with pigs as kids they emptied the slop bucket into a kettle outside the barn or back porch and stewed the stuff before passing it on to the pigs. This softened everything for the piggies and had the added side benefit (depending on length and temperature of cooking) of greatly lessening the chances of transmitting trichinosis.
They’re soooo cute! Until they turn on you, that is. When we brought them home they were the cutest damn things you ever saw, just like Babe in stereo, all pink and wiggly and carefree. They are ruled by whim: one second they are up to their ears in dirt, rooting enthusiastically; the next second they are running in haphazard circles as fast as they can, bowling each other over in their haste to execute figure eights; the next second they are sound asleep, spooning each other in the dirt and straw in front of their hut, soaking up the sun. But I stopped seeing them as anything but walking meat after Leroy, the larger of the two, snuck up behind me while I was scrubbing out their trough and attempted to take a bite out of my arm. Thankfully she didn’t open her mouth quite far enough, but she used enough force to break my hold on the hose and very nearly knock me into the electric fence. (She was about 40-50 pounds at the time.) Without a thought, I slapped her on the butt with a resounding smack. I was expecting her to run away. I was expecting her to squeal. I was not expecting her to whirl around, make eye contact, lower her head, and growl. I haven’t gone back into the pen without a big stick since. I stand at the kitchen window, slowly drying the dishes, visualizing big black lines appearing on their bodies along with words such as “loin chop”, “picnic ham”, and “spareribs” in the bold, blocky font from my antique cookbooks.
They’re noisy. I’m sure they can be. In fact, I know they can be because I learned from a 4-H poster in the Swine Barn at the state fair that pigs can squeal at a higher decibel level than the Concorde. (I have to stop and picture the kid’s parent explaining to him/her what the Concorde was. I’m thirty and my chief memory of that plane was hearing about it being retired. How is a twelve year old going to appreciate it?) Ours have had no reason to make any serious noise yet. When I have the radio off and they are hungry I can sometimes make out their grunting from the kitchen window (their pen is about thirty feet from the back of the house), and when they zap a nose or ear on the electric fence they make a sound exactly like a new squeaky-toy, but that’s as loud as they’ve gotten thus far. So I guess if this was Snopes I’d have to give it a yellow light: they have the ability to be very loud, but they very rarely use it. We live on a cul de sac almost exactly in the center of a medium-sized development where the largest of yards is half an acre and most are a third or a quarter and the only people who know we have pigs are those that can see into our yard.