I stole this blog title from Matt (my significant other). He used that name when he forwarded me two pictures of the pigs that he took earlier in the week. And that made me want to take my own pictures and write a blog about it. Pigs are about the cutest animals we keep. Goats are elegant, chickens beautiful, and ducks divine. But pigs are unbelievably cute even when they weigh 300 pounds and are covered in mud and have half-gnawed food sloshing out of their mouths. I don’t know why, but trust me, cuteness is just a fact we accept about pigs. I can spend hours hanging out with them admiring their cuteness.
In fact, this is what I did for part of this week. Saturday we took my Honda Fit the 400 feet up our driveway to our neighbor’s house, Root Hog Farm, and picked up our three little pigs. There was a lot of huffing and puffing while trying to catch these speedy suckers. But when we finally did, they took to their new pasture…well, like pigs in pasture.
Though they loved the new digs, they weren’t so keen on us. And I can’t really blame them since we’d just snatched them from their mom’s teats…literally. They were over 10 weeks old and still nursing (unheard of in the pig world). Mama was starting to look a little worse for the wear. So even though we hated to separate them from their family, we knew it was time.
After giving them a plenty of food, a bale of fresh straw in their shelter, and some time to make sure they felt well-settled, we began the process of socializing. This involves me squatting down and occasionally trying to pat the top of their snouts as they eat. Initially, they pull back or even jump and bark – horrified at human touch. But, over the course of a couple of days, they come to like it (especially when I start giving them good scratches around the ears).
From the head, I work my way around to the belly. After three days of socializing, I am up to belly rubs with two of the pigs and head pats with one. No one has flopped over on their side in ecstasy yet. That’s the true sign of trust. These pigs parents used to flop over before I started petting them just to make sure I had access to their bellies. So, I know we can get there in time.
However, these are also the pigs I helped castrate. I was the cutter, so I feel like I have a little work to do to overcome that initial breach of trust. And trust is a two-way street. Pigs do a lot of communicating with body language. They frequently nibble on each other to show irritation or express anger with open-mouthed bites. They also snout each other a foot or two in the air to make space. That’s normal among pigs, but their skin is a lot tougher than mine. I need to make sure I can read the signs about when their bark might become a bite and know what sets them off. I also need to make clear from the start that aggressive pig behavior is not allowed to be directed at me. Just like dogs, saying no firmly while stopping the behavior does the trick.
Now, these are not pet pigs. About 6-7 months from now, we will slaughter them on our property. Even so, it is extremely important to me that even the animals we raise for meat do not live in fear. It can’t be a happy, healthy, pig life if these boys run scared every time I bring food or step in their pen to do maintenance. I am not going to lie – it’s hard to be this friendly with our pigs and then do the deed. If you want to read more about it, check out my other post Homestead Wish List and Pig Love.
This is our first time raising heritage Berkshires. They are by far the most unique pigs we have raised. All three boys have very distinct face markings. Two have half white faces, but one is white on the right and the other is white on the left. The third pig is white around the snout and the center of his forehead. It’s easy to tell them apart and so I feel tempted to name them. But, I probably won’t.
Even though I have become comfortable treating these animals like pets for the time while they are in our care, mentally, I still need some reminder that these are not long-term pets. I think names may be where I draw the line.
We’ll see…the first time we raised friends I was afraid to fall in love. The second time I fell head first with no reservations. Even though it is harder to let go each time, I also become more convinced that this is what we must do not only to feed ourselves but to perpetuate these animals lives and bring dignity back to a process of domestication that has taken place for thousands of years.
P.S. If you are looking for some Berkshires for your homestead, I know a good source!