And Now We Are Nine (Again)
Hero has returned to his herd. Or litter, more correctly. (Baby pigs are a litter, grown pigs are a herd.) He’s still limping and could certainly develop an infection at any time, but he’s so strong and mighty, I didn’t feel it made sense to keep him inside any longer. Piggy Lou gave him a good sniffing, licked his little pink bum a few times, checked out my messy stitching job, and proceeded to gather him into her mud hole with the rest.
After having a piglet in the house for a few days, I now understand the clever irony of A. A. Milne’s Piglet in “Winnie The Pooh.” A timid piglet is something truly funny! Christopher Robin’s much-loved Piglet is in fact a Wizard of Oz Cowardly Lion character – an oxymoron. The joke is one those of us so removed from farm life couldn’t possibly get. But I get it now! Piglets are truly terrifying. I think a piglet in the wild or in the barnyard has absolutely nothing to fear in the world, except maybe it’s siblings.
Undeniably cute, yes. Piglets are like little hairless dogs with nearly human voices. You know exactly what they mean when they talk. Whether it’s grunting, snorting, squealing or screaming, the sounds are all like voices you’ve heard on an elementary school playground. They’ve also got very expressive bodies: wiggling ears, waggling tails, bouncing backsides and tiny tippety feet. When piglets get surprised or excited, they spring up in the air and start running. Then they immediately fall asleep in an entwined pile. Everything about the way they look and sound makes you want to pick them up and snuggle them. But beware!
That round disc of a nose is a serious muscle. I like this picture of Piglet because he’s carrying a shovel. Funny, because pigs are ALL shovel. Day and night pigs dig and root and toss things around with their noses. When you go to snuggle a piglet, it instinctively nuzzles into you, but not in a cuddly way. It ceaselessly roots in a scary, forceful way that ends in a tenacious bite. I found this disorienting and quite unpleasant, but when I see nine piglets fight for 14 teats, seven of which are on the less-accessible bottom row, the behaviour makes a lot more sense.
In commercial hog operations, piglets are immediately removed from their sows in order to have teeth clipped off and tails docked short. This is because even the tiniest piglet is hard-wired to bite and fight for food. I do see lots of small scratches on our babies. The tails are cut because in the close confinement of the concrete cells in which all commercial pigs live, they chew on each other’s tails out of boredom. The victimized pig doesn’t move away because the boredom creates an odd sort of ennui and hopelessness.
The life of a commercial feeder pig is bliss compared to that of a production sow, however. Though recently banned in Europe, the typical system in American factory farms involves locking sows into 2-foot-wide “gestation crates” so they can’t turn around. They remain in these crates for most of the 3 or 4 years of their lives, to prevent them from rolling over on the piglets they bear several times a year. Neither the sows or the piglets are given any sort of straw or other bedding in which to root. They live in the feces and urine that accumulates on their concrete floors, which has to be tough for animals so naturally fastidious, they general only poop in the corner farthest away from the feeder in their pasture. In state-of-the-art hog operations, this waste is periodically swept into giant underground ponds to be processed. I don’t know where it goes from there.
In our sunny grassy pen, the piglets are constantly nipping, pushing, chasing and following each other. Piggy Lou herds them here or there throughout the day, first into the house, then the mud, then back into the house. Usually when they are sleeping, they line up side by side, regardless of where they’ve plopped. Hero hung back from the crowd for the first day he was back out, and when I came in to check on him, he came running at me squealing. Then he ran toward his mama squealing. Then back to me. But by this morning he was in the pig-pile, lined up in the mud-hole with the rest.