Saturday, May 19, 2012

Life in a Zoo The Real Thing: The Essence of Pigness

Have you ever met a pig? If not, I highly recommend it.

Pigs are keenly intelligent. They make dogs look like the village idiot.  They are trainable, personable, and are easier to housebreak than a dog. They have general likes and dislikes, but each one is an individual unto himself.

Our very first pigs were a pair of piglets. They were half Guinea and half Arkansas Razorbacks.  They were so cute!  Still on a bottle, they followed us everywhere.  Within minutes, they learned to sit for their bottles.

The first thing these two taught us was that pigs love a tummy rub.  If you slid your hand down their side and began to stroke their tummies, they would flop onto their side as if someone had knocked their legs out from under them.  All the better for you to access their tummies.

These two little enchanters came to live with us just before we started the process for our U.S.D.A. license. The requirements for housing swine were so restrictive; we could not afford to comply, so we had to find homes for our two little darlings.  That’s a whole ‘nother story and I’ll tell it later.

After we had jumped through the hoops and made the U.S.D.A. inspector happy, we had begun to read about pot-bellied pigs. At that time the pot-bellied pig craze was sweeping the nation.  I missed my two little razorbacks and yearned for another pig. Perhaps, I thought, a smaller pig would suit the bill.

Rare Breed Journal Magazine had dozens of articles on them. They were advertised at $2,000 to $3,000 each!  Definitely beyond our pocketbooks.

I remember visiting a family outside of Atlanta who had pot-bellied house pets. Big Momma lay stretched out on the sofa next to me, slightly snoring as I petted her. Her warm skin and prickly hair was an interesting sensation on my palm.

Her piglets, we were informed, were playing in the back yard.  After a while, there was a commotion at the back door. It was a glass sliding door. Without a word from anyone, Big Momma got up and went to the door. My mouth dropped as she used her snout and slid the door open, allowing four little ones to come scampering in!

Mayhem ensued as these youngsters, no bigger than fat little housecats, galloped around the sofa, grunting and squealing. Then they bolted for the kitchen, where the owner was setting out dishes of food for them.

We learned that these little characters are so smart that you never take food directly from the refrigerator to feed them. You set it on the counter and feed them later.  Otherwise, they quickly learn to open the fridge and help themselves!

Unlike the myths we hear, pigs are not nasty, dirty animals.  They are very clean.  They like to swim. They wallow in mud for two reasons. First, pigs can’t sweat and the cool mud helps keep them cool. Second, their skin is sensitive, much like a human’s skin. They are subject to sunburn. Biting insects plague them.  The mud helps protect their skins.

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