I’m not at all sure how we picked the other two. It’s all a blur of snouts and tails and squeals of outrage. In about seven seconds, three little pigs were in the crate in our truck. For better or for worse — and a total of $225 — they were our pigs now.
Although it was the beginning of June when we picked them up, the weather was cold and drizzly. When we put them in the pen, the two smaller ones were shivering. We didn’t know whether it was due to cold or nervousness or a combination: Our research indicated that it took a few days for pigs to get accustomed to new surroundings. But we were worried. We put lots of straw in the shelter so they could burrow in to bed down, and hoped that the big black one would help keep the smaller two warm.
She must have because, by morning, they were out and about, exploring their 2,000 square feet of woods. They seemed just fine.
Seven happy months
Those first couple of days, we checked on them constantly. Were they eating? Yes, they were. Drinking? Check. Were they sleeping in the shelter? Yes, and often. Pooping in the shelter? No, thank goodness.
And, most important, they didn’t seem to be bent on breaching the fence. There was scratching up against the wire panels, and there was rooting at the base, but it seemed to be ordinary piggy behavior and not an attempt at escape. Not that I can necessarily read the signs of a pig planning a breakout, but they definitely weren’t making ropes out of bedsheets. They gave every indication of being happy.
I’d long since decided what I wanted to name the pigs. One of them was going to be Louis Pasture. The smart one would be Swinestein. But animals have a way of naming themselves, and the best-laid pig-naming plans fall by the wayside when you’re nose-to-snout with an unbelievably cute spotted piglet. She’s Spot before you know you’ve named her. Kevin started calling the other two, who look similar except that one is big and one is small, Doctor Evil and Mini-Me. I couldn’t countenance naming two of my three pigs after silly movie characters, so Mini-Me became Tiny. Doctor Evil, alas, remained Doctor Evil, but sometimes we just call her Doc. A name gets momentum, and then there’s nothing you can do about it.
If I had a nickel for every person who advised me to name the pigs Bacon, Sausage and Prosciutto, or to not name them at all, I could . . . well . . . I could feed them for about a day and a half. Don’t get attached. Don’t think of them as pets. Remember that you’re going to kill them.
But that advice is at odds with our desire to give these pigs the best life we can. They’ll be on this Earth for some seven months, and I want those seven months to be time worth having. Because pigs are smart and social and curious, Kevin and I are part of their quality of life. You can’t watch a pig come running when you approach the pen, or feed her a treat out of your hand, or scratch between her ears without believing that those things make her happy.
I had no idea that pigs wag their tails. But they do.
Because their life is inevitably tied up with ours, deliberately withholding an emotional connection doesn’t seem right to me. My great-uncle Frank, who was a subsistence farmer in central Minnesota, used to say that hardening yourself to your livestock was a failure of stewardship, and I’m of his school.
Come November, when these pigs reach market weight, we’re going to have one very hard day. But every day from now until then, we’ll do the best we can for them.
Haspel is a freelance writer, formerly urban, now hunting, fishing and raising her own food in the wilds of Cape Cod. She writes about it at starvingofftheland.com., where she has a 24-hour feed from their Stycam and is blogging regularly about the pigs’ progress. She will join today’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.