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Nov/Dec 2009 – The swine!

With pigs the opposite of everything is true.

It is said that pigs are the cleanest of farm animals. This is true except
when it isn’t. Usually very steadfast about dunging in one area of a
field or pen, our pigs occasionally suffer an instinct breakdown and
poop in their feed dish. When one makes a mistake, they all follow.
Within hours there is an unholy mess.
It is also said that pigs are the smartest of barnyard animals, and
that they compare favorably in intelligence to dogs. Again, this is
true except when it isn’t. A pig has a curious mind, I’ll agree, but this
is also the same animal that will opt to drink filthy puddle water
when fresh water is a few feet away. Is this smart? Or am I mixing
preferences in taste with intelligence?
With pigs, the opposite of everything is true. They are clean and
filthy, engagingly curious and beast-of-burden dull, easy to work with
and the most irritatingly stubborn of farm animals.
I was thinking of our experiences with pigs while reading the
comment in Ray Ford’s column in this issue (page 18) about how,
when first given the opportunity to romp and forage in grass, his
son’s pigs. . . opted to snooze on the manure pile. How typically
piggish! How wonderfully swinish!
Pigs look happy because their face is configured in a smile, like a
dolphin’s, but I know our pigs have a sense of humour. They enjoy the
slapstick of chasing a rolling squash as well as the subtler comedy of
snoozing on a hot summer day while we toil.
Along with chickens, pigs possess an almost unbelievable
positivism. You can cut the testicles off a pig one day, and the next
day he is grunting and chatting with you like a best friend. It is as if
he is saying, “Let’s put yesterday’s unpleasant events behind us, shall
we? Today, we eat!”
Only a pig lover will understand this: a pig is truly gorgeous.
When working around them, I find my eye constantly attracted to
their haunches. The essayist G.K. Chesterton thought the same, and
concluded that there was a satisfying universal shape in pigs, writing
that, “The pig has the same great curves, swift yet heavy, which we
see in rushing water or in a rolling cloud.”
Okay, when I look at our 400+lb sows, the swift part seems a bit
of a stretch.
But there is something in the shape of a pig that a Modernist
might call “true”: a near mathematical elegance to the curves and
movement that must, at some level, satisfy our need for form and
Put a dozen pigs together and you have the best and worst
of human society—from the nasty debauch between consenting
adults in a modern mall bathroom, to the gregarious good cheer of
a medieval village on May Day, to professorial interest of a sow in
excavating, from an overburden of soil and rock, a single savory seed.
As someone else once remarked, “Man is more nearly like the pig
than the pig would like to admit.”