How to hold a pig
In 2003 I had a crash course on how to hold a pig. The scene played out at the back of a pub in a small country town. Meeting at the arranged time to collect one Edgar Alan Pig, words are yet to be created to convey my excitement. Perhaps they never will. Yet sadly, I was to learn that such a level of excitement was not held by dear Edgar.
Eagerly I listened as mental notes were taken, as my pig handling 101 session was delivered. “Now the best way to hold ‘em is to grab them by their back legs like this. Now they may squeal a bit at first, but if you make the action swift they will quickly stop”.
I think my face said it all whilst my heart skipped a beat. “No, no, they’ll be fine. Their hocks will lock in place, and they’ll just hang there and not scream. See? Now you have a go,” he said, as the upside-down dangling piglet was offered to me. Nervously, yet tenaciously I took the quarry in my now sweaty hands, and although Edgar did not scream during this exchange, he was not the only one whose blood rushed to their head.
With the parting words to never pick him up by the tail, front leg or ears – the ears especially as it can cause haematomas – ringing in my ears, I shuddered at the thought of just how this was known. And so Edgar, my trusty little dog and I set off on the most incredible journey of which I was to learn so much about pigs, and no small part was the best way to hold one.
I will never forget the journey home. Edgar sulked all the way refusing to eat his apple. First lesson, pigs can be such drama queens. Preferring to bury himself in the almost ½ a bale of golden straw I had somehow managed to stuff into the pet carrier (I had read up that pigs love to bury themselves in straw as they cannot thermoregulate their temperature), I sang in triumph and delight. I honestly think this day stands as one of the happiest of my life. And although at the time I don’t think Edgar felt it, I am sure, so mighty sure, he later would. My little dog ET, a cheeky golden colored chihuahua cross, was also mesmerised by Edgar. He rode shotgun by the side of the pet carrier all the way home, giving me little reassuring yelps as his wee tail went crazy with glee, “woof, woof, there’s a pig in there!!” And me, well as euphoric as I was, I too was pondering just how I was going to “sell” the new arrival to my then partner who knew nothing of my latest animal adventure (yes, he was the one who went on to pose the question, “it’s me or the pig?”, and we all know how that one went down).
Once home and after I managed to coax Edgar out of the carrier into his new realm, the sights, sounds and smells, of which were so unfamiliar and clean to the poop-covered “farmed” pig. Attempting to put my newly acquired pig handling skills into action I softly cooed, “come here Eddie” as I offered my upturned hand. But alas despite the many treats, toys and wonderful bed on offer, all failed to entice Edgar from the carrier and my love was still unrequited.
Stretching further in for that back leg as I had been instructed earlier, Edgar scooted away as fast as he could, retreating to beneath the straw. Undeterred I reached in, found the leg and pulled Edgar from his hidey hole as he screamed the most blood curdling and human like scream I have ever heard. “What to do now?” and although my heart told me to stop, my head soldiered on as I continued to carry out the manoeuvre, seizing his other leg and hoisting Edgar up. With the blood now rushing to his head once again, all noise stopped, and he just hung there with a blank look in his eye. He did nothing, just hung there.
Learned helplessness quickly sprang to my mind, struggling to make sense of it all – “this is wrong, so incredibly wrong”. As I gently as I could, I lowered Edgar to the ground, he scooting away again, then pausing, and contemplating his options before he turned and stared back at me, his back hunched offering a look I never wish any animal to ever send my way again. And I pledged then and there I would never again cause them to do so.
And yes, I have learned pigs truly do contemplate. Often you can see this at play, pausing in the moment to take in and consider their options before acting. We humans are most definitely not the only species who can do this.
So how to hold a pig? Well over the years I have worked hard, studied long, observed well and learned many things about pigs. None the least is they are indeed incredibly intelligent animals. And if you want to a pig to be something, best to work out how this can be achieved on their terms, not yours. Their smarts are so keen.
Edgar showed this on so many occasions. One of his finest examples, and I am smiling so much typing these words, occurred when his larger proportions and penchant for food caused him not to be left in the house on his own. So Edgar would loiter in the vicinity of our full-sized glass backdoor, peeking from a distance now and again to see if he could spy a human close by. On considering the coast clear, he would nonchalantly saunter over and using that mighty snout of his, much like a hand, open the door then, stealth-like, inch his formidable form inside. Taking the lead from his glorious snout he would set off to seek out the best offerings. If on his way to the backdoor he was seen, the words “Edgar, what are you doing?”, would cause him to stop in his sweet little trotter tracks, lift his head as he registered the words, orientating towards the source and offer one of his innocently adorable “who me?” looks as he then would waddle off in the other direction.
One of his most famous escapades saw him caught red “trottered” in the middle of the kitchen, cupboards opened, stools upturned, rubbish bin never the same again and food littered everywhere including the ceiling (pig saliva as I have learned has incredible adhesive qualities). “Edgar,” I hollered on seeing this impressive devastation was met with every inch of his 350kg plus form standing stock still in the middle of it. He just stood there, as a little thought bubble appeared over his head “Hmm, maybe if I just freeze here, she won’t notice a 350kg form of porcine brilliance amongst the mayhem”.
And clean, oh my pigs are so so incredibly clean. Except of course if they have just trashed your kitchen! But seriously, given the chance they will not urinate or defecate where they sleep. I recall so of the times when Edgar would take himself off to bed early, he loooooved to sleep, and he would not rise the next day until, at the earliest midmorning, as I pondered most enviously the thought, “how can he possibly hang on that long?”. But he did, with his morning “ablution” spanning several impressive minutes all the while Edgar looked this way and that as if he was whistling dixie! Honestly if the many horses in my care in my former life as an equestrian had such powers of personal hygiene, I would get several years back of my life from the many hours consumed toiling their stalls.
Now you may have heard that pigs stink. Well, this is only half true, for pigs do indeed have a unique odour, but far far from unpleasant it is. It is actually quite sweet, yes very pleasant indeed. Some liken it to being quite maple syrupy. And on wet days it is even more delightfully alluring.
With personalities as diverse as their shapes, sizes and colors, each one is a unique individual, yet all have an interest in what happens to them and an incredible love of the good things in life. They are curious and jovial (often at the one time), some even natural comedians. They relish the sunshine, delicious food (and a good variety of it), mud baths, oh glorious mud baths, keeping warm on winters days and cooling down on hot ones, hanging out with friends and avoiding those who don’t meet that category, exploring their world and seeking to find what lies beyond. Sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it?
In fact, the more I learn about pigs, I see they are more like us than we care – or should I say dare – to think. But most of all, what I have learned about pigs is the best way to hold them is in your heart.