On Thursday I worked in Piggy Paradise at Best Friends where more than a dozen potbellied pigs and other pig-mixes live. I’m having a week of “firsts” and my time with the pigs was no exception. I took some pigs out on walks! No leash necessary – at least for a few of the pigs at Best Friends. It only took a trail of dried fruit and they followed me wherever I went. Well, almost. I had a rogue pig named Sprocket who decided he’d rather roam with horses than go back in his run. I guess I can’t blame him.
It turns out the pigs and I eat very similar lunches – an all you can eat salad bar. Unfortunately, a few of the pigs were overfed in their previous homes and are mechanically blind, which means their fat hangs down over their eyes and they can’t see. Although these pigs don’t go on walks, they enjoy being read to. What do you read to a pig, you ask? A book about pigs, of course!
I also did my fair share of poop-scooping. As it turns out, pigs are quite clean and tidy. They prefer to go to the bathroom away from where they eat and almost always use the same spot in their run. It sure makes cleaning up after pigs a lot easier than cleaning up after bunnies. Did you know that one rabbit poops about 360 little, round pellets each day? Now that’s some poop-scooping!
Who knew that pigs are so healthy, need to watch their weight, and like to keep clean? You certainly wouldn’t know it based on the way humans tend to treat them on factory farms, where they are often confined for their entire lives in cages so small that they can’t even turn around. Pigs have individual personalities; they’re intelligent – they can be house trained and learn tricks, often more quickly than dogs; and, unlike their reputation, they’re very clean animals. When they are forced to live in inhumane conditions – whether as pets or on a farm – they suffer both emotionally and physically.
If you ask any of the Piggy Paradise caregivers at Best Friends, or probably anyone who has a pet pig, I’m sure they can share plenty of stories about pigs displaying happiness, love, grief, and a whole range of emotions. There is also growing scientific evidence that pigs are intelligent and sentient animals. I’m not advocating for everyone to become vegetarians, but I would argue that the scientific and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates many farm animals live complex, emotional lives means that these animals deserve more respect than we tend to give them.
Most people don’t spend much time thinking about the animals they eat. Instead of cows and pigs, we eat beef, hamburgers, pork, or bacon. How can we give more thought and consideration to these animals? Oftentimes before families sit down to eat a meal, they give thanks for the food they are about to eat. Maybe we can take the time to also give thanks to the animals who may have contributed to our meal? Then we might think twice about the quality of life those animals lived before they ended up on our plate. Maybe you’ll make more conscientious food choices, cut back on the amount of meat you eat, or maybe you’ll even consider becoming a vegetarian. Whichever option you may choose, any of these would help to improve the lives of animals.
P.S. I also learned that there is no such thing as a teacup pig. Pigs can start breeding at a very young age (2-4 months old!), so sometimes people are fooled into thinking they’re getting miniature pigs because the parents are so small. They’re not small, they’re just babies themselves! The picture below is Holly, a mix of Hampshire farm pig, feral pig, and potbellied pig. She was once sold as a “dandy teacup” pig, but she now weighs about 190 pounds!