After Swine Management 101, our next pig-season adventure also began with a long drive into farm country, but this time south to Buckingham, Illinois, and in the bright daylight of Sunday morning. It was a sudden, wrenching shift from the broad expressway to the perfectly straight and narrow country road that took us ten miles on a grid of farmland to, suddenly, J Farm. Our purpose: Meet Your Pig.
Or at least, play with the piglets, one of whom might be our pig. We will buy a pig at auction, sometime in April, but for now it’s just a matter of the kids getting familiar with the kind of animal they’ll be responsible for.
There were two kinds here; the pink or pink and black ones are cross-breeds, while there were also reddish-brown ones that were Durocs. As a foodie, I’d go Duroc, but then we won’t be eating our pig anyway, so my desires for that kind of meat (assuming I’d still want it by the end of the process, and wouldn’t have gotten too sentimental to eat it myself, which I’d say there’s only about a 98% chance of) don’t really matter. Our program leader, Julie, made a couple of strong pitches for the cross-breeds as being a sounder choice for 4-H competition, so I expect that’s what we’ll go for. (At other county fairs, there are separate categories for purebreds and cross-breeds, so it’s worth raising the former and showing and auctioning them; but there’s not enough pig production in Lake County to justify that.)
The kids had an hour or so of sheer kid-piglet delight. The pigs, though skittish about the large humans moving about their pens, were insatiably curious, and took to chewing at shoelaces. What in a pig’s diet resembles a shoelace, I wonder? The farmer’s wife had a new baby in her arms and a toddler girl, who moved among these animals only slightly smaller than herself as if every human naturally grows up among a herd of little pink piggies. Which, not that long ago, they pretty much did. When she was done with pigs, she turned to the first adult she saw, and asked me to be airlifted out of the pen.
Then we drove about a mile to another farm in the Foltz family— to see the adults from whom these piglets issued. It’s not like I haven’t seen pigs before, but it was kind of a shock after our piglet interlude to be reminded just how massive and alien fully grown pigs can be. Weighing six or seven hundred pounds each, huge, brute and powerful, going from the piglets to these pigs was like going from a hamster to a hippo.
And where the only danger the piglets posed was to shoelaces, here we were reminded that fingers were best kept well out of snacking range. There was nothing hostile about these pigs, but just their size sent a signal of menace to the deepest parts of the brain. Now I’m curious, when will the moment come when my sons’ attitude toward their pig shifts from the adorable playfulness of this day with the piglets to the determined control a farmer needs to have to manage an animal of this size? When will the idea of selling this creature for meat seem natural, as it certainly didn’t as we played with the pigs today?
Here’s a video of the kids, including Liam, playing with the piglets. It’s not edited and nothing really happens in it. It’s just kids and piglets. Enjoy.