"Pig's is different from other animals," the old countryman said. "Pigs is people."
I had fallen in love with a large, black and white, Saddleback pig who was expecting her first litter. I called her Doughnut because of her shape.
I prepared a bed of straw in her arc in the middle of a small paddock and put a tub of water and some pignuts in a trough.
When Doughnut arrived she descended from the trailer, pausing to survey her new home with dignified interest. Deciding it was up to standard, she stepped daintily off the ramp onto the grass. Yes, I did say daintily. She reminded me of a girl I knew who was built like a Sherman tank and yet managed to float across the dance floor like thistledown.
I supposed that Doughnut would make for the food and start guzzling. I was wrong. First of all she examined her new house, walked all round the outside of it, rearranged the bedding until it was just to her liking, looked up at me, and gave a friendly greeting. Only then did she dip her nose into the trough and start to munch.
Pigs do quite a lot of talking. There is the contented cross between a snuffle and a sigh, the enquiring snort, the contented grunt - the list is endless. They are scrupulously clean animals. Doughnut designated a small area as a lavatory. Her bedding is re-arranged daily. After wet days any muddy straw is pushed outside. On warm days she likes to sun bathe in a hollow that fits her shape perfectly. In really hot weather she likes this to be filled with water so that she can wallow. If I forget she nudges her water tub along and tips its contents into the hole.
I looked forward to Doughnut's confinement with eager anticipation. In the last few days she had exactly the same urge to re-arrange the furniture as I'd had just before my sons were born. She carried mouthfuls of straw about, pushing it well into the corners and angles of the ark, and then doing it all over again in a different way. The position of her trough and drinking tub were suddenly wrong, and had to be tried in several places until she was satisfied. At last the great day came.
She didn't come out for her breakfast. That was how I knew it had started. I peered into the cool darkness of her home. She was reclining along one side of the ark with her head towards the door. She gave me a welcoming grunt, and then closed her eyes. I saw her sides ripple with a contraction.
I fought off the urge to rush off and 'phone the vet. It had been impressed on me that Doughnut would probably manage on her own with no trouble. I'd also read books about it. Medical assistance should only be summoned if the pig seemed to be in distress, or piglets didn't arrive after contractions had continued for any length of time, or she had a prolapse -
Doughnut appeared to have the matter well in hand. I rushed back to the house to make myself a flask of coffee, packed a few sandwiches and biscuits into a bag, and returned to the ark. Doughnut hadn't moved. I scratched her in her favourite spot, just between the ears.
It was a lovely warm day. I sat down in the doorway of the ark on clean straw and poured a cup of coffee. Doughnut seemed to enjoy the company. Every so often she opened one eye to look at me and gave me one of her companionable grunts. Her sides rippled regularly. I began to doze off.
Suddenly Doughnut grunted loudly, her sides heaved and staggering into view round the vast bulk of mum came her first born - wet, mostly pink, and knowing exactly where it was going. Doughnut relaxed with a sigh. Piglet One selected a teat, attached itself, and began to suck lustily. Before its little belly had filled up it was joined by Piglets Two, Three, and Four.
At that point Doughnut got up and stretched her legs and came over to exchange a few words with me. She snuffled happily for a few minutes while I told her what a fantastic girl she was, then she moved the straw about a bit, nuzzled her offspring to one side, and lay down again.
Piglets Five to Ten arrived with just as little bother, followed by the afterbirth which she ate. Apart from being a necessity to clean up in the wild state to avoid attracting predators, I believe there is a lot of food value in the placenta. Having disposed of that, Doughnut pushed the straw into a comfortable nest, checked over the babies and lay down. I swear she had a smile on her face as she looked across at me. The piglets lay against her side, curly little tails twitching intermittently as their owners slept.
I could hardly believe just how small baby pigs are. At birth they were barely eight inches long from nose to tail, and stood about six inches high, and yet the big, heavy sow was able to move amongst them without crushing them with a carelessly placed trotter.
Doughnut had her nursery well organised. The youngsters were kept under observation all the time, and were summoned back to her side with urgent snorts if they got too adventurous. Occasionally there is a squeal of anger if one of the larger piglets clumsily trod on some sensitive part of mum whilst playing games of chase with its siblings.
At the end of each day when the piglets, exhausted and full of milk, lay piled up together in the back of the ark, Doughnut would come out into the evening sunlight and look around obviously appreciating the peace and quiet. I knew exactly how she felt.
The old man was right. ‘Pigs is most definitely people!’ And they make wonderful friends.
©Percydale Press 2006