The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Pigs Are Pretty Smart

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992

Issue: June, 1992

Before we moved to the big farm in 1976, my only memories of pigs were lost in my baby days at my grandparents' farm. That first spring, we bought two young shoats. We were going to raise them until the late fall and then put them in the freezer. One was for us and one was for my parents. One we named Big Red and the other, who had a stripe that encircled its middle, was called Spot.

A common image of a pig is one of filthiness. We soon learned that pigs are usually neat clean animals. They chose one corner of the hog lot as a bathroom and used it consistently. Besides being smart, pigs are also sociable. They love to have their backs scratched and the children were happy to do it for them.

Until you have personal knowledge to speak from, you will never know how smart a pig can be, especially about getting out of their lot. Granted the hog lot we put them in was old and in disrepair, but the pigs delighted in finding new places to root out of all the time.

Once we had been away visiting neighbors and arrived back home. Where we parked the car, we had a clear view of the chicken lot and there, standing among the chickens, with their little pink noses against the fence, were the pigs! They were still young and pretty small, only a few months old, so my husband thought he would just trap them inside of the chicken house and pick them up and carry them back to their own lot. This proved to be not as easy as it sounded.

It was easy enough to trap them in the chicken house, and my husband stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Immediately I heard the most awful noises coming from inside and the whole building shook from the attack. The door opened and out came the front end of one of the pigs with my husband following closely behind him holding on to the back legs. The pig was kicking for all its worth and my husband looked like he had hold of a jack hammer that had gone berserk! We learned that day that even a small pig is also very strong.

I think the pigs liked to time their excursions also. Once an aunt was visiting and we were sitting on the front porch sipping iced tea. She had just remarked that she would love to see our pigs, but her arthritis just wouldn't let her walk that far. Those words were no more than out of her mouth when around the corner of the house strolled both of the pigs, as if they were on a Sunday afternoon promenade. They were also gently grunting to each other as if totally engrossed in an interesting conversation.

The children delighted in scaring other children who came to visit them from the city by threatening to "throw them in with the pigs." The pigs probably would have enjoyed the company, but the city kids didn't know how gentle they were. I caught my two little girls actually carrying one little boy, who was a particular pest, by the arms and legs in that direction. He was screaming for his life. Fortunately, his mother thought it was a good joke on him and all ended well.

When the pigs got out, it was totally useless to chase them. They could always run faster, further and through underbrush no human could penetrate. We quickly found the easiest way to get them back in the lot was to bribe them. We would get something for them to eat and place it just inside the hole they got out of. They would go back inside to eat and we would put yet another patch on the lot that consisted primarily of new patches on top of old patches. Stakes had to be pounded deep into the ground around the lot because otherwise, they would root their way out.

The pigs came to enjoy the treat they got when they got out. I would usually go to the hen house and get a couple of eggs to lure them back inside the lot. Eggs were their favorite food in the world. It got so bad that they would get out and stand beside the spot, waiting patiently until I went for the eggs!

They had me well trained.