This is a tale of love gone wrong. Pig love, that is. My fellow farmers probably think I’m nuts, and they may be right. I can’t count the number of times I’ve personified our farm animals - how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking.
It’s been four months since our black/white, Kunekune gilt Bertha ran away. I say ran away because she didn’t just wander off as we were moving from one pen to another. She hauled. She gave every indication of being a woman on a mission, a pig with a plan.
Looking back now, I realize she was probably in heat and Rupert wasn’t doing his part. Poor Rupert had problems of his own. When we brought this first breeding pair to the farm, Bertha was several months old and he was a mere eight weeks. It was easy for her to boss him around, especially when food was involved. So when Rupert was close to being old enough to be a dad, we thought separating them for a few months made sense. After all, they’d been living like siblings. This way they’d be near each other, but unable to mate.
Before separating them, we got each pig a companion - Maggie, another gilt (who would also be a mate for Rupert) and Nigel, a castrated male “buddy” for Rupert. That went well, although a few times it appeared Bertha had rammed through the gate into the boys’ side.
Then when we allowed the pigs to graze and sleep together, a couple of mornings we arrived at the overnight pen to find Rupert limping, barely able to walk. All we could figure was that he’d tried to mate with Bertha and she hadn’t let him. Even though by all outward signs he was ready to mate, she was still bigger than him.
Then back in October Bertha escaped. Like I said earlier, she didn’t just wander off. She ran like she knew exactly where she was going. After what seemed like an eternity, trying to block her path and get her going back in the right direction, I decided I’d better secure the other three. That done, I tried calling her with food. After a while, we decided she’d most likely come back the following day (She’d done it once before.), but she didn’t.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day and I saw Maggie literally jumping on Rupert. She could not have been more obvious. Just to be sure, I reached out to a breeder friend with a video of Maggie’s playful antics. She confirmed what I suspected: Maggie was in heat. And Rupert? He gave her the cold shoulder.
After this I surmised that Rupert probably associated mating with pain and didn’t want any part of it. There I go personifying farm animals again! But it makes sense, right?
Still, we’re hopeful for a happy ending to this story. Our breeder friend offered to bring one of her boars the next time Maggie is in heat. He’s a tried and tested boar (i.e. a daddy many times over) so he should respond to Maggie’s advances. In the meantime, we’re hoping Rupert will learn by example and be a daddy himself one day. And Nigel? He’ll just continue munching happily nearby, oblivious to it all.
This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, “Finding Myself in a Small Town” in the 02/13/21 Corsicana Daily Sun.