I’m Keeping This Pig

One 'serious runt' has changed Kelley Snowden's diet and a whole lot more.

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Nugent was born on a Sunday afternoon in April. I was at the pig barn keeping an eye on the sows, when the Hampshire went into labor. My husband was gone and no one else was around so I squatted down with a catcher’s mitt of paper towels and caught piglets one after another. I called my husband (hoping he would make a swift return home) and he just laughed and said “I’m sure you can handle it. I’ll be there when I can get there.” Thanks. I figured, “I can do this, I have a Ph.D.,” but delivering piglets is not one of those things they teach in grad school, at least not in geography.

By the time my husband got home there were seven piglets on the ground. He delivered six more. There were two runts, and I when I say runts, I mean serious runts. The smallest was stillborn, the other hung on for dear life. He was not only small; he was also splay-legged. We taped his back legs up so he could get around better and kept an eye on him. After 14 days we removed the brace. He still had trouble competing with his littermates for meals, but he did okay.

Three weeks in we had a late killing frost. My husband went down to the pig barn and wasn’t gone twenty minutes when he came back with that piglet stuffed in his jacket. The runt had gotten separated from his littermates and been pushed off the heating pad. He was cold as ice and still as a stone. We brought out the heating pads and blankets. I held that piglet in my lap sandwiched between two heating pads for hours. He went from stiff to limp; you had to hold his chest to your ear to hear his tiny heart beating. After two days he started to “wake up,” and we tried to get food down him. Resistant at first, he finally conceded and ate, although in very small amounts.

Kelley Snowden
The runt of the litter at 8 weeks old, gaining strength thanks to TLC.

I took him wrapped him in a blanket to the veterinarian to get checked out. “Watcha got there girl?” our vet Rob asked. I unwrapped the piglet and he just starred. “How old is he? Three days?” he asked. I said, “No Rob, he’s three weeks old.” His face collapsed – you could tell he didn’t think this pig was going to live. After I explained what happened, he told me I had “done right,” patted me on the shoulder, and said just to keep doing what I was doing and come back any time if I needed anything.

I kept doing what I had been doing. I mixed formula, bottle fed on demand (which meant about every 90 minutes), and carried the piglet around with me constantly. After a week or two, piggy started slowly toodling around the house. All seemed well, and then he started vomiting. Back to the vet we went. Up until now I had every intention of looking after this piglet and returning him to the farm, but as I walked to the car I told my husband I was keeping this pig. “If that pig lives, you can keep him,” he said. Famous last words.

When I got the vet’s office Rob was surprised to see me. He hadn’t expected that piglet to live. Diagnosis: e-coli infection and ulcers. Treatment: antibiotics and Zantac. Luckily piggy thought the ABs were yummy and I managed to get the Zantac down him, too; after a few days everything was back under control, and, did I mention, now he was mine.

I couldn’t keep calling him piggy so I named him Nugent after a pig on the series “All Creatures Great and Small.” He started putting on weight and playing. He took all the dog toys and rooted and ratted them. He chewed on my feet. He slept in my lap. He followed me everywhere. We started taking him outside on a harness so he could get some sunshine. He was afraid of dirt and grass and only felt comfortable on concrete. It took us awhile to convince him that grass was a good thing. We took more pictures and video of him than most parents do of their children. Our friends and the farm manager became increasingly convinced that we had gone crazy: no sane person ever kept a pet pig. Even my mother was horrified and recounted stories about the family in her hometown that had had a pet pig; they were the worst kind of muggles, she said, and everyone avoided them like the plague.

Kelley Snowden
At 8 months old, Nugent is house trained and has outgrown all expectations.

As Nugent grew, our vet told us that he would probably top out at 75 pounds. Later he told us 90 pounds. Nugent now weighs 285 pounds at almost 2 years of age, and the last time the vet saw him he told us, “You did good with this pig. I see no reason why he shouldn’t make it to 500 pounds.”  While Nugent doesn’t live in the house anymore (he had to move outside when he got big enough to turn over the kitchen table), he is housebroken and sleeps in the house at night. He goes on walks with us, and loves to have his belly scratched. He’s about as cuddly as a hairy rock, but he’s our boy and we love him.

Nugent became something of an international celebrity on You-Tube. I posted videos of him and they were viewed by people all over the world. He has a group of fans in Canada. When I took his videos down his Canadian fans were upset so we made a CD and sent it to them. We also sent the CD out with every Christmas card this year so no one would feel neglected. As a result one of our friends told us that we are “pig obsessed,” but I notice she watched the CD and enjoyed it, so she needs to shut up.

For Nugent’s sake we no longer eat pork. We tried, telling ourselves that it was a “bad pig,” and nobody we knew, but you know there isn’t any such thing as bad pig. Our friends in Canada have given up pork as well. They just can’t justify it after seeing how smart and funny pigs really are.

In addition to turning us all inadvertently Kosher, Nugent inspired me to learn more about hog farming. I made a movie on commercial hog farming for my students, explaining the confinement model, its advantages and disadvantages. I posted it to You-Tube, and while not as highly viewed as Nugent’s baby videos, it was used in the Philippines and Europe to teach people about hog farming.

Painting by Kelley Snowden
Nugent has changed Kelley Snowden from a pork eater to a pig portraitist.

Now in my free time I paint pigs (well, every painting is of Nugent). Last year at the Ag-Club auction I donated framed prints of two of my paintings, anonymously (I wasn’t quite ready to come out of the closet as a pig painter). A student bought one (“Sexy Impressionist Pig Butt”) and wanted to buy the original but I wouldn’t sell it to him. The other print I think went for the price of the frame, but, hey, it’s all for a good cause. I have even written a children’s book about pigs, although I seriously doubt it will ever be published.

Nugent is a very special pig. Beyond being just a swell little guy, he has inspired us, and others, to learn more about his kind and has given us a newfound respect for pigs and their contributions to American history and agriculture (such as the Southern Mule Foot). Whenever I tell people I have a pet pig they always ask, “Oh a pot bellied?” I explain, no, Nugent is a commercial hog. This leads into a discussion about his breed, where he came from, what his kind are used for, and why we have him. Typically they leave the discussion with their eyes glazed over, knowing more about hogs than they ever wanted to.  But the next time they see me they usually have more questions, want pictures, and that’s a good thing. But perhaps the thing I am most proud of is that because of Nugent a young girl will be showing a pig at the local county show this spring (but secretly hoping he will lose so she can keep him).

Little by little, Nugent is helping get the word out, “Pigs Rock!”

 

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