My Mom’s intense delight in animals of every kind led my sister and I on trips of discovery with all our barnyard animals and pets. She would come and get us, “Dad’s going to let the newest baby pigs out for the first time! Do you want to watch?”
And we rushed to the big barn and opened the metal latch as quietly as we could. Closing the door behind us, we were immersed in a world of heavy whitewashed wooden walls, the pungent smell of hay, straw, grain and manure, the sounds of animals moving, eating, and murmuring. Mom arranged pails for us to stand on so we could peek over a gate. We listened to the soft grunts and small feet rustling through the straw, waiting for the piglets to build up their courage to emerge and explore their new playground. We stayed motionless, trying not to whisper or giggle, grinning as if our favourite movie played before our eyes.
“Hey look! The farmer just moved the wall!” Russell said as he peeked out from behind his mother’s left ear.
“Moved the wall? Where is it?” asked Daisy, edging up beside him.
“It’s still there silly. He’s changed something – it looks different,” Russell shook his head at her.
“Is the farmer gone yet?” Bess whispered, keeping safely behind mother.
“Yup he’s gone,” Mikey said. He circled his mother as she lay dozing in the deep yellow straw. A few others trailed him – Mikey was always first, “There’s a hole in the wall now.”
“Where does it go?” Ellie said as she walked up behind him.
“I don’t know,” Mikey stood to the side of the hole, lifting his head to sniff the air.
“Maybe we should ask mother if it’s safe,” Bess whispered from her post behind mother.
Seven, eight, nine, ten, almost all the brothers and sisters bunched together close to the opening, sniffing, grunting, shuffling in the thick mat of straw, pacing around and around, back and forth, but never getting closer.
“Eeeeeeeee!” Daisy let out a high-pitched squeal and raced back to mother, followed closely by all her brothers and sisters.
“What’s the matter? What happened?” they regrouped behind mother, milling around Daisy.
“I could see through the hole! I thought I saw something move!” she was trembling, breathing hard.
“What did you see? Tell us!” Russell begged.
“I … I … I don’t know. I was scared, I just ran,” then Daisy took a deep breath and ventured past mother’s sleeping form to approach the hole again.
“You going back there?” breathed Bess. She was still hiding.
“Come on Mikey, let’s go check it out,” Daisy stopped and looked at him hopefully.
“Why me?” Mikey asked.
“Don’t you want to? Are you afraid?” Russell piped up.
“Of course not,” and he advanced on the opening, his flat pink nose flexing up and down with each deep suspicious sniff, eyes darting back and forth. Scrambling through the hole, he stood in the wide and echoing unknown. “Come on you bunch of chickens!” he grunted and his curly tail bobbed jauntily as he started exploring.
When the young piglets were large enough, curious enough, and messy enough to need more space than the world they shared with their mother, they were ready for the playground. The centre aisle that ran the full length of the barn became theirs to explore. All the sounds – constant grunts, squeals, and scrambling feet against wood as they dove in and out of mother’s pen – became the melody of the barn. A peek over the gate would reveal groups of piglets trotting here and there, nosing into every corner, lifting anything moveable with their powerful snouts, racing from one end to the other with ears flopping and tails bouncing. Not only was this playground shared by several broods of piglets, but by us humans as well.
Since my family waded through the mob daily to do chores or simply to visit, the piglets became our playmates. They followed us, grunting, snuffling, and chewing on our boots and pant legs. It was like a barn full of curious puppies. I was fascinated and spent hours watching and playing, noticing every quirk. The tilt of their head or ears or tail, the way they moved, the rhythm of their deep grunts, the high soprano squeaks and warning squeals, all combined into unique personalities. What a way to spark the imagination of a budding pig whisperer.