Friday, February 26, 2010

Sue Weaver: Hog Wild

John and I have kept a number of off-the-wall pets during our 35-plus-year marriage but none more unusual than Carlotta, our pseudorazorback hog.

Carlotta, our pseudorazorback hog

Her story began four years ago when we visited a farm to photograph guinea fowl for an article for Hobby Farms magazine. The nice young couple who owned the farm had a young razorback pig named Wilma. Wilma was found as a tiny, striped piglet wandering near the White River in northern Arkansas, somehow separated from her sounder and all alone. She was raised on goat milk and tame as a barnyard hog.

Wilma, our first razorback pig

As a child I’d been enchanted by an account written by a German man who befriended a Wild Boar piglet and thought at the time, “I’d like to have a Wild Boar someday!” Wilma was looking for a new home, and I had one to give her. Thus she became my pig.

Wilma in the pool

We had her tested for brucellosis and reclassified as a domestic hog. She seemed happy enough with daily belly rubs and attention from her new human parents, but I thought, “Wilma needs a friend.” Thus began an odyssey that ultimately took us to a scary place in central Missouri where a man high on government conspiracy issues raises “wild” swine for canned hunts. We came away with a striped female piglet with a Wild Boar father and Ossabaw Island Hog dam. I named her Qara (a Mongolian name meaning “black”). John, however, began calling her Carlotta, and Carlotta stuck.

Carlotta’s purebred Wild Boar father was huge; so much taller and longer-legged than I expected but tame and regal besides. Her mom was a spotted version of Wilma; like Arkansas razorbacks, Ossabaw Island Hogs are feral pigs. They are an endangered breed of swine native to Ossabaw Island, a small island off the coast of Georgia near Savannah. Originally, they were thought to be of Spanish descent, but recent DNA analysis indicates their ancestors came from the Canary Islands, an important stop by Spanish and Portuguese explorers (who routinely salted unpopulated islands with goats and hogs to serve as future food supplies) en route to the New World. Ossabaw Island Hogs resemble Arkansas razorbacks in shape and form. Wilma had a lookalike pal.

Carlotta, however, was not another Wilma. She’d gingerly accept food from our hands but didn’t want to be touched. She lacked her porcine sister’s charisma. Carlotta was just . . . there.

The years passed. Early last spring the sows began rooting up the fence surrounding their pen. Feral swine have long, unbelievably strong snouts — fence posts and hog panels be damned! They prized up the posts; we reset them, but still the hogs got out and hightailed it for our woods, where they rooted for grubs and chunked down acorns until the next mealtime rolled around. Then they came home — till next time.

One day in mid-May, the posts were rooted up again and the girls were gone. They didn’t show up for breakfast. Or supper. By then we knew something was wrong. I spent the next few days hobbling through surrounding woods (I was lamed by piriformis syndrome at the time), rattling a pail of corn and calling, “Pig! Pig! Pig!”

No pigs.

A week later, when I’d sadly given up, Carlotta came home. She ambled directly to the pig yard, gazed longingly into her feed pan, and then went off to the pig shed to snooze.

Carlotta came home after her week-long romp in the woods.

All last summer I expected Wilma to come trotting across the field with a litter of striped piggies in tow, but it didn’t happen. Though raised on goat milk and human love, her heart was wild, and she was a thing of the woods. I hope she found a sounder and is happy and that she wasn’t killed by a hunter instead.

Carlotta settled into a new way of life. She became tamer and friendlier, and she bonded with our equines and cattle. We started letting her out of the pig enclosure (she has rarely rooted the fence up since Wilma escaped), so she could hang out with them. She began trailing them out to graze until, eventually, she appointed herself leader. Now when we go out to check the herd, we’re met by Carlotta, who rushes up and demands to know, “What do you want?” She appreciates being scratched and is happy to converse with strangers who visit our farm. Using orange livestock marking paint, we lettered TAME PIG on her sides during hunting season. And she never leaves the fenced-in fields in Wilma fashion. This little piggy stays home.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

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