I'm not attempting to write the next Charlotte's Web or anything like that, but I was surprised about how much our Wilbur affected me. My child was old enough to enter 4-H this year and after watching his cousin raise a pig, he decided it was something he wanted to do.
I grew up in a rural location and while I'd like to believe I grew up on a farm, I never got to ride the horses for herding cattle and only drove the tractor twice; once when everyone else was laying pipe for the new main water line and one other time that I will remain vague about. I helped change the waterlines and I bottle fed a few calves, but mostly livestock terrified me and no one wants a screaming girl around when there is work to be done. (I've gotten better).
This year, however, was my first year with swine. In the spring we drove to a neighboring town where my son selected a fine pink pig. It squealed like. . .like. . . like a stuck pig as it was being loaded into a borrowed dog kennel to be hauled to its new home with the other three piglets; a barn that formerly housed steers and a horse, but that was several years ago.
Wilbur, for so the pig was christened, grew rapidly. In the course of a summer he went from a 30 (I think) pound piglet to a 253 lb. hog. We split the responsibility of care with my brother, though I think he got the fuzzy end of the lollipop on that deal because I had no experience and had to told almost everything. Every other day we went to the pen, checked on the water level, and restocked the feeders. A couple times a week was also spent walking the pig. Herding pigs is much like herding children. They even make some of the same noises.
As summer grew warmer, hosing them down also became a necessary task. In all honesty that was one of my favorite parts of the pigs. They learned to drink from the hose and sort of danced in the mist from the spray. When water got in their eyes, they would shake their heads from side to side, flipping huge drops of water from their enormous, flapping ears.
One of the other things I loved is they learned to recognize the feed bucket and our vehicles. When they heard us approach, out they came, running across the pen, giant ears flapping against their heads. Don't get me wrong, I realize it was all about the food, but I swear I could almost see a smile on their faces.
This past weekend was the stock show. You haven't lived a full life until you've shaved a pig. They were bathed daily to make them clean and presentable, which lasted all of 10 minutes if that. They all did well, three earning blue ribbons and one earning red. Then it came time for the auction. Auctions are full of action and it's tense; wondering if the animal will sell, hoping to at least break even with the cost, hearing your name called and praying that a summers worth of work will be compensated.
And then the moment comes and suddenly the pig is sold and lead out of the arena and toward the trailer to be hauled to the slaughterhouse. We watched as Wilbur wandered down the trail between the corral panels. When he reached the trailer, he turned back and saw my son. He made a break for it and made it almost back to the arena before the wranglers were able to turn him back around and drive him toward the truck. Turning so as not to distract him further, we walked away.
I knew from the beginning he was bacon. Even so, I cried as we made our way back to the bleachers. I'm not on the verge of going vegetarian or anything and I never meant to bond with the pig, but in order to be in a pen with it and have it cooperate, one has to work with the animal and it is impossible not to form an attachment of some sort. He trusted us, was looking to us, and we walked away. Even as I write this, I realize how sappy and illogical it sounds, but for the past three nights I've been up late thinking about how we abandoned our pig.
Next year, when my son again asks to raise a pig, I'll nod my head and agree because I know that the hard work required is the type of thing that will help him build a strong work ethic. The time he spends with his cousins as they raise the pigs together will create lasting bonds and memories. The hours he spends learning from my brother will help him as he develops into a man, learning skills that will help him to set and meet goals and learn to be an asset to society, but inside, my heart will break just a little, recalling the empty pen where four pigs used to gallop over to see us and dance in the hose water and then knowing it couldn't end any other way.