Living with Pigs As Backyard Pets

By Linda Lipsky
Special to the Palisades News

You know how in large families, some children are less equal than others? It just happens. Birth order, a sibling’s special need, a clash of personalities, a divorce, external events: all can affect a parent/child relationship.

Sometimes a mom may not even be aware of this, but when she wakes up, she needs to do something to balance the scales. Thus, it came to pass that after decades of a particular child asking for a potbelly pig, this mom decided to act.

We’ve all seen photos of the teacup pigs. One little curly-tailed pink girl seemed perfect. A second child had the honor of picking out the piggy, so he headed for the Malibu Feed Bin, which had several litters of the tiny swine available for adoption.

Babe (left) and Wilbur are constantly on the search for food.

A mere hour later, the second son returned with two males; half-brothers who couldn’t be parted. Silly me. Expecting a female piglet, I had forgotten how little my preferences matter to my progeny.

Wilbur and Babe, respectively pink with black spots and black with pink spots, were adorable. However, at 10” long, they couldn’t fit into a Big Gulp, let alone a teacup.

“How much will they weigh?” I asked, humorously expecting the truth.

“Oh, not much. Ten, twenty pounds. Max.”

The son who inspired the purchase rushed over to see the pigs, bringing along his new girlfriend. He was thrilled; something he wanted was actualized! Our little dachshund was in the barnyard and I started thinking about dogs eating bacon-infused treats and pigs eating ground dog. I mentioned this to the current crush, who said, “It’s a dog-eat-pig world!” I immediately welcomed her into the family.

When my husband saw the hogs, he was worse than speechless. Enraged, he sputtered so hard I thought he’d deplete all of his bodily fluids. He stormed into the house and for weeks after, refused to acknowledge the newest members of the family. The closest he got was,“The barnyard smell is particularly odoriferous.”

When he loses a battle, he starts throwing down difficult words. The piggies were house pets for about five minutes. Then we moved them into the backyard where they and the rabbits circled each other for half an hour. At that point, the pigs and the rabbits were the same size. But like some kind of a horror movie, the pigs began to grow. And grow.

As the weeks went by, the rabbits, previously divided into two warring tribes, now joined forces to oppose the beasts. Their strategy? Hide.

Initially the baby pigs were as small as the family’s rabbits.

Although we were careful about what we fed the swine, they continued to grow. I know what ten pounds looked like, as I’ve seen it come and go on me annually over the last five decades. These guys were no ten-pounders.

“Now, tell it straight. How much are they going to weigh?”

“Oh, thirty, forty pounds. That’s it. Swear toit.”

There are many things to admire about pigs. First, they wag their tails like dogs, which is very appealing. Their tails twirl as soon as they see a human because they are optimists and are always expecting a treat.

Second, they are very social. They run up to you when they see you and stay with you every minute, again, because they are optimists and are always expecting a treat.

Everyone says porkers are bright, which is true. They are constantly trying to communicate, and what’s impressive is that they can speak and wag their tail at the same time.

Hogs have lots of language: they talk in a low voice or a high voice; they speak rapidly or slowly. They produce many different sounds and look right at you when they speak. And, what they are mostly saying is: “I need food.”

Once when they broke a flowerpot, however, they both galloped up to the gate and each explained, very distinctly, “He did it.”

Baby pigs take a nap.

One afternoon, a few of my little grandson’s friends came to play with Wilbur and Babe. By this time, the porkchops were not as big as first graders, but were gaining on them. Everything was fine until I went inside for snacks for the pigs, who should never be hungry when playing with children. I heard a scream and ran outside.

“Achhhhh!” yelled one of our young guests. “The pig is sexing the bunny!!! Oh, please, somebody help the little bunny!! She’s being crushed!”

I shoved the kids into the house and had the two beasts circumcised ASAP. Kosher pigs!!!

As the weeks, then months, went by, there was no doubt that the swine had long passed the forty-pound mark.

“O.K. Just spit it out. What’s the maximum they will weigh?”

“Interesting. What I learned is that they can get up to fifty pounds. But that’s it. Pinkie promise.”

After putting in plastic “tulips” to beautify the yard, the pigs ate them all, except for this lone bunch.

Wilbur and Babe are robust eaters. They gobble their Potbelly Pig Food so quickly that sometimes I wonder if they are truly savoring the taste. But what a pleasure it is to watch them eat! Every meal is like a pie-eating contest.

Which pig will finish his portion first? Which pig will choke to death on a too-big bite? But then, the meal ends and they are both winners and both alive!

Aside from the dry food, we feed them what you’d expect: fruit, veggies, bread. They are always grateful, grunting their ap- preciation and wagging their tails. But they did something that made me question the porcine palate.

You know how people have green thumbs or brown thumbs? How about no thumbs? My plants start dying the moment they’re in my shopping cart. So, I decided to make a plastic garden.

I got gorgeous artificial flowers online, and, in keeping with the theme, assorted plastic pots. It took days to assemble the garden, which looked magnificent. It added color and class to our home and I was totally pleased.

Well, one day, unbeknownst to me, Wilbur and Babe managed to crash out of the pen and found themselves in my plastic garden. (Note: all of the flowers were silk, aside from five-dozen rubbery tulips.)

You can guess what happened. The hogs went wild, knocking over pots, digging up fake dirt and, unbelievable as it sounds, eating four-dozen rubber tulips, stalks and all. Only one dozen tulips survived. And, next to dolphins, pigs are reputed to be the animal kingdom’s most intelligent creatures!

When I confronted them, those half-brothers sure had a lot to say for themselves. They snorted, they howled, they bellowed. It was all about forgiveness.

Babe and Wilbur as babies.

I could make out some of the words they spewed forth: “lost control,” “tulips reminded me of my mother,” and, the in- evitable, “he did it.” Of course, we buried the hatchet, so to speak.

Although when I described their behavior to the son who selected them, he said, “Those bastards.” But I love my big boys and, to me, they can do no wrong.

“Is it possible to have full disclosure here? I can take it. Just look me in the eyes and tell me the absolutely heaviest weight they can ever be.”

“What a coincidence you should ask! I just read that potbellies continue growing all of their lives! Wild, isn’t it? So, I really don’t know how big they will get. Nobody knows. But, I guarantee you they will never, ever hit one hundred pounds. Scout’s Honor.”

“You were never a Scout.”

*No animals were harmed in the production of this article.

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