Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Learning about Pigs

Bill and I spent several hours on Sunday at the Hearts on Noses pig sanctuary. We were a very tiny part of an incredible team of volunteers helping Janice, the director of the rescue, move her operation to a new site. She wasn't moving far, but as you may see from this post, it was just one step in a month-long, and huge undertaking.

First, this photo of a plastic pig on the bench in front of Janice's new home, because it makes me smile. But, don't let it mislead you. This image does not represent the reality for most pigs.
I am disappointed with my pictures, but didn't dare take out my new camera, as the rain kept up a steady drizzle all day. What I can show you is just the tip of the iceberg, in relaying the enormous expense and coordination necessary to plan this move. Here, a truck with crane is preparing to hoist one of the pig shelters up and over some very tall trees, and into the pen.
The first pigs to be moved are known as the super-wee's. There are 12 of them - Scotch and Soda, the parents, and ten offspring. I first learned about them when I discovered a blog called "My Life with the Critters." Jean, a very entertaining blog writer whom I finally met on Sunday, had agreed to foster Scotch and Soda. Shortly after they moved to her property, Soda gave birth. No one had realized she was pregnant. Although Jean knew that she would be moving at some point, and that she couldn't care for the pigs permanently, she agreed to foster the parents and offspring until she retired and found a new place to live. When that happened, a year or so later, all of the pigs moved to Janice's, at Hearts on Noses. If you go back in Jean's blog, you can see pictures of the super wee's, and find lots of stories and photos about their time with Jean. This link will take you to her first visit to see them after their move to Janice's.

The challenge on Sunday was to get the super wee's into the truck, put up a barrier in the van, and then load the two farm pigs. This was well described in Janice's blog post. I have known for a long time that pigs are very intelligent, but learned from Janice's sister that those who have developed a scale of intelligence believe pigs are 4th, with humans first, primates second, and whales and dolphins third. There were, I think, six of us holding large sheets of plywood together, and moving up behind the pigs, so that they couldn't turn back, once en route to the van. As one person was told, "Don't let even a crack of space open up between yours and the next sheet of plywood. He's watching you, and thinks you're the weak link." Phew! I held my corner with absolute concentration. No way did I want to appear as a weak link in the operation. The two farm pigs are much, much larger, but also more placid, and less stressful to move. The one concern was that one of the farm pigs had had her hip broken when she was young, and it was important for her to be carefully braced, once in the truck. Janice, who loves each and every one of her animals to the point of motherly passion, was barely able to contain her worry, and even her sister said, "I can't watch," as the enormous van was successfully backed out of a narrow driveway and onto a busy road, by an impressive, young woman driver.

With the van on the way to the new site, I took a few minutes to visit those pigs not being moved until next weekend. I learned that pigs operate in herds. It is important to be very careful to keep herds separated, and to understand which pigs can get along together. Putting two incompatible pigs together is extremely dangerous. This pig was watching all the commotion on Sunday. Check out the tusks. They have to be kept trimmed, and this is not something the pigs enjoy. Just a few of the many things I learned on Sunday.
Once, in the 1980's, when I was teaching in Nova Scotia, the vice-principal of my school had a staff party at his house. He ran a small farm, as well as doing his education gig, and the evening of the party, his pigs got loose. We were all trying to help him round them up, although I also remember that my effort was half-hearted at best, as those pigs were not pets. That is the only time I have been within touching distance of a pig. I realized on Sunday that I had no idea how their fur? bristles? felt.

This is Norman. I was taking his picture, and he was so communicative, I wanted to pet him. Wow! Very bristly. I scratched him behind the ears, but couldn't tell whether he enjoyed that, or was just tolerating it. Whatever his reaction, that small interaction had me hooked. I will always feel a connection to Norman, and will be thinking of him when he is finally loaded into the trailer to move to his new home.
A closer shot of Norman. I considered brushing off the hay, in the hopes of finding his eyes, but didn't want to increase his stress. I haven't learned to distinguish emotions in pigs, but my impression was that he was curious about the camera, wondering when he might be fed some treats, and not too stressed. Just a guess, though, and I was playing it safe.
I didn't get the names of these three, but was fairly happy to catch a side, front and rear view.
After the van was on the way, Bill and I followed Jean to the new site, where fences were being built, in preparation for all of the animals.

This is Lacey (left) and Dior. They are also Hearts on Noses residents, and were moved on Saturday. They, along with Jean, were the first to spend the night at the new site.
A couple of closer shots of the very friendly Dior.

Lacey seemed to be a little bit more stressed, but on the whole, I thought both horses were adapting well to their new home, and to all of the commotion around them.
Another view of piggy houses about to be lifted over the trees.
Here, you can see some of the many pens and the fencing necessary to keep the herds separated. If you look very carefully (you may want to click on the picture to enlarge it), you will see a ladder. At the foot of the ladder stands a young man. I have forgotten his name, but his father, Steve, is in the tree, having climbed above ladder's height.
Here is a closer shot of Steve. What a remarkable fellow he is. I slowly figured out that I have come across Steve before. He does a lot of work for Carol at SAINTS, a rescue for unwanted senior animals of many breeds and descriptions. I often read Carol's blog, and had noticed comments from Steve, usually added to reassure or comfort Carol during times of sadness and stress. As anyone who has ever had a senior pet knows, along with the many joys come health concerns and the knowledge that every moment with them is precious. Multiply these emotional factors with the huge number of animals that Carol and her staff care for, and the value of a compassionate, multi-talented fellow like Steve becomes very obvious. Seeing him in that tree was another of Janice's "I can't look" moments!
More views of fencing, some completed, and lots more in the process. Janice works out a system where, herd by herd, the pigs are allowed out of their pens for a free roam around the entire property. They even come in her house, via a specially built ramp!
I thought I had a picture of a house coming over the trees, but what I actually captured was some of the support structures being lifted over first.
Steve, again, with the crane in the background, and his handiwork all around him.
A couple of truck shots, because I find them fascinating.

Bill and I couldn't stay to see the super wee's established in their new home. Black Jack had been waiting in Bill's truck, and I felt she needed some run time. No way we could have her around, with so much activity, and so we reluctantly left. I am so sorry I didn't get more pictures, but hope that this will give you a bit of an idea of the enormity of any kind of animal rescue. Rewarding? Absolutely, but what a huge responsibility! Thank you, Janice, for the wonderful life you give these pigs and all of your charges. You have a heart of gold, and my hat is off to you, and to all of those who regularly help you out. If anyone reads this, and is available next weekend, please don't hesitate to volunteer your services. This move is far from over, and every bit of help, no matter how small, is very much appreciated.

Here is Bill, trying to follow Black Jack around, as she explores the riverside near Janice's place. My hat is off to him as well. Thank you, Bill, for driving us to Maple Ridge, and for just being your sweet, helpful, good self!
A shot of the river, with Black Jack somewhere on the rocks below, and Bill's hand keeping a tight grip on the long leash.
And, one final shot of a beautiful tree branch. That was our day in Maple Ridge. A wonderful one, with what I call "salt of the earth" people. Do check out that link to Janice's blog for more about the move and her rescue operation.


  1. great post excellent pictures!

    and i was extemely impressed by this;

    "I haven't learned to distinguish emotions in pigs, but my impression was that he was curious about the camera, wondering when he might be fed some treats, and not too stressed. Just a guess, though, and I was playing it safe."

    how thoughtful, really truly thoughtful, its funny, how easy it actually is to misunderstand what an animal means by its behavior. we have a macaw and when people see him lifting his wings and bobbing his head....they think hes dancing.....but its actually a very agressive action and if you tried to pet him he would bite..HARD!! when i read that(what you wrote) i just thought how great that was that you were so caring and understanding.

  2. Thanks so much, dirtyduck! Lovely to get your comment.

  3. well it reminded me to stop and think about why my animals do the things they do. instead of getting frustrated

  4. A great post, Carol, and so good to see some more photos of the big day - I took so few, and many were too dark to post.
    Thanks again to you and Bill for coming out to lend a hand; it was wonderful to meet you (though, through our blogs, I feel I have known you for a long while!).
    And thanks to Black Jack for waiting so patiently in the truck - I am so glad I got to meet her too!