While brushing my teeth one morning, I heard on the radio that the week of June 6, 1994, scientists and agriculturalists from all over the world gathered to study the environmental issues arising from corporate pig farming as well as remedies for decreasing the order therefrom. Neighbors of these pig farmers in the Northeast area of Iowa had been complaining about this odor. These intellectuals gathered to discuss factors in what makes the “stink in pigs.” Why do they have these offensive qualities? What chemicals are released creating this stink? If they knew that, maybe they could find a solution.
Most people would not be interested in what makes pigs stink, but I’ve been interested in pigs all my life, growing up on a farm with pigs. The Bible doesn’t seem to have a liking for pigs, and I want to share how a little pig might make a good pet.
I, too, growing up on a farm, experienced this offensive quality. During my seventh and eighth grade years, before going to school and after coming home, three of my siblings and I helped milk the cows. I would milk two cows before going to school in the morning and after coming home from school. We had a small front room in our house where those coming into the house after helping with the chores would wash up and then go up and dress for school. If showers had already been invented, we did not have one. We felt clean after washing up in the sink, but when we got to school, the town kids could still smell the barn odor. This was a factor that separated the two groups, the farm kids and the town kids. The town kids soon saw and experienced that even though we had a “farm odor,” we were good at baseball.
Another reason for my further study and interest in pigs was to learn why the Bible had nothing favorable to say about pigs. The passage that disturbs me the most is from Matthew 8:30–32, where the demons are sent into a herd of swine and then sent into the Sea of Galilee to drown. The Jews would not eat pork because it was considered an unclean animal. The Bible talks about the sacred cow, the sacrificial lamb, doves that were given as a thanksgiving offering, sheep and oxen that came to adore Jesus in Bethlehem. Wouldn’t a little piggie with its curly tail and oinks have brought a smile to Baby Jesus?
On our farm, we had a separate building for pigs, separate building for chickens, and a bigger barn that was divided into three sections. The horses were on the east side, the middle section was for the cows, and the west section was for the calves. Even though the pigs were in a different building with their odor, the horses, cows and calves together had their own farm odor. Getting used to the different odors was just part of growing up on a farm. Because we were on a small farm, we would keep the barn doors open for good ventilation. It was not the animal so much that had the “stink,” it was the manure. Yes, when dad or any of my brothers would manure the barnin the afternoon, we would not be around.
Sometimes I would go into the pig barn, sit on top of the wooden fence, and just enjoy looking down and watching all the movement. I marveled that all 10 little piggies could drink from the mother pig at the same time and sometimes fight for their space, grunting as they moved from one place to another. As they grew bigger, I sometimes would reach down between the wooden fence to pick up one or another little pig without any success. Trying to hold onto the middle of a little piggie was like trying to hold on to a wet water-filled balloon. It would either slip out the front or the back. There was no way of hanging on to its very short slippery hair.
Many years later, after joining the convent, I took a job in St. Michael, Minn., when it was still quite a rural community. One sunny day after work, I took a long walk on a gravel country road. After about a quarter mile out, I heard short, fast steps behind me trying to catch up. Looking around, I saw a small piggie trying to catch up with me. I said, “Where did you come from?” Long after I had forgotten about a pet pig, here you are following me. I stopped for it to catch up with me and we both continued on together, her short legs going about three times as fast as mine. What a delight! Several times the piggie would walk right in front of my feet, as if to say, “Stop, please, while I eat some grass.” So I stopped there and watched her eat grass and weeds in the ditch. When I thought she had enough, I would continue the walk and she would again walk along my right side. This rest stop happened three more times. Many times had I wished I had a pet pig, and now one was following me. After this was going on at least a mile and not knowing her endurance level or when she needed a drink, I thought it best to turn around. About a half mile on the left side of the road, there was a farm. I walked up their long driveway. The lady of the house saw us coming up the road and was so glad to see us. I asked, “Is this your pig?” So thrilled, she said, “Oh, yes, that is our pig. How did it get out?” I was very happy to give it to the owner and glad it had a good home. Before I sadly turned away, I said under my breath, “Goodbye, Miss Piggie. Thanks for being a short-time friend.”
Margaret Mandernach, OSB