It is HOT, HOT, HOT here. For the second day in a row, my thermometer showed 37 degrees Celsius ( 99 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade at mid-afternoon yesterday. That type of heat is a terrible problem for piggies who have no built-in system to cool themselves, unlike humans who sweat or dogs who pant. The expression “sweating like a pig” is meaningless, as pigs do not have functional sweat glands. A hot day can mean heatstroke and death to a potbellied piggy, even one kept in the house or barn away from direct sun.
And that is exactly the reason why we see so many pictures of pigs wallowing in mud – it is their way to keep cool. In fact, water and mud are the ONLY ways they have to keep cool. Fans on a dry pig could potentially make the problem worse as they dry out what little moisture the pig has managed to get on its body (and without a mudhole or a pool, a pig will dump its water dish in order to try to get somewhere cool to lie) – and besides, piggies hate drafts. Fans AND water are sometimes used to cool a pig running a fever or suffering heat stroke, but this must be done with supervision to ensure there is constant moisture (through damp towels and spritzing) on the skin to create the cooling effect. Pigs need to cool from the feet up - turning a hose of cold water onto a piggy's head and back could cause shock and fright and even death. Hence the kid's wading pools and mud wallows.
Pigs love their mud wallows – they exhibit all the porcine signs of contentment as they roll in the mud, shove their snouties through it, lift mud-covered snouties high in the air, and wiggle their bodies from side to side. They also use mud as a form of sunscreen and to protect against flies and parasites. Mud ranks right up there with food and companionship on the list of a piggy’s greatest pleasures.
And so, yesterday, I was filling and re-filling five kiddie pools and two mudholes to keep my family of twelve piggies cool and happy. And happy they were! They always have two pools and a mud wallow in their regular pig yard, but in hot weather I set up three more pools and make another wallow in the pasture, where they also love to dig in the dirt and forage in the long grasses and generally have a great time.
And I always have a great time watching them. They race out of the pig yard and head straight for one of two areas of pasture: Martin’s feed pen where they check out his dishes and steal the last of his grain and alfalfa, and the pools and dirt where they dive right in, sucking in the cold clear water, blowing bubbles with their snouties like round grey little scuba divers, rolling and splashing and enjoying life to the fullest.
To make it even more fun and mentally stimulating, I sometimes toss carrot chunks or apples into the pool to give them something to dive for - in fact, that was how I taught the babies to climb in and out of the pool, as shown in this photo I took of them earlier this year:
Yesterday, I got to experience one of those precious moments that melt the heart, make one suck in one’s breath, and bring a smile to the face for the rest of the day. And it was all because of Soda – grumpy, bossy, grouchy, pushy, bitchy, loveable Mama Soda. Papa Scotch was hiding out in the barn stall; Soda and the pigs were lying in the mud wallow, the pools, and the shady broad-leafed bamboo in the pig yard. I filled the extra pools in the pasture and soaked down the dirt, then opened the gate that leads from the pigyard to the pasture and invited the piggies to “come on out – surf’s up!”
And out they came – ten pigsters and Mama Soda, barreling across the pigyard and into the pasture, heading straight for the freshly filled pools, tender grasses, and spilled grains. As Soda reached the pools she suddenly slowed down, looked behind her, stopped, turned around, turned back, looked at the pools, turned around again, and slowly headed back to the pigyard. For Soda, that was unusual behaviour and had me worried. So after checking all the pigsters were accounted for and the pasture was secured from dogs and alpaca, I turned to head back to the pigyard to check she was okay.
And that’s when I saw her….wandering back down the hill from the barn, with Scotch in tow. Together, like an old married couple, they strolled out the pigyard gate and into the pasture, side by side, occasionally stopping to knead the ground or have a nibble of grass. That grumpy Ms. Piggy had gone back to the barn for the sole purpose of telling her mate to get out of bed and come join them! If ever I doubted that animals could communicate or could care for one another (and I don’t doubt it!) that magical moment told me that they are as much a couple as any bonded human pair might be.
Scotch and Soda grazing together
I let Sadie join me in the pasture, and together we spent time watching the herd and their private pool party. Scotch, clever pig that he is, likes to put his front trotters on the edge of the flimsiest pool and make all the water run onto the dirt so he can add mudholes to those I have already created. Sometimes, however, Soda chases him away and takes over the premium spot in the wet dirt – even if it means shoving herself half under the pool!
Soda finds a cool, cool place
Pools, pigs, and precious moments…..there is no greater joy to a pig on a hot day than a pool and mud wallow. It creates a comfortable environment for the piggies and precious moments for their foster mama.
Video of Soda in her pool: