I wonder if everyone who has pets has the extensive rituals that we do. I remember back when we just had one dog, there were rituals, of a sort. It mostly revolved around “walkies.” But I don’t remember there being things that “needed” to be done, on a daily basis, things that she expected, and by expect, I mean waiting intently for the thing she knew was coming, and showing real displeasure or downright haughtiness if it didn’t materialize.

Now with seventeen pigs, the rituals mainly revolve around feeding, but not exclusively. And I don’t mean they expect to be fed at a precise time every day, because they have learned that this varies, depending on whether we work that day, whether the day is just too gorgeous to stop enjoying it, whether we have company, there are a lot of variables, and the pigs are ok with that, they know breakfast or dinner IS coming.

The house pigs, LJ and Stannie are usually asleep when we prepare their meals. They usually wait to be called, once we have their food and water bowls ready. They come marching out of their bedroom, LJ in the lead and head for the kitchen. Then LJ waits by his mat in the dining room. When he sees his bowl in my hand, he starts to nod his head, as if to say, “Put it here, Mom, put it right here.” Then I put Stannies bowl down on his mat in the kitchen and then their water bowls. I shouldn’t say water, as their “water” has to be liberally splashed with grape juice in order for them to even consider drinking it. And not just any grape juice, thank you very much, it has to be Paul Newman’s Concord grape juice. I close the gate between the kitchen and dining room, because LJ will finish first, and then try to steal Stannie’s. LJ will finish up, then come into the living room, where he plays a little game with us. He waits a few seconds to see if we are going to let him into the kitchen to lick up Stannie’s leavings, and when we don’t he starts for the hallway to the bedrooms. This is a signal to us, it says, “you better get up and let me in the kitchen, or I’m gonna pee on the floor!” He’ll stand by the corner of the couch and look sideways at us, to see if we’re going to get up or not. Then he’ll take a few steps, stop and see if that was enough of a threat, and if we still don’t react, he’ll go around the corner where we can’t see him. This is always when we get up and go to the kitchen, LJ close behind. I look to see if Stannie is done, his buck teeth and protruding tongue cause him to eat a lot slower than LJ. He’s usually sucking up the last of his pellets by then, and if he still has a substantial amount of juice left, I’ll climb over the gate and tip his bowl, so he can more easily slurp the last of his juice.

Then LJ gets to come in and brave a head swipe from Stan as he tries to lick the bowls. He often ends up with a foamy purple streak on the side of his head or his flank for his efforts, as Stan will try and defend his empty bowls. Then they both leave the kitchen and wait for their Milk-Bone. That eaten, they wait for me to get a handful of cereal, grapes, or some such incentive to march outside for bathroom time. They’ll march down the front steps, and often Penny the dog is already outside and she’ll come running, knowing there are treats. It’s kind of funny to see two pigs and a dog lined up in front of you, heads raised, waiting for a treat. Penny will eat whatever the pigs are having, whether it’s cereal, apples, a cookie, it doesn’t matter, if the pigs are eating it, Penny will too. In nice weather, the ritual is to lead the boys around the back, and then wait around for them to go into the hay field, where they are safe, and I can see them from the house. Sometimes they’ll stay out there for hours. When I come back inside, I leave the door lightly latched, so they can open it themselves when they want to come in. LJ always comes home before Stan, except in inclement weather. LJ’s feet are very sensitive to cold, and when they turn tomato-red, he’s ready to come in. He’ll even stay out in a rain shower, as long as it’s warm. But there darn well better be a Milk-Bone waiting when they come in.

The garage pigs meal preparation is a whole big deal. We fill four 2.84 liter jugs with water, two of them get one quarter Paul Newman’s grape juice. An apple must be peeled and chopped for the babies, Domino and Rebel. A bowl of corn gets microwaved. This started out as Pugsley’s thing, as he was used to getting corn with his pellets at his old home. But then I felt guilty that the others weren’t getting it too, so now everyone gets some. Three of the pigs get Mazuri, Pugsley because that is what he was used to, and Domino and Rebel because they are babies. Three get the mini-pig lab diet pellets. I would love to feed them all Mazuri, because it’s the best in my opinion, but it’s very cost prohibitive. The first three bowls go out, and as soon as the door to the garage opens, in pop the babies, Domino and Rebel. They mill about on the landing, making it hard for us to get in the garage. Once we get past their little squealing selves, we can put their bowls down in their eating area, and we have to quickly dump out any remaining water in their bowl and replace it with fresh, warm water. They all get room temperature water, never cold. Then Pugs gets his bowl, loaded with kernel corn, just as he likes it. His water bowl is refilled. Then back inside to get Ruby, Bart and Teddy’s bowls, which have to be moistened with a little warm water, the lab diet is a lot more powdery and dry than the Mazuri. We then put Ruby and Bart’s bowls in their pen, and quickly fill their water bowls, then Teddy, who is quite indignant by this time, and standing on his hind legs peering over his fence, gets his bowl and his water filled. By this time, the babies are finished and come running for their Milk-Bone, one each. Then hop over the barrier, retrieve Rebel and Domino’s food bowls, keeping a careful watch over our thumbs, which the babies often mistake for bits of their apple as we pick up their bowls. Bowls get wiped out, and apple bits are doled out as evenly as possible. Water bowl gets topped up. Then Pugsley is usually ready for his two Milk-Bones. Teddy gets his two, then gets the rest of his jug of water-juice, which he waits expectantly for. Ruby and Bart then get their two Milk-Bones. Ruby still waves for her treats, something we taught her many years ago when she was a baby. She does this every time, without us asking. Then bowls are collected and wiped in preparation for washing. Pugsley is let out in the yard first, he will NOT do his business inside, no matter what. He’s a good boy. We leave the garage with all the pigs snoodling in the hay for any leftovers.

Now the bigpigs. Bob fills all the bowls, because the food is kept on the basement landing, and since they get the biggest quantity of food, those bowls are heavy! Three jugs are filled with warm water, and one is 1/4 juice, for Beau. All the barn pigs get sow gestation ration, even Truly and Beau, the potbellies. I tried giving Truly potbelly food, but since she was raised with Doc and Stormy the farm pigs, she wants to know what I am trying to pull. She really thinks she is a farm pig.

The bowls and jugs go into the wheelbarrow, and we head for the barn. The bowls and jugs go on the food prep table, inside the babies outdoor pen, and Bob takes the wheelbarrow out and latches the gate. He prepares Doc’s food, setting down his water bowl, pouring a little water over the pellets, and then lets Doc out the man door. He has to stand back, because as soon as that door opens, 250 pounds of pig is leaping out. Then he goes into the barn and slides open the big door. I quickly open the gate and let Truly into the yard, where her bowls are waiting. Stormy runs in circles. I wet Stormy’s pellets and hand the bowl over the gate to Bob, who is busy having his toes stomped and knees whacked by Storms. Then I hand Stormy’s water bowl over the gate. Next Beau gets his meal. Bob then leaves the barn while everyone is eating and brings the hose in. He has to be careful, in case Doc has already finished his meal, because he will leap back into the barn to steal Stormy’s food. I then grab the bigpigs bowls and fumble with the latch one handed, holding 5 heavy bowls. The bigpigs by this time are very excited, and lined up peeking through the fence. “Hello, all snouts!” I call. Little Wuzzle is right there in the fray. He’s so small he reaches up and nips the other pigs chins or necks if they are getting too pushy. Bob then climbs the fence, (it’s just easier than opening the gate and having all the pigs storm it.) I hand him the bowls, keeping one behind. Then the running of the bowls. Bob takes off with all the pigs chasing. I try and convince Harry to stay behind and get his bowl from me, which ensures that he starts eating first. At least that way he gets a few mouthfuls in before the musical bowls begins, and he spends most of his time being chased to another bowl. Generally he takes off with the others, though, and I end up giving my bowl to Wuzzle. Wuzzle will take a few bites, spill the contents, and take off for a better bowl. Harry is the only one who will concede his bowl to Wuzzle. Delilah will sometimes stay at her bowl, the first one that Bob sets down, but generally she delights in running for another one, knowing full well that EVERYONE will leave their bowl for the Queen. Willa will leave her bowl for Delilah or Rosie, but not for Wuzzle, and certainly not for Harry. I like to watch the dynamics over the fence, but I would never go in there to be chased by about a ton of hungry, slobbering pigs, like Bob does. He did get tripped once, with an armful of bowls, Harry hooked his leg with his snout. The bowls went flying and I held my breath as Bob landed, rolled, and popped up like a slice of toast out of the toaster. The look on his face was priceless, and I burst out laughing despite of the seriousness of the situation.

By this time, the little pigs are done, and I let Truly into the barn first to see if Stormy has left any “lickings.” Storms runs out to check Truly’s bowls. Then I let Doc back in the man door, and I’ve learned to open the door from the side, and stay out of the way, or I would be slammed to the ground and trampled by the Galoopus, AKA Doc. He goes straight to Stormy’s bowls, displacing Truly, who takes up her place under Doc’s belly, rooting through the hay for any missed pellets. I wondered why she did this, until I figured out what she already knew. This was the safest place to snurdle for goodies, as Doc couldn’t reach her there, to give her a toss with his snout. Stormy toddles back in and joins the hunt, and then waits for his neck rub from Mommy, who also whispers sweet nothings in his ears. If I happen to be distracted and forget his “special time” he stands alongside me and leans on my leg. He’ll stand there for several minutes, getting his neck, cheeks and forehead rubbed, before he is off again. All the bowls get collected, Beau’s bowls have to be set down for the piglet pack to inspect. Stormy usually gets these lickings, unless Doc is there, then Stormy concedes to the Galoopus. All the bowls are taken outside and rinsed with the hose. The pigs will soon leave the barn to do their business and graze for a while, but not before Daddy tells them..”Be good, be safe, be warm, Daddy loves you.” without fail.

Those are all the food related rituals, there are many others, mostly centering on bedtime, but I’ll save those for another day!

Clare Forndran