I received an alert early Saturday morning from Linda Derrickson at Hillspring Farm, saying some neighbors had decided to purchase four mulefoot piglets--two from Crystal's litter and two from Cherry's--and were planning to pick them up soon. All eight piglets needed to have their ears pierced with numbered plastic ear tags, stat--it's how you keep track of an animal's age and ancestry, among other things. So I headed back to Wisconsin.
To tag a pig, two circular plastic disks stamped with the animal's assigned number are fitted onto an applicator, which looks like a chunky pair of pliers with a pointed tip on one side. The "male" side of the tag has a pointed protrusion on the back, perhaps a half-inch long, that fits over the pointed side of the applicator; the "female" tag has a hole to receive the male end when the cartilaginous part of the ear is placed between either side of the applicator. The human holding it gives a hard, quick squeeze until the ear is pierced and the two disks snap together. That's the easy part.
Sunday afternoon Mark Kessenich passed around a box of ear plugs to the half-dozen of us that had assembled outside the barn--piglets don't like to be picked up, and when it happens their protests are pitched as highly as possible. Mark headed into the pasture with a pair of slop buckets to rustle up the piglets, hollering--you guessed it--"Soooey! Soooey!" Meanwhile Hillspring resident Denise Benoit positioned four of us inside a pen in the barn--three to wrangle the piglets and the fourth to tag them. One person stood just outside the pen, responsible for fitting the tags onto the applicator and handing it over to the tagger when each piglet was immobilized.
It took some time but Mark eventually lured Crystal into the barn, where he'd dumped some slop into a trough. Hot on her heels were all eight piglets; they streamed into the pen and dove into the slop while we shut the gate behind them. After Crystal had her fill we guided her back through the gate, using a large board to block the piglets from following. As soon as Crystal disappeared the piglets started complaining, running back and forth in the pen, squealing unhappily, but gradually they calmed down and returned to the trough.
We started with Cherry's piglets, which, being a week younger, were smaller. One person would grab the piglet by the hind legs and hoist it into the air, whereupon the squealing, kicking, and bucking would start. Someone else had to get a hold of the front legs, while a third wrapped arms around the midsection and held onto the snout to prevent nipping. One brisk snap on the applicator--left ear for females, right ear for males--and it was all over. Once placed outside the pen the piglet stopped squealing and returned to the pasture. Catch all the action below.
There was a remarkable difference when we moved onto Crystal's pigs, which were noticeably larger and incredibly strong, but altogether the job only took about 15 minutes. If you doubt just how little this process disturbed the piglets' otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon, check out the attached post-piercing photographs of Doris Day, the best-looking and friendliest of the female pigs, who can probably look forward to a long life farrowing her own piglets.
Regarding the gorgeous and sweet-tempered Doris: 28-year-old project manager Debbie McKinnie of New Zealand took up Linda's offer to name that piglet, proffering $10 to cover postage and the piglet's registration fee with the American Mulefoot Hog Association. That's right--these pigs have Kiwi fans. McKinnie, who bought the naming rights for a "girlfriend who is mad about little piglets!" also named a male after New Zealand pop star Dave Dobbyn. Naming rights on a few piglets may still be available. For info contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming soon: the debut of the Reader's pig, which has no name as of yet.