I almost died tonight. The pigs almost ate me. I could see it in their eyes- they were sizing me up, contemplating whether or not the effort of bringing me down would be worth it. I would be nothing more than a tasty side dish after they knocked the feed bucket out of my hands and trampled me into the mud. They were probably wondering just how much they outweighed me by these days, (nearly 200 lbs each), when I tripped. It wasn’t pretty.
The sun seems to set impossibly earlier each day in the fall, and it was fully dark at 8:00 when I finally made my way out to the barn tonight. An LED lantern dangled from my middle finger as I gripped a five gallon bucket filled with food and water in each hand and shuffled my way to the pig pen. I could barely make out their snouts in the moonlight, but could hear their snorts and glimpsed their tap dancing feet as they anticipated their dinner arriving…finally. Evening chores are typically done around 6pm, so you can imagine what a ruckus a 2 hour delay at meal time might create- especially when you’re dealing with animals that are known for their voracious appetites.
There is an electric fence wire that runs along the length of the pen, about 6 inches above the ground. You must step over this wire, into the mayhem of hungry, pushy pigs in order to reach their food dish (which is usually overturned and half buried into the ground 30 seconds after it is emptied). It’s a bit of a balancing act to hoist half full buckets over prodding noses and burly bodies while trying to nudge your way through a brick wall, but it’s mostly a feat of agility coupled with a facade of fearlessness that gets me through the gauntlet most nights. Tonight though, the combination of the dark, the freshly formed mud, and the elevated impatience of my dinner guests made it an especially tricky endeavor. I carefully, but confidently, stepped over the electric wire into the pen and shifted my weight towards the animals. They snorted and pushed against me with their noses, probing for a bite to eat. I leaned into them, wading between six hundred pounds of muscle, attempting to tip toe between their feet as I progressed towards my target. A newly uncovered rock protruded angularly from my path, which I never saw coming. My sneaker slipped off of it, caught in a rut and sent me scrambling backwards. I knew that I couldn’t keep backtracking since the electric fence wire was only feet behind me. But there was nowhere to go. The pigs watched me (or rather their wildly swinging food bucket), unscathed by my acrobatics and unapologetically moved even closer. The light flung with my momentum and flashed across the closest pig’s face. I can’t say for sure, but I think there was greedy anticipation reflected in those eyes. And maybe a lip lick. That could have been my imagination, but I think I recall a licking of lips.
It was either luck, the counterweight in each hand or the will not to become hog food that kept me upright. I stood less than an inch from the electric fence wire, arched back and eyebrows, with an upheld pail in each outstretched arm as both pigs snuffled around me looking for dropped morsels. As I caught my breath, I noticed the wire bouncing behind me. I must have bumped it with my jeans.
It was a good reminder that these little piggies that we brought home only 6 months ago are not so little anymore. And they aren’t sweet lovable pets. No, I don’t think they would have really tackled me to the ground and started eating me alive. But they are in this relationship for the food. And so are we.
Just a few more weeks and we’ll see who comes out on top.