This is part of a pig series cross-posted at The Washington Post.
All his adult life, Kevin had long hair. Now he has a crew cut, and we owe it all to pig poop.
When we first contemplated pigs, we visited the local pig farmer – Bob Flynn, at Ten of Us Farm – to do reconnaissance. We found a barn full of clean, healthy-looking pigs, and we decided we’d buy three of them as soon as we’d built the pen. We also found a mountain of composting pig poop, which Bob sells by the yard. We took two.
There’s a world of difference between “composting” and “composted.” A very smelly world. Shoveling the poop out of the trailer and onto the designated spot, far from the house, where it would continue to break down, was not pleasant.
Luckily, I had a previous engagement. Kevin was good enough to tackle the job alone. I left him, still long-haired, ankle-deep in the stuff.
I came home to a finished job and the worst haircut known to man.
“I was sweating and covered in pig poop and my hair was in my face and I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he told me. So he rinsed off and got out the clippers.
This incident gave us pause. Not because we regretted his hair – thirty years is a long time for a pony tail – but because we got a whiff of what it must be like to keep pigs.
Our pig pen was far enough – and upwind – from our one neighbor that we weren’t worried about disturbing other people. It was us we were concerned about. Three pigs make a lot of poop. Maybe not a mountain, but at least a foothill. We pictured our 2000-square-foot pen covered with it, and the smell wafting up the hill.
But we’d read that pigs, their reputation notwithstanding, have a strong cleanliness instinct. They don’t poop where they eat or where they sleep, and tend to pick one area – far away from house and feeder – as a toilet. If the poop weren’t walked in and tracked around and generally spread all over, perhaps … but no, that seemed too much to ask of three little pigs.
Now, two months in, I will vouch for the cleanliness of pigs. Their shelter is perfectly clean. The area around their feeder and waterer, while it’s been rooted down to raw earth, is absolutely poop-free. They have chosen the far corner of their pen, a good sixty feet from their house, as the bathroom.
And, oddly, the pigs themselves are clean. They spend their days wallowing in mud and digging in dirt, but somehow manage not to show it. Not much, at least. Their hocks and snouts are dirty, but not the rest of them.
If I knew their secret, I could market it for millions.
And the smell? The pen, even on hot, humid summer days, doesn’t smell bad. There’s a faint odor that I can describe only as piggy; definitely not poopy. Which brings me to a theory I’ve developed after spending a couple of years with livestock. It seems to me that poop from animals that are vegetarian (or almost wholly so) is less offensive and breaks down more quickly than poop from carnivores. Chicken and turkey and pig poop doesn’t seem to be nearly as bad as human and dog and cat poop.
I never bargained for a life in which I became intimately familiar with the nuances of animal poop. I was an urbanite. My only animal was a cat. And my husband had a pony tail.
I guess I’m adjusting.