Hog Heaven

Once again, Colorado Swine Day is upon us, with its ceaseless rounds of pomp and ceremony, and--

No. Let's try that again.
Colorado Swine Day dawns bright and cloudless, the sort of spring day that sets the sourest of pusses to purrin'. "Why, fry me up a half-pound of bacon, honey," murmured Dr. Steve Dritz, DVM, as he suited up for the annual festivities. "It's going to be another wonderful, informative day, just like it is every year."

How about this? National Swine Day is getting to be too much. If it isn't Managing Pig Variation at Weaning and Marketing, it's Swine Nutrition Update, and everyone knows what a mob scene that will be.

But will it? I reread the latest issue of Primarily Pork, trying to distill its porcine essence. Really, it's pretty simple. April 7 is Colorado Swine Day, with the state celebration scheduled for the Limon Community Center. (National Swine Day will be held in Des Moines, as usual. Des Moines always hogs National Swine Day.) The Limon festivities are to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the Colorado Pork Producers Council has extended a special invitation to "Westword or current boxholder."

It's tempting. This has been a big pig of a year, what with all those hog-farm debates during the last election and the subsequent regulatory wallows at the Capitol. But the Limon program will focus on commercial pork production--Denny's "Breakfast Skillet" promotion alone will be responsible for 1.5 million pounds of pork consumed in the coming months--and other "positive pork impressions" that, quite frankly, seem a bit mainstream. As I chew on this, I begin to think that I might find more positive pork impressions much closer to home.

And so, on official Colorado Swine Day, I set out to report, to celebrate, to perceive pork. It is going to be a full day.

7:30 a.m.: After a bacon-heavy breakfast, I venture out to find an extremely large pig that is rumored to live in the nearby foothills with someone named Priscilla Senner. At 7:35 a.m. I spot a raven-haired woman headed into a blue barn that is not tall enough for a horse.

"Are you Priscilla?" I ask out the car window.
She nods.
"Well, it's National Swine Day!" I yell, pleased at myself but forgetting for a moment that it's only State Swine Day.

"Is not," she says. "National Pig Day is March 1. It's a real holiday. Look it up."

A passenger's side fact-check reveals that this year's National Swine Day celebrations are scheduled for June 10-12 in Des Moines (of course). I find no mention of a Pig Day per se.

"Well," I say, switching tactics, "can I talk to the pig?"
"Come back this afternoon," she says. "I have to tidy his pig parlor."
8:30 a.m.: I debrief with a friend who is a vet but says she does not want her name used as soon as I tell her what I'm researching.

"I won't work with pigs," she says. "And I don't want it to seem as if I'm unkind to animals."

"Well, are you?"
"No," she decides. "It's just that pigs smell bad. And sometimes they're mean."

"Mean how?"
"They try to bite you. It would be tough to be a pig around here, though," she adds, making a play to sound sympathetic. "The climate's too cold."

"What about all those pig outfits on the eastern plains?"
"The pigs are there because not many people are there. No one wants to be near the smell."

We fall silent for a moment. I am thinking about what possibilities my day may yet hold. Specifically, lunch. I don't know what she's thinking, but then she suddenly says, "Did you know a pig has a corkscrew penis?" The rest of the conversation becomes unprintable.

11:30 a.m.: Just before lunch--a BLT!--I treat myself to an algae massage, during which the conversation turns to pigs, as it often must, because the massage therapist leaps into the topic with vigor.

"I have looked into the eyes of a pig," she says. "I saw immediately that it had a soul. I saw that it wasn't happy, if not suffering. It made me think that pigs are pretty smart. This was at the stock show," she adds for clarification.

2 p.m.: Right now, in Limon, Dr. James Mintert of KSU Extension is halfway through his talk on Livestock Marketing. I am selling myself on another BLT.

4 p.m.: Priscilla is ready to receive me. It is clearly not the first time her pig has been approached by the media. "We got him just twelve years ago," she begins to recite, "and he just grew and grew and grew. He is twelve years old now, the oldest pig that the University of Iowa, or anyone else in pigdom, knows about."

I am ushered into the blue barn, where, in the half-light, I see Winston, a gigantic white pig, lounging in the straw. His ears look--"like satellite dishes," Priscilla supplies. "He is a Duroc-Chester. That's D-U-R-O-C. He's white. He has a godmother and a godfather."

The Pig Godfather--that sounds menacing, but isn't, at least in this case--is standing in the pig parlor with us. His name is Tom Muller, M-U-L-L-E-R. His duties include presiding over Winston's two annual official functions: a formal dinner and a Fourth of July picnic.

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