11th June 2005
Lily pig is a movie star! And a clever one at that! One of 46 piglets who played Wilbur in the cinematic portrayal of E.B. White’s classic tale Charlotte’s Web, Lily pig has shown the world just how smart pigs truly are. Trained, not unlike many a pet dog, to sit, lie down, trot over to a target and so much more, Lily had the role of Zuckerman’s Famous Pig well and truly covered.
Lily now lives the life of Reily as repayment for her role in Charlotte’s Web. We were told she was the head trainer’s favourite pig on the set for her ability to quickly learn tasks and her amicable nature. She has us all wondering just what part she played in the film but we have a sneaking suspicion that it may the part where Wilbur is made a star. For that is what our intelligent Lily is truly capable of.
In a recent study of intelligence humans came out on top, although this may have a lot to do with their framing of the study. Non-human primates came in second, third were dolphins and whales with good old pigs coming in fourth and dogs a lowly thirteenth!
Such a stroke of luck has meant that unlike her sisters, Lily will never be a piglet making machine nor will she ever be turned into bacon like her brothers. Lily’s life is now rich and full, as all pigs’ lives should be, sleeping in straw, rooting in the soil and wallowing in the mud. Often mistaken for being ‘dirty’ animals due to their love of mud, pigs like Lily are in fact incredibly clean animals. Lily, like most pigs does not like to mess in her bed of soft straw and has allocated a separate section of her paddock for such activities!
Lily loves belly rubs and welcomes many a kindly human hand to scratch just the right spot on her back. Exploring in her paddock she is at peace and lets her fun sense of humour run free when she manages to ‘acquire’ herself an old chaff bag from an unsuspecting volunteer; a chaff bag intended for manure collection, not for the amused snout of a cheeky porcine. In his book, The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs, author and pig lover Lyall Watson declares to, ‘Know of no other animals that are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open-mouthed enthusiasm.’ Watson has also observed that pigs are, ‘Incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being.’ Our Lily is a pure example of this sentiment in motion and we find ourselves recalling it fondly as we watch her clutching a chaff bag and cavorting around gleefully as a bemused and somewhat bewildered volunteer cannot help but look on and smile.
Lily, along with her fellow cast mates Daisy and Mrs Peaches, are from the Large White family of pigs. With their origins in England in the late 1700’s, the Large White is the most popular breed of pig in Australia. Although in this case, popularity is not the be all and end all, given the fate of most Large White pigs. The Large White is distinguished from the other popular commercial white breed of pig, the Landrace, by their erect ears, longish snout and slightly dished face.
The Landrace has its origin in Denmark and came about by crossing the native pig with the Large White. It was not until 1958 that the Landrace made its way to Australia from Northern Ireland. Like the Large White they have white skin and are free from black hair. The main distinguishing feature is their ears which flop forward over their face. When one sees a Large White lying in a sow stall* with her ears flopped over her eyes, one could be forgiven for thinking they were hiding from the world.
In perhaps his shortest, yet most powerful statement about pigs, Lyall Watson tells us, ‘We have a lot to learn from them.’ Yes, we most certainly do.
*a sow stall is a metal sided crate just bigger than the pig, here she cannot turn around, can barely take a step forward, and has difficulty lying down on a barren concrete or wooden surface.
The Lowdown on Pigs:
- Unlike humans, pigs do not have sweat glands and therefore, they wallow in mud to lower body temperature. In addition to working as a cooling agent, mud acts as pigs’ sunscreen and even as insect repellent!
- Newborn piglets learn to run toward their mother’s voice and to recognize their own names. Mother pigs even sing to their young while nursing.
- If given the chance, a mother pig will carefully construct a nest for her piglets using straw, branches, twigs and other materials.
- Scientists believe that pigs are one of the most intelligent animals, they have even been taught to play video games!
- Because of their high intelligence, pigs can easily become bored and depressed in the wrong environments, just as we can.
- Around 4.5 million pigs were killed for human consumption in Australia in 2010.
- In Australia, two thirds of the breeding sows used to produce pigs for human consumption are kept within a sow stall for all or part of their 16 week pregnancies.
- The acceptable measurements of a sow stall are just 60 centimetres by 2.2 metres, which allow a sow enough room to only take one step forward and one step back. If a sow lies down within this device, often her legs will protrude into the stall of the sow beside her.
- Prevented from carrying out instinctive behaviour, such as rooting in the ground, many sows show stereotypical signs of stress and boredom, bar biting being one such example.
- Sow stalls have been banned in the United Kingdom since 1999 on welfare grounds.
- To give birth and feed her young, a breeding sow is moved to an even more restrictive device, known as a farrowing crate, in which metal bars encircle her body. The only requirement of a farrowing crate is that it allows a sow to stand up and to lie down.
- Piglets within intensive farming systems have their teeth clipped, their tails cut and males are castrated without anaesthetic or pain relief. These procedures would be illegal if performed on a dog or cat in this way.
Watson, L, The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs, 2004