Feet as big as babies!
That was the first thing I noticed as one of the tiny black & white babies ran under her tail and screeched to a halt right in front of her foot. The sow’s foot was actually bigger than her baby!
The size difference just blew my mind. How could something that small come out of something so big? Maybe because there are so many (I saw at least 9 of the tiny piglets running into the scene at one time)? Must be….
The other thing that struck me was how calm she was (or maybe exhausted from so many bodies sucking sustenance from her?)—how calm ALL of the sows were. Everything I’d heard/seen up until then was that sows were aggressive and dangerous, especially when around newborn piglets. I learned that this isn’t true for all sows.
Picking up feeder pigs
Let me start at the beginning. It was May, and we had driven to a nearby farm between Blanchardville and Mineral Point to pick up our feeder pigs—this year, Berkshires! I was very excited. The farmer, Jack, had sounded very nice on the phone and I was hoping he’d let me take reference photos, even though the Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) was killing record numbers of piglets this year, and I knew that many hog farmers were taking every precaution against the virus getting on their property. I made sure to NOT wear my chore boots, just in case that would make any difference (not bringing any animal feces, germs, etc on my boots).
We got there and started talking and Jack told us all about his Berks and how long he’d been farming (a long time!) and that this would be one of his last years (he was getting older and ready to retire). We learned a lot about Berks!
We went into the shed where all the piglets were, and man was it loud. But then as he went into one of the pens to catch 6 piglets for me, well that was deafening. If you’ve never been around a squealing pig, it is incredibly loud—painful, seriously. But funny too, because they start squealing like they’re going to die the minute you pick them up, but then the minute you set them down, it’s complete silence. Anyway we got all 6 loaded up into the trailer and then we went down and looked at some of the sows.
Mamas and babies
Eventually I got around to asking him if I could photograph his nursing sows (I had in mind this painting I wanted to do), and he said “sure”(!!) First, we dipped the bottoms of our shoes in disinfectant, then went in. Jack opened the gate and said, “Go on in.” And whoa! there were huge sows just walking around the barn free—right in front of us. Now, I’d been told that sows were aggressive and dangerous, so as I sort of stammered, “So, like, just walk in? It’s ok?” And Jack calmly replied “Sure, go right on in.”
I made myself quit worrying and just walked in, and soon there were sows in front, beside, behind…all around us, sort of curious, but as calm as could be…more interested in munching on hay and finding a puddle to lie in to cool down (it was a hot day in May).
And as James and Jack talked farm equipment, I went over to one of the pens and started photographing one of the mama sows and her piglets. The girth and weight of her body, her breasts full of milk, and those huge, thick feet—she was like a sow mountain!—I just loved the shape and curves of her. She patiently dozed while these little skinny babies trotted to and fro under her legs and tail and climbing all over her as they pushed and tugged at her teats. And yeah, it did bring back memories of when I had a newborn who seemed to be constantly hungry and always needing to nurse, and I thought Holy Cow I am so glad I only had one!! As I watched this peaceful scene, low grunts of mama sows in the air, I thought, this is Quality Production.
On view now at Artisan Gallery (through December, 2014)
To see what’s available (including Quality Production featured here) and for prices please visit the artist’s page at Artisan Gallery.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, please visit Paoli and see not only my solo show In Dog Years, but also dozens of wonderful pieces in the Small Works Show, as well as the humorous and ambitious show In the Cooler: Temporary Residence by Ted Lott (I’m proud to say we were grad students together at UW-Madison—MFAs, 2011). Awesome artist and work!