It’s not always easy getting through summer if you’re a pig.
But this summer has, surprisingly, been an especially good one for Hamlet, our black, pot-bellied barnyard fellow.
Being black can be a disaster when it’s been as hot a summer as this one. Bur Hammie dug himself a pig bathtub just where the shadows of four trees converge so when one shadow disappears, another takes its place.
Yes, it’s a bathtub alright, because Hamlet revels in taking long, leisurely mud baths throughout most of the day, protected by his tree shade. Tree shade, by the way, is way cooler than barn shade or stall shade — especially oak tree shade, which covers the floor of the pig palace grounds with an aquarium feel, an underwater attitude. The animals glide past each other — pretending no one else can see them — as fish do. When a puff of wind blows through, the freshly minted acorns rain down like truffles from their branches. Hamlet can lie on his side, luxuriously tilting his head and delicately chomp through his favorite treats without leaving his mud bath all day. Now that’s the lap of pig luxury.
Mud-bathing pigs — we have two — can be very alarming because, well, they look ... er ... dead.
You come upon them, sneak up even, totally immersed in their hole, motionless. A few calls yield no life until they read your soaring panic and crack a big, yawning smile to reassure you that they, indeed, will live to see the next meal — and when is that, please?
The flies are merciless in the summer, but both pigs’ skins — pink and black — are impervious. They are our little football puffballs who are in reality tough as hell. When you pat ‘em, it does feel just like a football, but warm and super tough, armored even. It took years for Hamlet to let us pat him. One little neck pat on his second mouthful of food (because he valued the food more than the fear) is all he’d allow for years. That turned into two, then more, then almost any time.
Iggy, by contrast, welcomes pats and scratches any hour in any weather of the year. She flops down shamelessly often for a tummy scratch.
Mud baths, by the way, are dry. They just roll themselves in the dirt, it cakes but eventually falls off when they return to pig patrol. They also, very cleverly, use their snouts to flip dirt back up over their shoulders to their back to keep cool. Hamlet is particularly industrious in this regard. The dusty cover keeps all manner of annoyances away to ensure a good sound sleep.
But not so much sleep as to stop them from heeding the call to scratch. Piggies love to scratch on everything they pass, as a matter of course. Sides, butt, back, jowls, ears on every fence, door, rock, tree, leg. Wire fence is the pig (and goat) scratch fence of choice. They squeeze it out in slow motion, like old toothpaste, getting that maximum rub per square of wire. Meanwhile the old Cheshire Cat grin spreads across that ancient porcine face. They know how to live.
Cooler days ahead are okay with Hamlet. Eventually his mud pits will be for warm locations, in the lee of the barn where the coming winds won’t get at him. Fall and winter won’t be as lazy days as these — easy livin’ summer days. More activity, more pig patrol, more acorns! Hamlet is ready for all of it.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.