Country Matters July 17

Country Matters

By The Hodge

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

George Bernard Shaw
I spent the hottest June weekend on record at our county show – the Royal Three Counties at Malvern – the three counties in the title being Gloucestershire, Worcestershire & Herefordshire. In centuries past each of the counties held a separate county show but common sense prevailed and now there is one glorious show shared by the three which just happens to be the largest such event now in England, certainly in terms of livestock and horses.
My duties from Wednesday to Saturday were almost entirely with the pig section but on Sunday I was responsible for the National Rare & Minority Breeds Show, showcasing our rarest native farm animals.
The temperatures recorded caused some headaches but our exhibitors and officials managed the situation nigh-on perfectly. Come Sunday though, we were getting lots of complaints from visitors. Their problem was that when in the pig lines, almost invariably the pigs had upended their drinking receptacles and had nothing left to drink. ’Why’, asked many people, ‘weren’t exhibitors on hand to immediately replenish their water?’
Now pigs are reckoned to be among the most intelligent of all creatures so why would virtually all 271 of them – of all ages from 6 months to 6 years old – be tipping away their vital water supply? Indeed, a leading American university has ranked the animal kingdom in terms of intelligence starting with man, the great apes, whales and dolphins. The only quadruped higher in the top ten than the pig, is the elephant! Rightly or wrongly, the university ranked pigs higher than dogs and all other mammals!
To come up with an answer, you need to understand the pig’s physiology. Pigs don’t sweat – so much for the insult that ‘you sweat like a pig!’ {‘Oh, yeah? That means I don’t sweat at all!’) Pigs like dogs pant and always have a wet snout. But pigs are much bigger and heavier than dogs so need help to keep cool. In the outdoors, they do this by creating a nice muddy wallow where they coat themselves in mud and keep cool in the watery puddle. The mud helps protect against sunburn and the water helps keep the temperature down.
That’s basically what they were doing at the show. Instead of lying on straw on concrete, the pigs – even young ones, instinctively know that once they’d had their drink, by tipping out the rest of their water, they’d cool their bed and the concrete and be more comfortable. Clever pigs!
All the owners of the stock were well aware of the conditions and returned regularly to replenish the water – to be drunk and then tipped over again – to keep the pigs comfortable. In fact, despite the public’s fears, the pigs fared better than some of the cattle and sheep which had to return home early because they were suffering from heat exhaustion. Ho hum! Still, I expect it will be back to normal next year with a rainy weekend and a whole different set of problems!
Talking of shows, it’s our local event at the beginning of July – The Cotswold Show at Cirencester Park on the 1st and 2nd. Do come along – there’s lots to see and do in a lovely setting. The ingredients for a perfect day out!

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