Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Mammals by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Mammals by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Pig

Teacher's Story

"I wander through the underbresh,

Where pig tracks pintin' to'rds the crick,

Is picked and printed in the fresh

Black bottom-lands, like wimmen prick

Their pie-crust with a fork."


dropcap image Y a forest law of William the First of England in the eleventh century, it was ordained that any that were found guilty of killing the stag or the roebuck or the wild boar, should have their eyes put out. This shows that the hunting of the wild boar in England was considered a sport of gentlemen in an age when nothing was considered sport unless it was dangerous. The wild hog of Europe is the ancestor of our common domesticated breeds; although independent of these, the Chinese domesticated their own wild species, even before the dawn of history.

The wild hog likes damp situations where it may wallow in the water and mud; but it also likes to have, close by, woods, thicket or underbrush, to which it can retire for rest and also when in danger. The stiff, bristling hairs which cover its thick skin, are a great protection when it is pushing through thorny thickets. When excited or angry, these bristles rise and add to the fury of its appearance. Even in our own country, the wild hogs of the South, whose ancestors escaped from domestication, have reverted to their original savagery, and are dangerous when infuriated. The only recorded instance when our great national hunter, Theodore Roosevelt, was forced ignominiously to climb a tree, was after he had emptied his rifle into a herd of "javelins," as the wild pigs of Texas are called; the javelins are the peccaries, which are the American representatives of the wild hog.


Anxious for Dinner

That the hog has become synonymous with filth is the result of the influence of man upon this animal, for of all animals, the pig is naturally the neatest, keeping its bed clean, often in the most discouraging and ill-kept pens. The pig is sparsely clothed with bristles and hairs, which yield it no protection from the attacks of flies and other insects. Thus it is the pig, in order to rid itself of these pests, has learned to wallow in the mud. However, this is in the nature of a mud bath, and is for the purpose of keeping the body free from vermin. The wild hogs of India make for themselves grass huts, thatched above and with doors at the sides, which shows that the pig, if allowed to care for itself, understands well the art of nest-building.

One of the most interesting things about a pig, is its nose; this is a fleshy disc with nostrils in it and is a most sensitive organ of feeling; it can select grain from chaff, and yet is so strong that it can root up the ground in search for food. "Root" is a pig word, and was evidently coined to describe the act of the pig when digging for roots; the pig's nose is almost as remarkable as the elephant's trunk, and the pig's sense of smell is very keen; it will follow a track almost as well as a dog. There are more instances than one of a pig being trained as a pointer for hunting birds, and showing a keener sense of smell, and keener intelligence in this capacity, than do dogs. French pigs are taught to hunt for truffles, which are fungi growing on tree roots, a long way below the surface of the ground; the pig detects their presence through the sense of smell.

The pig has a full set of teeth, having six incisors, two canines and seven grinding teeth on each jaw; although in some cases there are only four incisors on the upper jaw. A strange thing about a pig's teeth, is the action of the upper canines, or tushes, which curve upward instead of downward; the lower canines grind up against them, and are thus sharpened. The females have no such development of upper tushes as do the males; these tushes, especially the upper ones, are used as weapons; with them, the wild boar slashes out and upward, inflicting terrible wounds, often disabling horses and killing men. Professor H. F. Button describes the fighting of hogs thus: "To oppose the terrible weapons of his rival, the boar has a shield of skin over his neck and shoulders, which may become two inches thick, and so hard as to defy a knife. When two of these animals fight, each tries to keep the tushes of his opponent against the shield, and to get his own tushes under the belly or flank of the other. Thus, each goes sidewise or in circles, which has given rise to the expression, 'to go sidewise like a hog to war.' "

When, as a small girl, I essayed the difficult task of working buttonholes, I was told if I did not set my stitches more closely together, my buttonhole would look like a pig's eye, a remark which made me observant of that organ ever after. But though the pig's eyes are small, they certainly gleam with intelligence, and they take in all that is going on, which may in any way affect his pigship.

The pig is the most intelligent of all the farm animals, if it is only given a chance; it has excellent memory and can be taught tricks readily; it is affectionate and will follow its master around like a dog. Anyone who has seen a trained pig at a show picking out cards and counting, must grant that it has brains, although we stuff it so with fattening food, that it does not have a chance to use its brain, except now and then when it breaks out of the sty and we try to drive it back. Under these circumstances, we grant the pig all the sagacity usually imputed to the one who once possessed swine and drove them into the sea. Hunters of wild hogs proclaim that they are full of strategy and cunning, and are exceedingly fierce. We pay tribute to the pig's cleverness when free to outwit us, when we say of other uncertain undertakings, that they are like "buying a pig in a poke."

The head of the wild hog is wedge-shaped with pointed snout, and this form enables the animal to push into the thick underbrush along the river banks, whenever it is attacked. But civilization has changed this bold profile of the head, so that now in many breeds, there is a hollow between the snout and eyes, giving the form which we call "dished." Some breeds have sharp, forward-opening ears, while others have ears that lop. The wild pig of Europe and Asia has large, open ears extending out wide and alert on each side of the head.


Good for the pigs and good for the orchard.

The covering of the pig is a thick skin beset with bristling hairs; when the hog is excited, the bristles rise and add to the fury of its appearance. The bristles aid in protecting the animal when it is pushing through thorny thickets. The pig's querly tail is merely an ornament, although the tail of the wart hog of Africa, if pictures may be relied upon, might be used in a limited fashion as a fly-brush.

When the pig is allowed to roam in the woods, it lives on roots, nuts, and especially acorns and beech nuts; in the autumn it becomes very fat through feeding upon the latter. The mast-fed bacon of the semi-wild hogs of the Southern States is considered the best of all. But almost anything animal or vegetable, that comes in its way, is eaten by the hog, and it has been long noted that the hog has done good service on our frontier as a killer of rattlesnakes. The pig is well fitted for locomotion on either wet or dry soil, for the two large hoofed toes enable it to walk well on dry ground and the two hind toes, smaller and higher up, help to sustain it on marshy soil. Although the pig's legs are short, it is a swift runner unless it is too fat. The razor-backs of the South are noted for their fleetness.

We understand somewhat the pig's language; there is the constant grunting, which is a sound that keeps the pig herd together. We understand perfectly the complaining squeal of hunger, the satisfied grunt signifying enjoyment of food, the squeal of terror when seized, and the nasal growl when fighting. But there is much more to the pig's conversation than this; I know a certain lady, who is a lover of animals, and who once undertook to talk pig language as best she could imitate it, to two of her sows when they were engaged in eating. They stopped eating, looked at each other a moment and forthwith began fighting, each evidently attributing the lady's remark to the other, and obviously it was of an uncomplimentary character.

The pig's ability to take on fat was evidently a provision, in the wild state, for storing up fat from mast that should help sustain the animal during the hardships of winter; and this character is what makes swine useful for our own food. Pigs, to do best, should be allowed to have pasture and plenty of fresh green food. Their troughs should be kept clean and they should have access to ashes, and above all, they should have plenty of pure water; and as the pig does not perspire freely, access to water where it can take its natural mud-baths helps to keep the body cool and the pig healthy in hot weather.

The breeds of hogs most common in America are the Berkshires, which are black with white markings, and have ears extending erect; the Poland Chinas, which are black and white with drooping ears; the Duroc-Jersey, which are red or chestnut with drooping ears; the Yorkshire and Cheshire, which are white with erect ears, while the Cheshire White is white with drooping ears. The Poland China and Duroc-Jersey are both pure American breeds.

References—Elementary Agriculture, Warren; Our Domestic Animals, Burkett; The Country Reader, Buchanan; Lives of Animals, Ingersoll; Types and Breeds of Farm Animals, Plumb; and the bulletins of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Lesson LXIX

The Pig

Leading thought—The pig is something more than a source of pork. It is a sagacious animal and naturally cleanly in its habits when not made prisoner by man.

Method—The questions in this lesson may be given to the pupils a few at a time, and those who have access to farms or other places where pigs are kept may make the observations, and in giving them to the class they should be discussed. Supplementary reading should be given the pupils, which may inform them as to the habits and peculiarities of the wild hogs. Theodore Roosevelt's experience in hunting the wart-hog in Africa will prove interesting reading.


Bottle-fed Babies


1. How does the pig's nose differ from that of other animals? What is it used for besides for smelling? Do you think the pig's sense of smell is very keen? Why do pigs root?

2. Describe the pig's teeth. For what are they fitted? What are the tushes for? Which way do the upper tushes turn? How do wild hogs use their tushes?

3. Do you think that a pig's eyes look intelligent? What color are they? Do you think the pig can see well?

4. Is the pig's head straight in front or is it dished? Is this dished appearance ever found in wild hogs? Do the ears stand out straight or are they lopped? What advantage is the wedge-shaped head to the wild hogs?

5. How is the pig covered? Do you think the hair is thick enough to keep off flies? Why does the pig wallow in the mud? Is it because the animal is dirty by nature or because it is trying to keep clean? Do the hog's bristles stand up if it is angry?

6. If the pig could have its natural food what would it be and where would it be found? Why and on what should pigs be pastured? What do pigs find in the forest to eat? What kind of bacon is considered the best?

7. On how many toes does the pig walk? Are there other toes on which it does not walk? If wading in the mud, are the two hind toes of use? Do wild pigs run rapidly? Do tame pigs run rapidly if they are not too fat? Do you think the pig can swim? Do you think that the pig's tail is of any use or merely an ornament?

8. What cries and noises do the pigs make which we can understand?

9. How do hogs fight each other? When the boars fight, how do they attack or ward off the enemy? Where do we get the expression "going sidewise like a hog to war?"

10. How many breeds of pigs do you know? Describe them.

11. What instances have you heard that show the hog's intelligence?

12. Give an oral or written English exercise on one of the following topics: "The antiquity of swine; how they were regarded by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans;" (see encyclopedia). "The story of hunting wild hogs in India;"  "The razor-back hogs of the South;"  "The wart-hog of Africa."

"The nice little pig with a querly tail,

All soft as satin and pinky pale

Is a very different thing by far

Than the lumps of iniquity, big pigs are."

—Nonsense Rhyme

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