On Swine, Gender Lines, and Doing That Which Makes You Happy

Large Black Tamworth

Doctors use pig parts to replace worn human ones because, anatomically and biologically speaking, pigs are rather similar to humans. They’re not all that closely related to humans, that distinction goes to the apes who are known to use sticks as ant straws, but spend any time at all with pigs and you probably won’t be surprised that they can be, for instance, taught to play video games.

Intelligent and highly social, pigs — like many species — speak a unique language, have a complex social hierarchy, and participate in their social groups through a division of labor. What sets them apart is the way in which they divvy up that labor. More fluid and cooperative than any other species I’ve had the pleasure to observe, pigs seem to know naught of gender lines and don’t get bogged down in expectations, choosing to take on jobs they enjoy and are individually good at as opposed to those that are genetically or culturally expected of them.

As The Man and I were delivering fresh straw to each pen last night I was reminded of how astute pigs are at this labor division when Watson, the black pig on the left side of the photo above, a mature boar who is currently penned with two sows, immediately began rearranging their new bedding in their shelter as the two ladies did whatever it is they do best — in this case the red sow you see above chattered away at the fence hoping for a scratch and the other sow (not pictured) bucked and kicked and ran around in celebration as she has every time she’s been given new bedding since she came to us as a tiny weaned pig of only a couple months old. He seemed not to notice their disinterest in the new homemaking chores at hand and they seemed not to notice his efforts, yet he does it every time. He enjoys it and is good at it, and that is enough for him (and them).

Before Watson there was another boar and he was not so interested in homemaking, during his time that duty fell to a few different barrows, each who seemed to relish the job. His job of choice was another we might usually think would fall to a female though. Each day throughout the summer as the sows would head off into the underbrush of the wooded paddock to glean what they could he would remain near their home base, basking in the sun as all of the baby pigs who were too young to go out foraging themselves climbed atop, napping on his back and tumbling down his sides in increasingly rowdy games of king of the big slumbering boar. It wasn’t until the afternoons, when the sows would return to nurse and rest that he would rise, stretch and go for a jaunt himself. The sows never seemed to take particular notice of his sacrifice, of the fact that he spent every day at home with the kids while they pursued their careers. They did not bring him a cut of the day’s bounty and they never thanked him for a job well done, he just did it and enjoyed it and that was, apparently, enough.

Pigs are good at labor division. I sometimes wonder how much happier humans could be if they were better at it, too.

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