There were clearly pig tracks in the dirt and the decorative pumpkins in front of the store had been eaten but there were no loose pigs. The empty scrap buckets stacked in front of the barn were tipped over and snout marks covered the bottoms of the containers but there was not a pig in sight.
Every night we push the pigs out of their huts, clean the floors and feed pans. Then we fill the pans with food while the pigs watch eagerly from the doorway. The rule, that most of them follow, is to wait patiently until the pans are filled. Then on the command, “Ok,” they pile into the pen to eat. Those that jump in too soon are shooed out and have to go to the end of the line so there is an incentive to being patient. Then when we leave the pig hut we try to remember to re-latch the pen doors and put up the electric fence wire.
That night either we forgot to latch the door, or the pigs figured out how to unlatch the door because that morning their pen door was open, wide open. Inside the pen, I counted 10 sleeping two-hundred-pound pigs snuggled in their hay. The night before they had made their great escape, walked uphill to the house, smashed the pumpkins, rooted in the garden, then put themselves back in their pen without anyone noticing or hearing them. When I saw them they looked up lazily at me as if to say, “What pumpkins? We don't know anything about pumpkins. We don't know who opened the door? Wasn't us. We've been here all night. Must have been some other pigs.”
The pigs were smart enough to put themselves away but cows are smart too. One time I was trying to bring a working steer pair, Lou, and JoJo back from a remote pasture. I easily caught JoJo and tied him in the trailer. Lou was not so cooperative. He walked around and around the trailer, just ahead of me, never slowing down so I could put a halter on him. After fifteen minutes of this low-speed chase, he walked to the back of the trailer, looked in at JoJo and jumped in the trailer to join his buddy! Exactly what I wanted him to do.
Animals are smart and sometimes seem to be mind readers. This works most of the time until they read my mind and decide to do exactly the opposite of what I want. I think we often underestimate them. They have all day to observe humans and lots of time to watch what we do. Those of you with dogs and cats know what I'm talking about. The best we can do is acknowledge our animal's intelligence and not underestimate what they'll do. Those pigs, after a night on the farm, put themselves away and Lou, the Highlander steer, knew I wanted him in the trailer.
Maybe it's not too late to teach an old-farmer new tricks. My animals sure are trying.