Post written and images by Cath Keay
During the preparations for Carnevale, Andrea and myself constructed an interactive pig toy similar to ‘Kerplunk’, that favourite game for the lawless last day of school. Our doughtier scaled-up version had to withstand the intrigued exploration of a dozen ‘growers’ at the SRUC farm. These are mid-sized pigs, that stand around knee-height, but have the tenacious strength of a large dog.
We took half an old whisky barrel and drilled holes in it, enjoying the smell of the previously booze-soaked oak. We pushed long poles through these holes to span the barrel and cut a large hole on the base. We raised the whole thing up on four sturdy legs, so that wily animals couldn’t pick fruit off the top, buffet style. As pigs cannot lift or turn their heads easily, the lip of the barrel was just higher than their snouts, so they had to pull out the poles to release the fruit stacked in there. The sticks were not splintery, and short enough to allow the pigs to manoeuvre around.
When the time came to introduce this ‘fruit machine’ to the pigs, Marianne gathered them behind a pig board, enabling us to lower the Pig Kerplunk into place and heap it with red apples, pomegranates and crunchy pinecones.
The pigs approached cautiously. On scenting the bounty within, they worked quickly, and efficiently. After around 10 seconds chewing on the sticks (or planning their strategy), they shoved the barrel over and ate the delicious spoils.
We hardly saw it coming.
And so we presented our improved version of Pig Kerplunk at the Future Farms event in NMRL at Kittochside. A larger whisky barrel was bought and drilled. A stout stand was constructed from pitch pine rafters, with jointed legs angled to counter the horizontal forces of peckish pigs. A loose lattice of poles was carefully positioned to temporarily contain six bags of apples and some pinecones until the poles are jiggled and removed. Then jackpot! the apples would cascade onto the ground, rewarding the pigs for their own ingenuity with our human largesse.
In the sharp cold of February, we set up our solid, improved Pig Kerplunk in the little yard next to the pigsty. Visitors to the Future Farms event gathered around the fence to get good views. The poles were positioned strategically in the barrel and the scarlet apples were stacked on top. Matthew then let us artists out and the pigs into the yard. Two female Tamworths, gleaming coats the colour of copper fuse-wire, emerged like they were first in the queue for a jumble sale. A third sow stayed inside as she was ‘a bit grumpy’ to borrow Matthew’s understated phrase. He is used to balancing the expectations of vast pigs and an audience more accustomed to Peppa and her pals. The Tamworths circled the yard and sniffed the air and knew there were apples nearby. They snuffled along the hazel poles and around the barrel, intrigued by its wild woods and pub fire whiffs. One pig tugged a pole, rattling the apples and making us raise our cameras expectantly. After a bit more tentative chewing, a sow reared onto her back legs to look inside the barrel, and her weight splintering a support, tipping the barrel enough to reveal its juicy contents. It was then just a scant moment until the pigs twigged and used the drawn-out poles to lever the entire contraption over and enjoy their cornucopia.