Robert Casserly is getting in touch with his inner oinker out in the Applegate Valley. Sanctuary One's executive director is spending a week embedded with the farm's three not-so-little pigs — Lisa, Lulu and Jigsaw.
In order to become one with the porcine point of view, Casserly is spending a week learning about the trio's likes, dislikes and daily habits.
Casserly hopes to dispel some common misconceptions about his porker friends, he says. Pigs are intelligent and fastidious, and not enough is known about their lives because most of them end up as bacon by the time they're 2 years old, he says.
"I love the 'Pig Diaries,' " a volunteer calls out to Casserly, as she takes one of the care-farm's adoptable canines for a walk.
She's talking about one of Casserly's daily Facebook postings. Casserly waves and smiles. He confesses he hopes the results of his experiment will wind up with a more permanent home.
"I'm thinking a children's book would be nice," he says. "I'd like to raise people's consciousness about our suidae friends."
Pigs have been on the planet for 40 million years. But for this former dairy-farming lad, Swine Husbandry 101 all began with "Lisa the world famous pig," he says.
Now 31/2; years old, Lisa rocketed to stardom after being featured in the Mail Tribune and other media sources following her 2010 rescue from a Washington farmer who'd become frustrated by the pig's tendency to run away. Two years later, Lisa has gone from being a lonely, bored troublemaker to Sanctuary One's poster pig, Casserly says.
"She's not a management problem at all anymore," Casserly says. "We work hard to take good care of Lisa. We want her to live 10 years. That's our goal."
Monday afternoon Lisa and Jigsaw, the youngest at 11/2;, are out in the pasture foraging for roots, leaves, bugs and the occasional duck or goose egg.
"I've seen Lisa root out a single worm from a pile of dirt," he says.
Pigs' snouts have amazing dexterity, he says. There is a little ridge at the top of the snout that acts like the tip of an elephant's trunk.
Casserly has seen the pigs pretend disinterest in a certain delicacy when other pigs are around, then sneak back later and hog it all for themselves.
"They're so smart they can be devious," Casserly says. They pass mirror tests for self-recognition, which indicates highly advanced cognitive abilities, he adds.
"And they clearly can recognize certain people," he says.
Lulu, 21/2;, who has a sore foot, is on barn rest. The middle of the three pigs, Lulu has an independent nature. Sometimes to the consternation of Jigsaw, the "puppy" of the three pigs, Casserly says.
"Jigsaw likes to try to initiate play with Lulu," Casserly says. "But she chases him off and he goes away making sad little grunty noises."
Resting in the shade near the barn, Lulu recently gobbled down five or six large apples in a 10-minute interval. Later she'll have several pounds of timothy hay and a bucket of "pig grain" that includes wheat, salt, molasses and vitamins and minerals.
Curious to know whether pigs dream, and who sleeps where, and if they move around much at night, Casserly answered some of these questions by performing a little nocturnal observation.
Each night the rescued pigs are sheltered in the big barn with 20 goats, four horses, two llamas, two roosters and a couple of barn cats, he says.
"But I'd never been in the barn at night," Casserly says. "I crept into the barn. I didn't want to intrude on their sleep. But I was surprised at how soundly they slept."
Notebook and infrared light in hand, the amateur naturalist's lesson in pig snoozing began at 11 p.m. and lasted until around 2 a.m., Casserly says.
"There was a lot of snoring. There was a fair amount of flatulence," Casserly says.
But the pigs all waited until morning to answer their calls of nature, he insists.
"Pigs are so fastidious by nature," Casserly says. "They won't defecate or urinate in the barn unless they don't have a chance to get out. When people see pigs in filth, it's because they are confined to a small area, and they can't help themselves."
Lisa was snuggled next to Jigsaw. Lulu was off on her own, he says, likely under the watchful eye of an amorous little rooster named Martin.
"He loves Lulu," Casserly says.
The bantam cock can be a little territorial about his piggy girlfriend, who appears indifferent to his affections, Casserly says.
"He catches flies that she attracts. And he picks at her. I think he's looking for ticks. But she doesn't have any, of course; she's very clean," he says.
Casserly also notes that pigs kick their legs like dogs do when they're dreaming.
"But I'd already seen that from watching them while they're napping."
Casserly's exercise in pig whispering began Sunday at 6 a.m. It will conclude Saturday at dusk, he says.
"This has deepened my love for this place," Casserly says.
Follow along by visiting Sanctuary One's Facebook page or its website, www.sanctuaryone.org.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.