Life lessons with pigs and chickens

Jennifer B. Knizel, author of books on yoga and vegetarianism, writes about her trip to Polynesia.

Moving to the Tonga Islands has changed my life in ways I never imagined. Immersed in a new culture, I began to perceive television, music, politics differently, and relationships between people appeared before me in a new light. But nothing turned upside down in me like looking at the food we eat. On this island, pigs and chickens roam the streets freely. I have always been an animal lover and have been on a vegetarian diet for five years now, but living among these creatures has shown that they are just as capable of loving as humans. On the island, I realized that animals have the same instinct as people – to love and educate their children. I lived for several months among those who are called “farm animals”, and all the doubts that still lived in my mind were completely dispelled. Here are five lessons I learned from opening my heart and my backyard to the local living inhabitants.

Nothing wakes me up in the early morning faster than a black pig named Mo who knocks on our door every day at 5:30 in the morning. But more surprisingly, at one point, Mo decided to introduce us to her offspring. Mo arranged her colorful piglets neatly on the rug in front of the entrance so we could see them more easily. This confirmed my suspicions that pigs are as proud of their offspring as a mother is proud of her child.

Shortly after the piglets were weaned, we noticed that Moe’s litter was missing a few babies. We assumed the worst, but turned out to be wrong. Mo’s son Marvin and several of his brothers climbed into the backyard without adult supervision. After that incident, all the offspring again came to visit us together. Everything points to the fact that these rebellious teenagers have gathered their gang against parental care. Before this case, which showed the level of development of pigs, I was sure that teenage rebellions were practiced only in humans.

One day, to our surprise, on the threshold of the house were four piglets, who looked to be two days old. They were alone, without a mother. The piglets were too small to know how to get their own food. We fed them bananas. Soon, the kids were able to find the roots on their own, and only Pinky refused to eat with his brothers, stood on the threshold and demanded to be hand-fed. All our attempts to send him on an independent voyage ended with him standing on the mat and crying loudly. If your children remind you of Pinky, be sure that you are not alone, spoiled children exist among animals too.

Surprisingly, chickens are also caring and loving mothers. Our yard was a safe haven for them, and one mother hen eventually became a mother. She raised her chickens in the front of the yard, among our other animals. Day by day, she taught the chicks how to dig for food, how to climb and descend steep stairs, how to beg for treats by clucking at the front door, and how to keep pigs away from their food. Watching her excellent mothering skills, I realized that caring for my children is not the prerogative of humanity.

The day I witnessed a chicken raging in the backyard, screaming and crying because a pig ate her eggs, I gave up omelet forever. The chicken did not calm down and the next day, she began to show signs of depression. This incident made me realize that eggs were never meant to be eaten by humans (or pigs), they are already chickens, only in their developmental period.

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