Leo Beaudin found himself nose to nose with piglets at the Western Fair in London. His parents had brought him all the way from Guelph to see the animals. He was delighted to watch the baby pigs play fighting.
Eric and Evelina Hartemink, of Aylmer, are not surprised. Hartemink is a pork board director, so the couple have taken their turns “hosting” the mobile at both the CNE in Toronto, as well as in London.
At the CNE there will be 20 to 30 people gathered at the plexiglass window, at any given time during the day, and they will stand there for two or three minutes, Hartemink estimates, adding “that’s 500 to 600 people an hour!”
In London, there are two pens of sows nursing piglets, and a pen of weaner pigs with a couple of ball toys. The display in Toronto featured three stages of development, including market hogs.
Typical questions include “How long does it take to grow a baby pig? How many pigs are born at a time? How old are the pigs when they become a mother? And Do you feed them hormones?’
Hertemink said he explains the pigs take three months, three weeks, and three days, to develop, and arrive at 3 in the morning!
“They ask if pigs like to be dirty,” said Evelina. She explains that they are actually very clean, that they keep their eating and sleeping and dunging areas seperate, but will use a mud hole to cool off if they have one, because they don’t sweat.
Another question that they get is “how large will the piglets get?” Eric likes to tell the kids “they’ll be as big as those market hogs before your next birthday!”
Stacey Ash, the manager of communications and consumer marketing at Ontario Pork said, “The Pig Mobile has been making the rounds of fairs and large public events in Ontario since at least 2003. “
It travelled to “roughly ten high-traffic urban and educational events” during 2018, according to Ontario Pork’s corporate profile.
“Scheduling for the Pig Mobile varies from year to year depending on requests and availability of staffing and resources. The primary focus of this travelling educational exhibit is to reach large urban audiences.
It’s important for consumers to hear directly from farmers and others involved in pig production,” Ash said. “We are fortunate to be able to call on dozens of people within the industry to share their knowledge and expertise with Pig Mobile visitors.”
In 2017, The Pig Mobile was repainted to include the OP checkmark logo and signage answering some of the most common questions, including why farrowing pens are used, and whether pigs are fed growth hormones. (They aren’t.)
“For millions of Ontarians, the Pig Mobile is the first opportunity to see live pigs or to speak with a farmer,” Ash said.
The pigs chosen to go on display are sourced from producers who live close to the event where the Pig Mobile is being featured.
“Pigs remain with the Pig Mobile for as many events as possible. Biosecurity protocols state that animals cannot be returned to a commercial herd. However, after the event some are purchased by small hobby farmers, while others go to market. This is managed by the owner of the animals, Ash explained.
“It’s an important way for pork producers to help bridge the gap between food and farming with largely urban audiences,” said Ash.