Places: Stockyards City 1300 block of Agnew Avenue

Published: March 5, 2010
Modified: March 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm



Whoever came up with the expression, “squeal like a pig,” didn't come close to capturing the sound these creatures make. “Oink” doesn't cover it, either. Their true sound, the noise issuing from their fist-sized snouts, is more like something out of a nightmare, a husky, raspy scream, resonant and somehow metallic, like a badly clogged drain suddenly surrendering to pressure and choking on the water rushing in. The bigger the beast, the deeper the noise, and when one sow issues her groaning, choking call, others join in. The air shudders beneath the weight of those screams.

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Mixed in, of course, are softer sounds: snuffling, shuffling, the clicking of teeth. Dozens of pigs lie in their own filth, snuggled up against each other for comfort. Are they scared to be here, penned up at the stockyards? Can they sense impending death? Is that why they scream?

Probably not. Looking at them, it's difficult to credit them with much intelligence. They're cute in their way, but they don't seem cunning. Unlike cartoon pigs, they're not pink, more of a blondish buff color in the places not streaked with manure and mud. A few are black or striped. All look nearsighted and dull. Occasionally, half-hearted arguments break out: One sow, her teats distended, steps upon a reclining sow, who snarls and snaps at her opponent. The effort seems exhausting. After their brief confrontation, both fall back to the muddy earth, worn out.

Given that, it's no surprise pigs are symbolic of sloth. But they're not just big and dirty and lazy. They look powerful, too, especially these sows, some of whom must weigh 300 pounds. Sufficiently aroused, they could probably make short work of a man, especially if they charged en masse. From outside the holding pens, there's no telling how many pigs are stashed here; they're so low to the ground they're hidden from view by sturdy wooden slats. The stockyards aren't close to full, though. About 10,000 head of cattle move through Stockyards City on an average day (busy days bring as many as seven times that number), but there's nowhere near 10,000 pigs here now. A hundred, maybe? Two hundred?

However many, it's enough to rend the sky with their terrifying, choking screams. A hundred or so can do that. Just imagine if these pens were full.

— Ken Raymond, Staff Writer

 


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