Waterfront: February 2007 - Beer-Bellied Pigs

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Future pork products swim laps to stay fit

Kobe beef is a pretty well-known delicacy. It's produced from cows that have been hand-massaged and beer-fed, and can sell for hundreds of dollars per steak. Craig Walsh, a farmer in Worcestershire, England, who is originally from Hawaii, figured what was good for the cows would be good for the pigs. His 40-odd Kurobuta pigs, rather than rooting around in the mud and drinking mere water, instead drink premium beer and swim laps in their own swimming pool. Every day the pigs of Lucie's Farm are hand-fed a chilled bottle of beer, and three times a week, they take a dip in the pool. "They're in the pool about 10 minutes," says Walsh. "One minute is supposedly the equivalent of one mile walking." Pigs, unlike cows, apparently don't like to be massaged, and Walsh was looking for another way to marbleize their meat the way massage is supposed to for the cows.

"While the cattle are quite happy to stand still and be massaged, pigs are pigs, and they don't like to do that. They want to play," he says. "I was trying to think of something that would be a replacement for a massage, and I was actually looking at a book of pig art that my father gave me 20 years ago. It's this coffee table book that has pictures and paintings of pigs, and pig sculptures and whatnot. It also has some famous photographs of pigs, and one of them was an underwater shot taken in the 50s of a place in Texas called Aquarena Springs.

"I guess the water is particularly clear, and they had 'Ralph the Swimming Pig,' and over the years they had multiple 'Ralph the Swimming Pigs,'" says Walsh. "When it closed, apparently they were going to get Ralph a job at Sea World, where he was going to come on before the killer whales, and he was going to be called 'Hamu.' So we got involved in looking for information on pigs swimming. We thought, at a minimum, it will be funny."

The family had a pool they weren't using and a few years ago, Walsh decided it was time for the pigs to take the plunge. "The summer before last, we had the pool open all summer, and no one went in it. We were getting ready to close it for the winter and I thought before we shut the pool, let's take the pigs swimming. We dumped the pig in the pool and it sank like a stone, and I thought, 'Oh, God, we're all going to have to save the pig,' but then it came soaring up like one of those submarines in an old Sean Connery movie, and we couldn't get it out; it just wanted to swim and swim and swim."

The swimming regimen seems to be working for the 40-odd pigs that call Lucie's Farm home, as each pork chop goes for around .8, which is the equivalent of around $16 each, and there's a three-month waiting list to get them.

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