By Rich Brown
Globe Staff Writer
AURORA, Mo. — Risby Atwood has her own version of “The Three Little Pigs,” and it just may be better than the original.
Whether at work or home on her farm near Aurora, Atwood has much to squeal about when it comes to her pets.
She is the proud owner of three potbellied pigs and works at an Aurora restaurant where one of them is the mascot. The name of the restaurant? Richard’s Hawgwild BBQ, which also displays her pets’ photos. One of its features? That’s right — barbecued pork — but not the potbellied type.
“With regular pigs you are going to use some of the meat later but with potbellied pigs you can’t,” said Atwood. “Their meat is not for eating. I heard it is really tough.”
Atwood and her husband, Ralph, moved to the Aurora area four years ago from California.
“I knew nothing about potbellied pigs when I moved here but my husband actually wanted pigs since he was a little kid,” she said. “So he decided we were going to get a pig and it kind of escalated from there.”
The first one to oink her way into the Atwoods’ lives was Pork Chop, who Risby Atwood found through an Internet advertisement out of Monett.
“We got Pork Chop in August of 2004,” she said. “About eight weeks later we had Pork Chop down at Hawgwild and some guy came up and asked me if I needed another pig. So I decided, well, maybe I will breed them.”
That’s when Ribs rooted himself into the picture.
Late last year, a baby pig cried “wee, wee, wee, all the way home.” Actually, Bacon Bits was already home (at the Atwoods) when he was born Nov. 24.
“At first we had them strictly in the house,” said Risby Atwood, who, as a Californian, had cats for pets. “When we brought the cats to Missouri, we made them outside pets and they kind of wandered their own way and I haven’t seen them since.”
She said pens were made and placed in a back bedroom for the pigs at first.
“They would be let out during the day and locked up at night because they do get destructive, especially when they are after food,” she said. “If they know where food is, they are going to go and get food. I have heard horror stories about potbellied pigs getting into refrigerators. Mine haven’t yet.
“Even dog food. You have to pick the dog food up because they’ll eat it and it isn’t good for them. They are going to eat as much as you feed them.”
All potbellied pig owners know of the impending dilemma if food is left in full view of their ravenous pets. Atwood said she buys food made for potbellied pigs at agriculture centers and noted that each pig only eats a cup a day.
“It comes in 25-pound bags and a bag is about $8, so, compared to dog food, it is a lot cheaper,” she said. “You can also feed them raw vegetables and fruits and they are good for them.
“I have heard of people feeding their pigs fast food. It is not good for them, to start off with, and they retain the fat and get huge. I have heard of potbellied pigs getting to 300 pounds.”
A normal, full-grown potbellied pig should weigh anywhere from 150 to 200 pounds, she said, and it takes three years for them to become full grown. The life expectancy is about 18 years, she added.
But, as she emphasized, “The food thing is a continuous thing, even with the little guy. I mean, you drop something on the floor, you know the pig’s going to eat it. As Pork Chop and Rib got older, I had to make sure I had the trash cans picked up because if I left them they would have trash all over the kitchen floor.
“And, they remember where their food source is. So, if the trash is still sitting down there, and I let them out of their pens, that is immediately where they go. They beat you to it every time.”
Once Pork Chop and Ribs reached 8 months old, the Atwoods built them backyard pens but, for now, Bacon Bits is still kept under more protective custody in the house.
But not to worry. Potbellied pigs can be potty trained.
“Potty training was hard at the beginning, but once they started doing it, you didn’t have to worry about it because they got used to a litter box all the time,” Atwood said.
A common pig trait is rooting.
“When a pig comes into the house, he has his own area,” she said. “He is not going to be a bed pig because he will sit there and root until he gets totally comfortable and if he is not comfortable, he will root until he is.
“By rooting he will do all this nudging and pushing. Our pigs have bowling balls outside because they like to nudge them around. I have a pop bottle for the baby that has two holes cut in it with Cheerios inside and he will root it all around the house just to get the reward.”
The key to training potbellied pigs? That’s right. Food.
“You can train them as long as you have food,” Atwood said. “They are easily trained as long as you feed them because they remember where that food is.”
When it comes to outings, Ribs has been left home because of his aggressive nature, which is common among males.
“I have not taken Ribs out because I don’t trust him,” she said. “I have taken Pork Chop and the baby to Hawgwild a couple of times and to the Apple Fest in Marionville. I take them just for the kids. There a lot of kids who haven’t seen pigs.
“I put them in a temporary pen or walk them around on a leash. We took Pork Chop one day to The Manor in Marionville for pet therapy for elderly people. We took her room to room. The residents loved her.”
There are two distinct differences between her pigs and other pets.
“They don’t like to cuddle and they don’t like to be picked up,” she said.
However, they do play with the Atwood family dog, Bandit, and the dog’s toys, she added.
The bottom line, said Atwood, is that her pigs mean a lot to her.
“I like my pigs,” she said. “I brag about my pigs. You get me on my pigs, then, I just sit there and brag.”
By Rich Brown