WOODLAND, Maine — This is one northern Maine piggy who most definitely did not want to go to market.
A 140-pound black guinea hog escaped from a trailer several weeks ago while being taken from the O’Meara Family Farm in New Sweden to Scott’s Meat Shop in Woodland.
It’s been a case of ham on the lam ever since.
“The farmer booked two pigs with me to be slaughtered,” Scott Greenier, meat shop owner, said Monday morning. “He came up the driveway that morning and said, ‘Oh, darn, the door opened on my trailer and the pigs got out.’”
The hunt was immediately on.
The two men retraced the farmer’s route and soon spotted one of the escaped porkers in the middle of a grass field off Thomas Road.
“I was able to shoot that one and recover it,” Greenier said. “The other one was off in the woods and got away.”
The pig’s owner, John O’Meara, did not return calls for comment Monday.
The escape was reported to the Caribou Police Department, which referred the case to the Maine Warden Service, which also did not return calls for comment Monday.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen to it,” Greenier said. “I know John [O’Meara] is trying to find it [and] he wants to get it back.”
Greenier estimated the value of the pig at between $500 and $600.
According to the American Guinea Hog Association’s website, the guinea hog is a heritage breed “known for its moderate size, excellent foraging abilities [and] friendly temperament.”
Given its talents for finding food, abilities to withstand cold weather and average lifespan of the breed, the elusive porker could wander the Aroostook County woods for up to 20 years, according to Kevin Fall, president of Guinea Hog Association.
“This is a breed that was brought to this country with the slave trade,” Fall said by phone from Iowa on Monday afternoon. “It has not needed to be improved on since.”
He described guinea hogs as “homestead-friendly,” easy to handle and more than capable of surviving in the wilds of northern Maine.
“They ain’t stupid,” he said. “They’ve got free feed. They love to eat grass and alfalfa and from there you go right on up — you have raspberries and everything else there right now, don’t you?”
The breed is not stupid and not mean, Fall said, due to years of close habitation with humans.
“After emancipation, the former slaves kept these little black pigs and called them ‘yard pigs’ because they lived in their yards,” Fall said. “They ate the grass and all the snakes and mice under the house, [and] there were no mean ones because the mean ones got ate.”
Guinea hogs can grow up to 200 pounds, according to Greenier, who said if the pig spends too much time on the loose, it will become a wild hog.
“After four or five weeks it’s going to grow some tusks and become wild,” Greenier said. “That does not mean it’s a danger to anyone, but when it sees a human, it’s going to run off.”
The pig also could be rooting in people’s garbage or gardens looking for food as it travels in a roughly 8- to 10-mile radius, he added.
Greenier suggested that should someone spot the pig, they should contact the warden service or give him a call at his shop at 496-3156.
The last confirmed sighting, Greenier said, was near Van Buren Road in Caribou.
“I was over that way a couple days ago and a guy stopped me and said he saw that pig,” Greenier said. “It’s still alive as far as we know and it’s been a battle trying to recover it.”
Other reports have trickled in, however, from the other side of Woodland, including one from Perham resident Clair Hodgkins, who captured the pig on film during one of several visits it made to her farm.
“It’s been about three weeks since I saw him,” Hodgkins said Monday afternoon. “The thing about pigs is, they are very fast and very intelligent and it will be a miracle if they ever see it again.”
Hodgkins and her husband, Peter Finkel, were able to entice the pig to drink from a pail of milk they set out, but that was the extent of it.
“I was very surprised when I first saw him,” she said. “I started checking with neighbors to see if it belonged to them.”
One neighbor suggested she check with a fellow Perham resident, “because she knows everything that happens around here,” Hodgkins said. “She happened to know John O’Meara had lost a pig.”
Hodgkins gives the pig pretty good odds for survival.
“Stranger things have happened,” she said. “People said coyotes would get it right off, but [pigs] are very good scrappers.”
Pigs, according to Donna Coffin, educator with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, are omnivores and, if they can find a spot to keep sheltered and dry with access to water, could well survive the winter.
“He’s not going to thrive,” she said. “But if a wild dog can survive, a wild pig can survive, [and] right now he’s building up his fat stores.”
The wandering porker is going to grow leery of people the longer it is on its own, but Coffin said it could be enticed into a trap with tasty, smelly bait.
“Just be ready to slam the door behind him,” she said.