The French Pig (from salt to ham)

Three Little Pig Portraits

Here are the three piglets that Julian chose as the most likely candidates for Jambon de Ibaiona:

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them)

Zimist aka Thor

Xuri aka Pinkie

Lurra aka Marcel

Agnes had suggested these names:
Zimist (Lightning)
Lurra (Earth)
Xuri (White)

But I think she had her eye on another piglet when she was thinking of the name "Zimist". There is a piglet in one of the litters that was not chosen that had a little lightning bolt on his forehead. But somehow that mottled, spotted pig reminded me of Thor from the inflight movie I'd watched on the trip over (Thor: The Dark World, to be exact). But maybe "Zimist" is close enough. But in my heart, I will think of him as "Thor" my little Thunder God.

Like I told you before, I have a habit of giving my animal companions — in fact, all my non-human companions — nicknames (for instance, I have a camera I call "Whitey"); so it makes sense to me to give these piglets proper names (Basque ones) and also nicknames. Nicknames evolve.

New Plan, New Schedule

sleeping litter cropped.jpg

The moon and the stars.

There was a time when people believed the moon and stars revolved around the Earth, our world, our little, flat world. But things change. We get a new perspective. We figure it out. 

I'm learning to be flexible. These days my experience of authorship is more like stewarding a small boat in a storm. I'm just trying to survive the present so I can live to tell the tale. I'm being a little over dramatic. After all, I went to art school. I was trained to make paintings. There you hew the tale out of thin air and very fancy, special mud. But to actually make a tableaux, you have to understand its structure: the truth of its hermetic reality. Here I'm trying to... O Lord, I don't know. I guess I'm trying to make sense of things. 

So let me tell you what happened when we went back to Lasse that last afternoon in late March. 

As you know, we had hoped to shoot the birthing of the remaining expectant sow on Sunday so we returned from St Jean de Luz that Saturday afternoon, after spending only one night away. But of course that last mother delivered early on Friday night. So my camera has yet to witness a birth for you, my friends. 

But Julian was there on Saturday to receive us. I wanted to photograph all the newborn male piglets individually. And Julian was going to demonstrate a couple procedures I'll write about later. Julian is an amazingly patient man. As I told you earlier, the first time Kate explained my plan to follow one piglet from birth to ham, he asked "But how will you know which piglet will become ham?" His question nagged at me. I mean really I was hoping he would know; that he would pick the piglet most likely to win the jambon beauty contest, that he would choose the ham in waiting. I was puzzled by the problem all week. I lost sleep. Then it came to me, damn it I guess it's too early. I'll just photograph the biggest boys born this week. All the big boys. 

Shooting stars.

So I fashioned a photo set in the rustic corridor between the nativity rooms out of a scrap of wallboard set on top of a wheelbarrow pushed under fluorescent fixture with another light clamped to a utility cart to fill things out a bit. And Julian began wrangling newborn male piglets. One at a time. Mostly.


I tried to stay calm and focused on the task but all along I was terrified that one of the boys would dive off the platform and scramble down the long, dark corridor at top speed. I imagined a scene akin to a silent movie Keystone-Cops-style chase of an animal the size of a kitten but far more muscular and wiley. Slapsick, yes; but far from silent. Word of the fiasco would get out, I imagined, and I would be shunned by the global porcine network. Luckily, that did not happen. And after a while, I got the hang of it.

Photo by Kate Hill

Photo by Kate Hill

Piglets are not exactly poseable.  They do however have moments of stillness. These moments of stillness usually occur right before they urinate. One develops a knack for exploiting these moments. 

Several piglets into this process, I became more relaxed and we start conversing. I say something like "Oh, after the shoot, we should discuss when these little guys get weaned and move to the Larre farm." It was as though a light bulb went off in Julian's head. He and Kate converse for a while in French. 

Change of plan, I am told.  


I was telling this story to my friend, Zoe Saldana the other night (no, not that Zoe Saldana) . She must be as wonderful a teacher as she is an artist because she said to me. "I love those moments! That's a beautiful moment. Here you've been struggling to communicate with this person--a sympathetic person--and you had a break through. A moment of clarity when suddenly he gets your whole picture."

Zoe was right. It was a moment when in his own mind Julian went from peripheral player to stakeholder. It is also the moment in his mind when he realized we had been spending all our time getting to know the wrong piglets. Yes. The wrong piglets. This batch of newborns weren't destined to go to the Larre Farm. They delivered weaned piglets to that farm every three weeks. That batch of piglets was born the week before. 



Yes, somehow the long game had been communicated but not the medium game. From our very first visit in December we had been out of synch. Wrong sows, wrong inseminations, wrong pregnancies, wrong births, wrong piglets.  

"Wrong" is such a harsh word.  

Julian sprung into action. He opened a different door on the long dark corridor and eventually emerged with three one-week-old piglets. They were about 25% larger than the piglets I had been photographing. These were the biggest most ham-worthy boys he could identify. I photographed them. They were like unruly two year olds. I photographed all three in less than 12 minutes. And then they were gone.

Their portraits are here. We'll name these three. They get weaned over Passover. They will be trucked to the Larre Farm by Easter. I won't be there to see that but Kate will drop by on the way to the Bayonne Ham Festival. 

Everybody just calm down. Everything worked out after all. Well, at least so far. 



What Are Little Pigs Made Of?

People keep asking me what breed these piglets are. They are what my friend, Dominique refers to as "Farmer's Breed." They are a mix of several breeds, in this case we were told Large White, Duroc and Landrasse, but I think (judging from the markings of some of the piglets) that some Pietrain is involved. I'll double check and get back to you.

The sows are Large Whites. They are known to be good mothers and are also known to be quite large. Sometimes breeding sows are a mix of Large White and Landrasse because Landrasse are known for very large litters. The boars are usually a mixture of breeds like Duroc, Pietrain and Landrasse. Boars are bred to pass on optimal meat characteristics to the piglets, sows for their ability to have successful careers as mothers (as well as contribute to meat characteristics). All things being equal, you chose the sows with the heritage of having big litters with a high percentage of piglets that live into adulthood, usually having lots of nipples that produce copious milk helps. 

It had never occurred to me you could selectively breed for more nipples. I guess this trait isn't as desirable in humans.

When piglets are first born, they are about a kilo each. They bulk up super quickly. The next time I go back to visit the Guenard facility, I'll try to shoot a picture of a piglet line up: newborn to weaned (at five weeks) in one week intervals. It's kind of crazy how visibly they grow even over a matter of hours. They are born not exactly skin and bones but close to it. As soon as they start nursing — which is instantly — they start to fill out, not just their tummies, but all over. After a couple hours of hanging with newborns I was struck by the thought that pigs are really efficient meat-making machines.

So what are little pigs made of? Mother's milk, I guess.


Have I told you about Julian?

Pig breeder, Julian Guenard. Lasse

Pig breeder, Julian Guenard. Lasse

He's the younger M. Guenard. We met his father, Jean Guenard on our first visit to Lasse. Their breeding facility maintains 500 sows which produce the piglets for the premium pork of the area, Porc Manex. It is touted on the menus of France's finest restaurants.

He was quite helpful and very willing to explain the whys and wherefores of their facility. He was also generous about sharing his knowledge of the new mandates regarding animal welfare. He looks forward to the changes. 

Julian was very patient with us. I asked a lot him a lot of silly questions. He also helped us sort out some flaws in our thinking about this project.

I promise I'll talk to him more on camera on my next trip. 

Suckling and Surviving

This newborn piglet is going to die. Sometimes a piglet is born without what it takes to survive. We noticed this little guy in one of the birthing stalls. All his litter mates were scrambling to suckle their mother but this guy was huddled by himself. Whereas the other piglets were warm almost hot to the touch and squirmy, this piglet was surprisingly cold and seemed to be trembling. Kate and I tried to encourage it to suckle but it kept wandering away from his mother without interest in her nipple. So finally we called Agnes's attention to him.

Yes, she confirmed, she had spotted him earlier. He won't make it through the day. She put her pinky finger in his mouth to demonstrate that he had no suckling reflex. 

"What will become of him?" I asked. She said that when she first started, she had let them die naturally, then after a while she asked one of the men on the farm to kill these cases after she had left for the day. Now she can't bear to watch their prolonged suffering so she does it herself. Kate didn't tell me how it was done (if Agnes told her). We were all a little heartbroken for the little guy.

I was struck by how mobile and aware healthy piglets are as soon as they are born. How is it that human babies survive at all? We are so absolutely helpless when we are born. Parents/caregivers have to intervene from the very first. Actually, Agnes told me, a human newborn if left alone will crawl up its mother's belly towards her nipples sensing the presence of her milk. "No shit." I thought, "Just like a kangaroo baby." Agnes believes we intercede too much in this basic biology during human birthing. 

That first secretion of the mammary glands after giving birth is called the colostrum. It's rich with antibodies that give the piglets immunity against the world's germs. Piglets do not inherit antibodies through the placenta so this first suckling is incredibly important. So when that little piglet we were first talking about refused to nurse it was a sure sign that his fate was sealed. Most piglets suckle until they fall asleep. It's incredibly cute to watch.




Agnés told me a lot about herself, but in French. So here's what I took away from our talks:


She didn't grow up on a farm but her uncle had a farm and she would help out when she was young. She was drawn to farming so studied to be a farm technician. She specialized in the care of pregnant and birthing farm animals and at some point found that pigs need more human intervention than other animals. That interested her—she liked that she could make a difference. 

She's been working on this breeding farm for 14 years. She told us that her own experience with pregnancy changed her attitude towards when to intervene with the pregnancies and delivery of the sows she worked with. Until then she had accepted her male co-workers practices. She thinks she's made a difference in the quality of life for these sows.

On many occasions she explained the behaviors of the sows in terms of human maternity.

Don't get me wrong, she's very matter of fact about our relationship to meat animals but at the same time she treats them with a tenderness and respect I had not expected in an operation this large. In fact, all the workers showed a tenderness to the piglets and mothers. They didn't coddle them and treat them like human babies or even like how some people pamper their pets, but there was a kindness to their interaction, an understanding that these were beings at a delicate moment in their existence and they were the people in charge of their welfare.

Kate and I tried to do the math. There are 500 sows on the farm at some stage of motherhood. Each week 22-24 sows deliver litters averaging about a dozen piglets each. She takes care of these deliveries and the 264+ piglets that hang out with their mothers until they are weaned after four weeks. Okay that's taking care of 4 x 264+ piglets and their moms in the maternity sheds. And she's so nice to them and she's able to go home and take care of her family too.

I took a video of Agnés tying the umbilical cords of the newborns whose cords had continued to bleed. Not only did I not know this could be a problem, but I was struck, as Kate was too, that she did it will beautifully colored purple string. This is France after all. Even pig midwives have a taste for beauty.

Three Months, Three Weeks, Three Days.

OMG. Like I said I don't know what I'm doing at all. When someone says to me "three months, three weeks, three days" I take them at their word. They impregnate them on a Tuesday and they deliver on Thursdays. Like clockwork. Wow. Cool. Farmers are so smart.

So I pulled out my calendar, counted off the days and asked for those days off from my day job.

Best. Laid. Plans.

Of course that's not really how it worked out. When we got to the farm (on a Wednesday), one of our sows had given birth a week early. Nearly all the others in the group had also delivered early. The full moon was the explanation. It happens with human pregnancies too. The full moon calls out babies. But there were a few sows left who were still waiting to deliver. I thought, "Good there's still a chance we will see one or two births." 

"We'll call you when they start delivering," said Julian. "I won't be here tomorrow but Agnés will be here in the morning."

It takes a couple hours for a sow to deliver a dozen piglets and we were staying just 10 minutes down the road. This was going to happen. 

No, it didn't. Most of the sows had delivered over night, unattended. By the time we got the call, the last sows had already been in labor a while. By the time we got to the farm, the last piglet had been born 10 minutes before. Two sows were still passing their placentas. One piglet was stumbling about literally wet behind the ears, placenta still clinging to it. All the litters of squirmy, newborn pigs squealed and scrambled over each other for a place at their favorite nipple, trailing and tripping over each others umbilical cords.

But there was one more sow who was due on Sunday. I held on to the hope of capturing the event since it was the whole reason for this particular trip. But on Friday night, while we were an hour and a half away, dining at a nice restaurant in the beach resort of St Jean de Luz, she delivered early also.

In our conversations with Agnés, she had explained there was a time when they would have induced labor to keep the sows on a schedule that was more convenient for the farmers. But that was no longer the practice. The sows were moved into birthing stalls in anticipation of their delivery and then if they delivered at night, that was the way nature took its course. Their caretakers checked in on them in the morning.

Clockwork and on time deliveries are for shipping companies. Pregnant mothers listen to the moon and the stars. 

It's Complicated

I'm back at Camont after a few days of piggy mayhem in the Basque Country. I know everyone wants to know about the name. But it's complicated.

I think of myself as relatively well organized, a good communicator and "a people person" and Kate is triply so all those things. But even having Kate on my side on this project, my short-comings are laid bare. I realize what a dumbass I am. I really don't know anything. I am a city mouse in pig's clothing. But I am learning so much.

Every turn is a learning moment. If things were going smoothly I wouldn't be learning about the complexity and nuances of the system I am trying to document. So bear with me while I try to explain this.

I arrived on Tuesday and after an overnight at Camont, we set off for the Basque Country. We had cheese sandwiches while we drove, and arrived a little after lunch to the breeding farm in Lasse. There, the younger M. Guenard, Julian Guenard met us. He knew we wanted to see piglets. And this is where our education began.

First we saw the progress they had made in accordance with the new European mandate about sow housing. I have not read these mandates but basically it required breeding farms to change their practice from keeping sows in individual stalls to being kept in groups with room to walk around in each group's pen. That meant the downsizing of the sow population (because each pig needed more room) and the building of corrals. When we had visited in December they were just building the new pens. The senoir M. Guenard had worried at the expense and whether they would be able to support the farm with less sows. So by now, the first group of sows had been rehoused for a few weeks. Julian explained that at first there was conflict within the groups of about eight sows per corral. They establish a hierarchy and each one claimed a space in the pen that was her own. At one side of each corral were individual feeding stalls, each with it's own trough. They were happy, and except for the occasional scuffle, rather calm and perhaps even peaceful. 



The first time I was in a confinement breeding farm (a farm where pigs are kept inside) the barn was filled with stall after stall of one sow each. The stalls were narrow in some cases they had a neck harness that restricted their movement. Friends, it wasn't pretty. When we entered and switched on the lights the under-stimulated pigs would panic and squeal and yell. Stress on the pigs, stress on the caregivers. Stress is not good for anyone's health.

Julian explained how it was hard at first, but now the pigs are happier. They aren't panicky. They are healthier. And calm, happy pigs make a farmer's life less stressful and so he is happy too. 

So then I asked my first stupid question: "What's up with the spray paint on the sows?"

It turns out they keep track of the weigh of each sow and mark the ones that are underweigh and overweigh. Remember these are expectant mothers. And even though there are 500 of them (at various stages of pregnancy) to the six people who staff the farm, the sows are each hand fed. As Julian put it: "This is not a robo-farm." Each pig is fed to it's needs to maintain the best possible health. A properly fed pig is less likely to be sick. She's more likely to have healthy piglets: not too big as to cause difficult delivery; not so small as to endanger the newborns' viability. 80% of the overhead of this kind of operation is pig feed. It's where many farms skimp. Cheap food. But if a pig is well nourished there is no need for medications. And healthy mothers mean healthy piglets.

  "Oh wow," I thought. Oh wow.

Next we went to the birthing sheds. 

Three Names From Agnés

After her interview, I asked Agnés, the maternity technician if she had any good names for the pigs. She have us three:


Zimist (Lightning)

Lurra (Earth) 

Xuri (White) 

Piglets Now!

We met Julian on Wednesday. Julian is the son of Jean Guenard, who breeds the piglets that become Ibaiona hams. He showed us around the improvements to the facility since we had been there in December. I will tell you about those improvements later. They are impressive. When Kate explained why we were there, he asked  the question that I couldn't quite get my head around until that moment. He asked the completely basic question I had been to ignorant to ask. "But how will we know which piglet will go to Eric; at birth is too early to tell."

Then he took us to the birthing rooms where the still pregnant sows were to deliver any time now. Some of the sows had already delivered a day or two early, one of them a week early. We left our phone number and he told us he would call tomorrow when they were giving birth. He would not be there in the morning, but Agnes, the pig mid-wife would be.

We checked into the hotel and hung our piggy clothes to air on the terrace. We took a little "internap" and said hello to our facebook friends. We went for a nice dinner and, encouraged by the Basque cider and jetlag, very quickly we were asleep.

The next morning (this morning) we went down to breakfast ready for action and wearing our piggy clothes. Kate went up to pick up her recharging phone, while I finished my coffee and mamia. Then she sent me the panicked text message:

"Piglets now! Julian just called."


Many of the sows had given birth overnight. We missed the last delivery by minutes.

We entered a room with 11 sows most with newborn litters of 8 to 20 (yes, 20) piglets. Some were still passing the last of their placentas. And we met Agnés. 

Agnés, the pig midwife... 

What's in a Name?

So, tomorrow I go back to lurk around M. Guenard's breeding farm.  (Yes, the flight over was uneventful. Thank you for asking.)  Let's do a quick recap of what's happened so far.

 Trip 1:

We went to the source of the salt used to cure Jambon de Bayonne. I thought we'd be going to Bayonne — to the sea, for sea salt. But I was wrong. The salt comes by mandate from the ancient salt springs of Salies de Baern, the remains of a now subterranean prehistoric sea. Salt from before human time, harvested to preserve meat for the future. We met the ham maker, Eric Ospital whose supply chain we will follow from salt and piglet to sausage and ham.

Trip 2:

We went to see how piglets are conceived. But while we took lunch at the Taxidermy Cafe and followed the Pilgrims' trail, through some miscommunication, our breeder, M. Guenard was hard at work breeding. The next day, we got the full tour without the Al Green soundtrack. And that is how we met the two likely — now pregnant — mothers of our piglet. Pigs gestate for three months, three weeks and three days. Farmers can practically set their clocks to it. They inseminate on Tuesdays and deliver on Thursdays, or there abouts. When only a handful of people are responsible for 500 pregnant sows, it is handy to have a system and they do — an admirably efficient system.

We also visited the farm of American-born Basque animal scientist, farmer and cheese maker, Josette Arrayet. I will tell you her story later.

Trip 3 (Now) : 

So like I said, I'm back three months, three weeks and three days later. It's two in the morning and I am wide awake sitting in the dark, in bed in the "summer house" at Camont. Jet lagged. And Kate is also jetlagged from her return from Australia. But tomorrow we will drive from Camont to Lasse and see what we will see: the birth of two litters of piglets of which we will pick the biggest, healthiest, most ham-worthy male.

So, what's in a name?

Last week in preparation for the coming of my piglet, I polled you (my friends, my audience) . We compiled more than 60 names of which I added the most popular boy names in France this year (from a baby blog). I asked a smaller group of you to winnow the list down. You can vote for your favorite of these here. But I'm making all this up as I go. So, armed with your list and recommendations, I'll wait to see the pig before I choose a suitable name for him. I think that's what most parents do. And I might come up with a name that is not on our list. Because that is my perogative as an artist.

In our instant messages across several oceans, land masses and time zones, Kate has voiced an opinion that echoes others of you. "I think the name is less about a personality and a people name could be challenging for some at the slaughter and food eating Bob ham…sounds revolting." Some of you have told me privately that it is kind of disturbing to give the piglet, an animal we will eat, a human name. How can we eat parts of a being with the same name as people we know, members of our tribe? This is reflected in a certain proportion of your name suggestions which made light of the pig's final destiny. Names like Sausage, Hammy, Tasty Cakes and Bacona. But then again we often give names to babies to honor individuals we admire or to recognize our ancestors. Why should the animals we eat be different? 

The Name List — Round Two


I asked a handful of people I trust to help me winnow the 70+ names all of you submitted last week. Among them are artists, scholars, cooks, writers, farmers, butchers and curators. Some of them are parents and have named children; some of them have pets for which they have chosen names; and some of them have named boats, artworks and farms.

Here are the top 15 names: 

Francis Bacon

A Few More of Your Pig Names and Some Thoughts

Okay, first I have to thank all of you. I really didn't expect this many responses or the amount of time or effort some of you put into coming up with suggestions.

I'm an artist, not a scientist or a journalist. I'm not going to pretend I have a rigorous plan; I'm making this up as I go. I don't know where the questions will lead me. I don't even really know what the questions I'm asking are. So yes, questions started to burble up as the list started to grow. People name their children, pets and ships. I asked my farmer friends if they name the animals they eat. Some of them answered on the project's Facebook page. They offered lovely, eloquent answers about why and how they name their animals. Some people advised you don't name the animals you eat.

Why do some names have the power of personification while others objectify? I want to give this little piggy a name that feels like a real name. I want to acknowledge this piggy's life.

How do we choose names for our children and pets? Children are often named for other family members, ancestors. I must admit that I have a naming bias. Both of my cats had human names. The first was named after a Jazz singer I admired. The second was given an old-fashioned name that had an obscure allusion that was important to me. This name happened to be shared by the woman who worked for and was the cause of much confusion at the work place. But when I was alone with the cats, I addressed my cats by nicknames that had no relation to their given names. (I am willing to whisper these names to you over a snifter or two of Armagnac.)

I'll decide in the morning what method to use to winnow the names down meanwhile, here are six more names. The rest of the names can be seen here.

Six More Names

Selavy — As in Rrose Selavy, a pseudonym of Marcel Duchamp. Probably a pun on "Eros, c'est la vie" or in English "Cupid, that's life."

Rooter Pequenino — Rooter is the key character in a book who goes from living being to hero tree in his third life. Their protagonists in this book are of Portuguese decent. While not quite Basque pretty close. better Jai Ali a sport I cannot spell.

le oink

EUBOULEUS — EUBOULEUS (or Eubulus) was the demi-god or hero of the sacred swine of the Eleusinian mysteries. He was probably also a demi-god of ploughing and the planting of the grain seed. His name was probably associated with the word bôlos, a clod of earth, and bôlostropheô, to turn up clods in ploughing. A more natural reading of the name, however, is "the good-counsellor" after the Greek euboulos.

Cenicero — Cenicero is a municipality in the autonomous community of La Rioja, Spain. The municipality is the home of the world famous "Bodegas Berberana" winery, which lies close to the River Ebro. (It also means 'ashtray')

Darrieussecq — To help you name your pig, I thought I would find a list of famous Basque women, then send you a masculine version of one that stood out as appropriate.
It would have been better if I had a running list of famous Basque women, but since I don't (yet) I made it a two-minute challenge. Here's what happened: The lists of famous Basque people didn't have so many women. The one name that jumped out at me? Well, she just happens to be writer and critic from Basque Country who's first novel is called "Pig Tales." I hate to quote Wiki but can't resist: As one critic ... observed, in reading this novel, "One laughs, yet in terror, for the metamorphosis of the narrator-as-pig reveals, in counterpoint, the aimless drifting of a society in which the pig is not always the pork.” — wikipedia
To properly recommend the name Darriessecq, I'd need to read the novels. And I will. Whatever you decide to name this pig, thanks for this. I'm absolutely going to read Marie Darrieussecq's Pig Tales. What an amazing find. Let me know if you want to do a book club. You'll be in charge of the food.

Pig Names: The Results for Day Two + Some Popular French Names

The question I asked in the form sent by direct email, Facebook, and twitter:

"What should should we name the French pig?"

Here are your responses as of 10pm March 18, 2014. You can see Day One's names here. Feel free to weigh in on these names by commenting below. But to get YOUR name on the nomination list you need to submit it through this form.

Here are 20 names submitted by you today

(plus some names I found on a baby name blog)

XABI — I liked the suggestion of Xavier, but like the Basque diminutive of XAVIER, Xabi, even better. It's going to be a baby, after all....

Mork — Because someday, you will be eating pork from Mork (My apologies - I like moderately obscure references and bad puns.)

BAZ — Has a suggestion of 'Basque' and just seems to me a good name for a pig, though Pigs I have Known would not be a long list. Short for Basil of course, but he doesn't need to know that - we don't want to encourage effeteness . . .

Benny Boo Boo — Nephews nick name

Harry Batasuna — From "Herri Batasuna" (Unity of the People) a Basque nationalist political party outlawed in Spain in 2003, after a contested court ruling declared proven that the party was financing ETA with public money. As an association and not as a political party, Batasuna had a minor presence in the French Basque country, where it remained legal as "Batasuna" until its self-dissolution in January 2013. (wikipedia)

Honor — In great Girrrl tradition it's fun, respectful and translates globally which helps strengthen the bond. BTW this is an amazing photo as it captures a piglet who still wearing it's birthing membrane coming to Mom's nose so she knows he's here.

Ouinker — Because he's a positive (oui), French (oui), pig (oinker).

Art Pig — (Short for Arthur Pig, but Art seems like a fitting nickname)

Smokey — or Efumé?

Tisket — because of the potential for basquet(te) in jingles


Bacona — The pig will bear in the name a full embrace of his future as food.

Ramon — Ramon, the Jambon de Bayonne. That is a name destined for greatness and endless possibilities.

Oinkadoodle — Its funny

Cerdito Basquito — Means piglet from Basque country (almost)

Hamlette — So many puns: little pig, the tragedy of Hamlet, a play on Lacan's idea of the hommelette (the pre-oedipal non-subject) which is itself a play on omelette.

Polar Vortex — Because soon this idea - the polar vortex - will be lost to stories of santa ana's and tropical disturbances.

Jon Hamm — Because he's a handsome devil

Marcel Duchamp — Why not?

French Names From a Baby Name Blog 

Here are some popular French boys names trending in Paris this past year (according to

Baptiste – Stylish in Paris though may feel a bit old-school religious for many outside of France.

Bastien – Sebastian has been in the Top 100 in the U.S. for over a decade, but Bastien both simplifies it and makes it newer.

Corentin – Corentin is an ancient saint’s name very popular in France but virtually unknown beyond.  Pronunciation is cor-en-TAN.

Jules – One of the simplest of the fashionable French names, Jules might be a newer way to say Julian.

Marius – Marius is one of those names that feels familiar and exotic at the same time.  Much chicer than Italian cousin Mario.

Mathis — Very popular in France and pronounced mah-TEES like the painter, this name may update or honor Matthew.

Maxime and Maxence – Looking for a fresh route to Max?  Consider one of these French long forms.

Thibault – Cool but pronunciation challenged: It’s tee-bo.

You can see yesterday's names here.

Pig Names: The Responses for Day One

The question I asked in the form sent by direct email, Facebook, and twitter:

"What should should we name the French pig?"

Here are your responses as of 10pm March 17, 2014. Feel free to weigh in on these names by commenting below. But to get your name on the nomination list you need to submit it through the form.

Eric — it's my ham maker's name

etiketa horia — I believe the basque pig should have a basque name, I like the yellow tag, so etiketa horia, fits.

Feast — Because thanks to this pig there will be a feast for many people to enjoy.

Guillaume du Montagne — A distinguished name which belies the origin of the piglet, and in English is the slang for Southerners, Hillbilly.

BOB — Call him both as in 'BOB' which would be 2152..figured on numerical value of the alphabet. Nobody calls anybody BOB anymore...see above note though

Asier ASIER m Basque — Means "the beginning" in Basque.

"c'est ça" = that's it — It is french and indicates that the pig is what it is and will be meet the end it will meet

Arnold Ziffel— The name of the pig in the TV show "green acres".

Stay with "French Piggy"

Pascal — Just have a feeling.

Francis Bacon — A Philosopher, an Artist, and a Pig. All with a particular connection to meat…

Do not know yet

Xavier — cause it rhymes with savior and sounds great in Spanish

Pierre — Its a good respectable name for a french man.

pig367 — because it sounds like an aol email address, and that is becoming for pigs, I believe.

Meridian Leeward —

Pablo — Basque, Porky or Pinky would also be wonderful

Oink Basque Sally de Bearn — All of them should be named Oink and the other names should detail their life and after life on the way to ham.

Myolino — Because in Italian a little pig is maialino, so I thought I would I would phoenetic-ize it.

Yorick — Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Hamlet, V.i)

François — Truly the best representation of French ham is the Bayonne and for Francois to be truly French he must have the name that stems from the Latin meaning Frenchman. Could there be a better name? (Also in honor of my mentor and master. Charcutiere Francios Vecchio )

mr lucky

Porcelain — It is a pun, playing on the French for piglet (porcelet) and the French origin of the word. In French it is feminine -- porcelaine -- so without the e would be more appropriate.

Jambalaya — It is a cheery festive word, which matches the energy of a pig. A French word that sounds like "jambon" (and may include it), it is a Provençal word 'jambalaia', meaning a mish mash, or mixup. Provence borders the Basque region.

hugo — it's short and quite french. i like it. it could also be monsieur hugo.

Louis — rhymes with "piggy" as in "Louis, the French piggy."

Espelette — While french pigs of the Basque region are not protected by the AOC system, the famous franco-Basque pepper is, and naming your pig after it will root your little future cured ham deep in its ancestral geography. Dare we say terroir?


Sparky — It seems to suit the one pictured and is a happy name for the time he is on the planet prior to dining on him.

number seems best — Unless I had a closer working relationship with the pig, tending it, feeding it, moving it from place to place, I can't imagine the best name. From this distance, at this time, he is a best know by his practical piggie number. I kind of think a name risks mocking the animal that will be serving us so well. And I trust mom sow knows him.

Monsieur Hubler — This was a real person, now a character in an adventure story that I have yet to finish writing. He was an old madman in a tough spot who was kind to me in Paris. He lent me 200 francs once. He let me draw his picture. He was a clochard, and my neighbor. He would scream about things in the night. He was quite an incredible pig, truly foul-smelling. His apartment was beyond the pale But he had a good soul. I'm glad we met.

Terry/Txerri — The name Terry is not gender specific, so whatever the piglet turns out to be, the name will suit. Also Txerri is Basque for Pig!

Kurt — I would make known my empathy for the poor little creature by donating my name.


Oh Oreo — Obviously (!) appears to be his god-given name. Also, good for him to have first and last, lest there be any confusion:)

A Tour of the Birthing Stalls

Like I said before, no champagne, no roses, no Al Green sound track. I must admit that as prepared as I was for this moment, I was utterly unprepared. It's not like I haven't seen animals having sex before, it's not that I really wanted to get video footage of pigs getting it on. It's difficult to not anthropomorphize the situation. I get the point that when you have to supply a steady stream of quality piglets to several farms every week, well then there's no room for put them in a pen together and see what happens. For one thing, a boar (daddy pig) just can't "service" enough sows (mommy pigs) consistently to make a breeder farm economically interesting.

So to make up for the lack of Al  Green, M. Guenard gave us a tour of the birthing stalls and several other rooms with litters of different ages. And seemed content to let us linger in each room for as long as we cared to.




They go very quickly from being floppy and barely able to stand to running around like a group of kindergartners in a playroom. Their main job is suckling at this stage. But you can tell pretty early which piglets are going to be the top dogs. A good sow gives birth to 12-16 piglets, she has enough nipples to suckle all her piglets, and she produces enough milk to keep her litter growing without loosing weight herself. 

The birthing/nursing stalls restrict the movement of the sows because there is a danger of the mothers to trample or rollover and crush their tiny piglets. I'm told as much as half the litter could be lost this way. 

In the next room, the piglets weren't as new born-y. M. Guenard pointed out one mother nursing a litter of piglets. These weren't her piglets but a culling of all the smaller piglets from other litters. This sow was one deemed to be a good mother and good milk producer. The runts from all the other litters born at the same time were aggregated in this pen so they might have a chance to thrive. 

I asked Josette about this later that day. She told me that by the first day each piglet will chose a teat and suckle only that one. The teats to the front give the most milk and the milk becomes less plentiful as one works ones way back. So the dominant piglets suckle at the front most and the runts get the least milk.


The final room he took us to had piglets that were almost ready to wean about four weeks old. M. Guenard only breeds the piglets. They grown up somewhere else.

The next time I return to this farm, sometime in late March, I will be witnessing the birth of my piglet. The gestation period for pigs is three months three week and three days.