An Interview with Priscilla Valentine,
I understand you'll be bringing your performing pigs to the New Mexico State Fair this month.
Oh yes, we're very excited. We have three veteran performing porkers and a brand new baby superstar, Petunia, who's already doing 10 tricks. She's a porcine prodigy! She was born in our home and I started training her at four weeks, as soon as she started eating solid food.
Solid food in the form of treats?
Oh pigs will do nothing just to please you like a dog [would]. They are motivated only by food.
So what are the treats?
When I train them I give them I give them popcorn--on stage they get cheddar cheese. They get pizza for the very hard tricks. They love pizza, junk food, french fries, any food that's either fatty, salty or sweet.
Sounds familiar. So what's their regular diet like?
We give them miniature pig feed and fresh vegetables. They would much rather dine on junk food, though. So that helps with the training and I have some way to motivate them.
Go, Trojans, Go! Are there veggies that they really like?
They love corn on the cob with butter on it. They will tolerate vegetables but they don't crave them.
How big is a miniature pig?
One-tenth the size of a farm pig. They mature at anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds; It depends on their genetics and how they're fed. They can get just huge if you feed them a lot, in height, length and weight.
How do you get a pig to ride a skateboard?
I know of no way to make a pig do anything they don't want to do. They are very stubborn. So I have to make the pig think it was his idea. I will place the pig on the skateboard very gently. If he tolerates it, I will pay him [with a treat]. Very soon he figures out that the skateboard is a very nice place to be. Then he will accidentally move the skateboard and I'll pay him again [with a treat].
And the flaming baton thing? That must be really hard.
It's extremely hard. Most fire marshals do not allow us to do it! Any trick that goes against the pig's nature is very hard to do. We do a lot of jumping through hoops. They are not natural athletes. They are natural eaters and sleepers.
So they get special treats for carrying the flaming baton?
That's when they get pizza.
What are some of your other special tricks?
Nellie, our star pig, she's going to spell. I'm going to put out 26 big wooden letters and I'll ask her, "What kind of animal are you?" and she'll spell out the answer. She'll bring out H-A-M.
How did you learn to be an animal trainer?
I've loved pigs since I was three years old and all my life I've wanted to own a pig. So we bought a couple of pot bellied pigs. They were named Wilbur and Nellie and shortly after I got them they were getting bored and destructive. They seemed to enjoy doing things that were hard like rooting up the carpet or knocking over a dining room chair. So I started teaching them dog tricks and they just loved it. I taught them to dance around in a circle, to stand up on their hind legs and to honk a horn. I knew nothing about training. I had never trained an animal and there was nothing out there on it. We started going to pot bellied pig shows--like dog shows--and they would win. They'd bring home the bacon in the trick category and then people would want them for parties and schools and fairs. We did birthday parties. Then our big break was when we won the $10,000 prize on "America's Funniest Home Videos" for our video, "Jurassic Pork." It starred Nellie and we put some miniature trees in our back yard which made her look huge and then some people walked her into a chain link fence and electrocuted her and made ham steaks out of her. People loved it. The next day the Phil Donahue show wanted her and we've never looked back.
You're very good with the pork puns.
We've heard them all and we love them
Do you still eat pork?
Pork is a four letter word in our home! We rescued a farm pig. They're just like the miniature pigs in intelligence. They're very hard to train.
Are you vegetarians?
No, my husband is not. We're not strictly vegetarians, but we definitely watch what we eat.
Do the pigs get upset when you cook meat in the house?
No, I think they would eat it. They would eat pork, beef or anything they could get their mouths on.
Do you guys have day jobs?
We had to quit our day jobs five years ago. I was a high school English teacher. My husband worked in an industrial plant. We just had too many performances. So this is all we do now.
Do you consider yourselves carneys now?
Umm ... no. We consider ourselves porcine educators.
Do the pigs sleep in the house with you?
They do. We sleep with a different pig in our bed every night. [Having a pig] is like having a very hungry two-year-old for about 15 years. They're very mischievous. They will figure out how to open the refrigerator. ...
Have you been to New Mexico before?
We've done the fair three times before and it's one of our favorite venues. People absolutely love the pigs. Some people will come and see the show three times in one day.
Do the pigs get tired of performing three times a day for two weeks?
We were wondering if they would be motivated enough to do it, but they take it better than we do. The best show [of the day] is always the third. They are hams! They just come alive when they hear that applause. Their tails just go around like windmills.
What will the highlight of your show be?
People getting to see this adorable three-month-old baby performing. But the real highlight is Nellie, seeing her spell words, wave at the audience, seeing her actually communicate with me and play catch with someone from the audience. Snort is our dancing pig and the Duchess of Pork is our "ham dunking" and skateboarding pig.
What is the one thing about pigs that would be the most surprising to people?
That they are actually extremely clean animals. We have white carpet in our home and it has stayed white for five years. They have no odor whatsoever and like to keep themselves and their hooves very clean. The best thing about them is that they're so easy to housetrain. They actually ring a brass bell and ask to be let out.
Valentines Performing Pigs will perform at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. daily from Sept. 5- 21 in the south end of Heritage Square at the New Mexico State Fair. The shows are free with your Fair entrance.
Go, Trojans, Go!