Darrel Ray offers Wilbur, the pet pig on Sunnyside Farm, one of Lois Ray’s cookies.  MARY WHALEN/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Darrel Ray offers Wilbur, the pet pig on Sunnyside Farm, one of Lois Ray’s cookies. MARY WHALEN/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Sunnyside Farm, nestled just outside of Forestville State Park, has nurtured animal life for generations, yet this Thanksgiving, the Ray and Dornink families, consisting of Darrell and Lois Ray and Greg, Cheryl and Jenny Dornink, have an extra reason to be grateful. They have been given the gift of caring for a little lost animal and experiencing a summer and fall in the presence of a pig with a remarkable personality. In turn, the lost piglet has grown and one can only think he, too, is thankful to have found a loving home.

It all began just a week before the Fillmore County Fair in July. During his regular morning chores, Greg witnessed a tiny pig coming down the old cow lane. Greg was able to catch this little fella and a live coyote trap became his temporary home.

Greg and Cheryl's daughter, Jenny, donated an old comforter to this little shelter adding extra warmth to the straw bed Greg had provided, making the crate cozy.

This little pig would "burrow into the straw enough that you couldn't see him," Cheryl explained. "Because of his long hair, we thought he'd been on his own for four to five days. I told Greg the piglet was pretty scrappy and Greg said he'd have to be to survive on his own for that many days, especially with all of the coyotes in our area."

Cheryl named this little pig Wilbur, like in E.B. White's book, "Charlotte's Web." When thinking of famous pigs names, many may come to mind like Porky and Petunia, Arnold Ziffle of Hooterville, the Muppets' Miss Piggy, the sheep herding Babe or the British Peppa Pig. But none stand out like Wilbur.

Although the words "remarkable," "terrific" and "radiant" are not always used to describe local swine, Sunnyside Farm's Wilbur could be defined using all those words because he really is some kind of pig.

Three times a day, Little Wilbur was fed pig milk replacer that had been mixed up with warm water.

"At first, every time someone walked by his crate, he would holler at the top of his lungs," Greg recalled. "Our older dog, Kenzie, laid by his crate all morning on the third day we had him. I don't think she liked to hear him cry."

Cheryl used a small dog harness as she taught Wilbur to lead. "It didn't take too long and he would follow me wherever I went," she said. "He loved to go with our Dalmatians, Jazzie and Kenzie, to dig under our fence line bunk."

The outings of Cheryl and Wilbur included trips to the barn and up to her parents' house to "visit." Wilbur didn't like to go into the house but was content to stay on the deck and visit.

"He just loves people and has quite a personality. When our great-nephew, Aidan, visits, Wilbur just loves to get attention from Aidan, maybe because for a while he and Aidan were closer to the same size."

But Wilbur did not stay tiny for long. "As he grew bigger and needed more space, we moved Wilbur to a much bigger pen." said Cheryl. "Then in August, Greg gave him a big rubber tub with water in it for his pool which keeps him from digging holes in the dirt to lay in. When Wilbur got hot, he'd jump into his pool to cool off."

Cheryl's nightly routine now includes going down to the barn to play with Wilbur and give him an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie or blueberries.

"My mom, Lois, would give him grapes when he would visit the house and he would chomp on a couple of those and seemed to enjoy them. I thought he might like blueberries too. He loves both, along with banana peels, granola bars, chocolate chip banana bread, pumpkin bread...he really has a sweet tooth!" Cheryl mused.

Wilbur and Jazzie playfully run until they are both ready to sit down and have their share of cookies. Cheryl taught Wilbur to sit when he gets his treats just as she did the dogs.

"Wilbur will also lay down to get his tummy rubbed and scratched...he loves it," she added. "If he doesn't think you've scratched him long enough, he gives you a look that says 'Is that it? Come on, keep scratching!' and usually we do!"

She continued, "And if you have bare legs when you go visit this little guy, you come out of the pen with 'Wilbur kisses' (muddy nose marks) on your legs!"

This wandering pig has found his home at Sunnyside Farm. "He's got such a personality about him and loves to visit with people, especially if you make pig noise for him, which he likes to hear," Cheryl stated.

Wilbur pays attention to all the activities going on around him on the farm, like watching the guineas and chickens running around or noticing the guineas perching on the fence or observing the steers in their big pen.

He pays attention to human activity as well, watching Greg and Darrel unload big round bales of hay into the shed by his pen and comes when someone calls his name. Wilbur seems to take an interest in all the goings on around his pen.

Cheryl concluded, "We had pigs when I was little and I remember helping with them, but I don't remember having a pet pig. We all tag-teamed to make sure Wilbur was fed and had attention every day. It's been a lot of fun to see his personality develop. He brings a smile to everyone he's been introduced to. Wilbur has certainly made this year one to remember."

The members of the Ray and Dornink families are especially grateful for Wilbur this year and, in turn, Wilbur seems grateful to be at home on Sunnyside Farm.