When pigs fly!
This idiom is used to refute something that has no chance of occurring: "Man on the moon?" Reply: "When pigs fly!" Repeated so many times, it is part of our English lexicon. As swine veterinarians, we have had challenges that seemed insurmountable, and more than a few of our predecessors probably used our aerodynamically challenged patients in an analogy or two. I am certain there were at least a few naysayers when the idea of eradication of hog cholera was proposed. Shoot, it wasn't that long ago that some among us were advising against the use of artificial insemination (AI) if the producer ever expected to achieve a 90% farrowing rate and 10 pigs born alive! These days, it is difficult to find a producer who doesn't use AI to breed sows. Who would have thought that we would push average weaning age down to 14 days, then do an about-face and build more farrowing space to allow weaning at 28 days! Who would have thought that after dealing with progressive atrophic rhinitis so severe that pigs could literally smell around corners, the industry now rarely uses the vaccine?
I recently came across a nugget in Charles Lindbergh's Autobiography of Values.1 Lindbergh never identifies the person he quotes, except to say that it was an English scientist: "Everything that happens was once infinitely improbable ... therefore nothing that happens should be surprising." Let me repeat that: "Everything that happens was once infinitely improbable ... therefore nothing that happens should be surprising." How true. Just when we think something is impossible ... you get the idea! The improbabilities that have come to fruition are amazing. How far have we come with technology in the past decade alone, for example?
Here are just a few improbabilities that have happened in our or our grandparents' lifetimes: powered flight; trans-Atlantic flight; breaking the sound barrier; space travel; man on the moon; privately funded space travel; the Internet; cell phones; artificial hearts; global positioning system; digital everything; 30 pigs per sow per year; oral vaccination of large groups of pigs through the drinking water; 10,000-sow farms; sorting technology that really works; the Chicago Cubs win the World Series (OK, I have to admit this did not happen in our grandparents' lifetime and pigs may never fly!).
Will we ever solve the problem of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)? Think it is infinitely improbable? Then you know the answer. We have come farther than you imagine and new information is coming, seemingly every day. When a client's farm breaks with PRRS, in spite of all the measures put in place to prevent such a break, it seems that we have failed. Just remember that it was not that long ago that we were stumbling in the dark searching for the cause of Mystery Disease. Has the solution come easily? Certainly not! Have some given up? Undoubtedly yes! Is the answer just around the corner? Who knows? But, we'd better not give up! Better yet, just place it in the "improbable" bin.
So, haven't seen a flying pig? Just wait! I never thought I would see turkey bacon, either. But hey, if there can be turkey bacon and Buffalo wings - pig wings? And if there are pig wings, there have to be flying pigs out there somewhere!
1. Lindbergh CA. Autobiography of Values. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1978:154.
-- John Waddell