Just before Christmas, a tiny pink piglet came to live with Michelle Allgaier and Greg Noble at the Noble Animal Sanctuary, their farm animal rescue on North River Road in Prosser.
This little piggy arrived at just 1 week old and weighing 1.5 pounds, frightened and shivering, her ribs and hip bones obvious. A young man at a nearby livestock auction worried about her fate bought the orphan for $25, soon realizing he couldn’t give her the round-the-clock care she needed. He brought her to the couple, who bottle-fed her milk replacer every hour and held her close to keep her warm.
They filled a big plastic tub with fleece blankets, dubbed her Peppermint Piggy and dressed her in a baby sweater Allgaier bought on sale at Shopko. As pigs do, Peppermint got bigger. She outgrew the tub and moved on to the couch, relishing the good life indoors.
A Yorkshire, Peppermint will get much bigger. Now about 150 pounds, she is only a fifth of her eventual size, Allgaier said. She will end up 7 to 8 feet long and anywhere from 600 to 800 pounds.
That’s a big pig. But to Allgaier, Peppermint is — and always will be — her baby, the adorable pink pig with a curly tail who oinks with delight when she sees her and comes close for attention. The companionable pig who walks beside her through the neat rows of Riesling vines on three of the sanctuary’s 10 acres.
“She’s my baby. I’m literally her mama in her mind. I had her inside my shirt,” Allgaier cooed as she scratched Peppermint’s back and remembered her days as a fragile piglet.
Peppermint is one of two farm pigs outnumbered by the dozen rescued mini pigs at the sanctuary. They share some lovely country space with five dogs, five cats, two horses, two domestic ducks (Frederick and Ruby, found in poor condition at Yakima Sportsman State Park), three mini-donkeys, four fighting breed roosters, a non-fighting rooster named Elvis, three hens and a 1074 Silver Streak trailer.
With the arrival of spring, Peppermint’s many fans are eager to see her in person. Allgaier and Noble have received a lot of requests to visit, but the sanctuary isn’t open every day. Allgaier has two children, including an adult daughter whom she cares for at home, and Noble works as a surveyor. The many duties of a small farm and animal rescue need regular attention.
She encouraged people to mark their calendars for the rummage sale and guided tours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 24 and 25, the third annual vegan potluck at 4 p.m. June 22 and the second annual 5K and 1 mile Run for the Animals at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 28. That day will also feature guided tours.
Guests will see the couple’s love of all their creatures on display those days.
“Michelle and Greg are caring and compassionate people, right down to their soul,” said Jennifer Kyle, who volunteers at the sanctuary a couple times a week. “They always interact with the animals with goodness and kindness in their heart.”
Know that if you ask Allgaier about her pigs, you could be there awhile.
“They’re my favorite,” she said. “They’re a lot like people. I really connect with them.”
Allgaier and Noble founded their nonprofit in August 2015 and moved onto their 10-acre property in fall 2016. It was the culmination of Allgaier’s persistent dream of owning a farm. “But I didn’t want to kill them,” she said of farm animals.
A Kennewick native, Allgaier followed other pursuits, which included running a yoga studio. When she became vegan nearly five years ago, she discovered a farm animal sanctuary and with a little luck and some sweating the details, the future fell into place. With that, the couple took over a 1908 cottage, a big red barn that is on the state’s Heritage Barn Register, a picturesque fieldstone root cellar, two chicken coops and a shop building.
“We’re still in the building and fixing things up to meet our needs stage,” said Allgaier, accompanied by Chica, a small fuzzy white dog and official greeter.
Chica accompanied her as Allgaier walked here and there around the cottage, roughly the center point of their property, to introduce different residents. She talked about Tidbit, the mini-pig who was supposed to top out at 25 pounds. He’s 400 pounds and an unabashed brat, occasionally rooting a fellow mini-pig or two out from under a shade tree just because he can.
“He was an only pig,” she said as a dusty confrontation ensued with loud squeals and grunting. Pigs have at least 20 vocalizations and mamas know their own babies’ sounds.
Tidbit isn’t a fan of company, porcine or human or canine, but tolerates Allgaier. “Some of the pigs, it takes awhile to build trust. They’re all different; they all have different personalities,” she said.
The pig lounging on a large square cushion under an ancient tree is Hammy, the oldest pig of the bunch. “He’s gotta be 12 years and up. ... He was living under a tarp under someone’s porch with a bunch of dogs,” Allgaier said. “We didn’t think he’d be around this long, but he’s happy. Every night Greg and I pick him up and carry him in the house. He’s got one blue eye and one brown eye.”
Mini-pigs can live for anywhere from 15 to 25 years. Farm pigs may reach 15 “if you’re lucky,” she said. They grow so fast that there are problems with their joints.
The youngest pigs are Peppermint and her pals Daisy and Pearl, BFFs who vied with Peppermint for attention from Allgaier. They especially welcome belly rubs and back scratches these days as they shed their winter coats.
Allgaier has learned a lot about pigs from Judy Woods and her Pigs Peace Sanctuary, located about an hour north of Seattle. “She’s kind of my mentor and a good friend now,” she said.
She and Noble monitor the animals’ relationships, remembering that friends occasionally fall out and family members don’t always like each other. The fighting roosters and Elvis bloodied each other through a fence, so they’re more separated now. The fighting roosters can’t hang out with the hens. One horse doesn’t mind humans, but the other is shy (and really needs her hooves trimmed, so that’s a challenge). The mini-donkeys stalked a former goat resident; Frederick the duck vigorously guards his mate (don’t get too close); and one of the dogs delights in hassling the others.
Just like the pigs, the other animals pose challenges that Allgaier and Noble overcome with patience, Kyle said.
“Both Michelle and Greg work with the animals and their specific personalities to create an environment in which they can thrive, have trust in humans and feel safe,” Kyle said. “He is a very compassionate, hard-working and thankful person. ... He works nonstop, fixing fences, huts and equipment, building new shelters, managing the pastures, and spending time with the animals. He deeply cares about every animal.
“Michelle is a incredibly loving and devoted person. She always does what is best for the animals,” she added.
Just like Noble, Allgaier is a workaholic. “I can’t sit down,” she said. But they know it makes a difference. Their rescue animals can express who they are as individuals and live out their lives.
“It is worth the effort. You see them happy,” she said.