Thunder, a rock star of a boar

— Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Thunder Ben David of Chilmark died on July 25, after seven glorious years as the biggest attraction at Native Earth Teaching Farm, owned by Rebecca Gilbert and Randy Ben David.

“He was our rock star boar,” Rebecca said.

Thunder was born in 2006 at a farm in Pennsylvania known for breeding Berkshire pigs since the 1950s. “He came from a good blood line,” Randy said, “and I’m pretty sure he was the first Berkshire pig on Martha’s Vineyard.” He weighed upwards of 800 pounds, had a fine black coat with random white patches, and sported distinctively notched ears — one way pigs are branded when they are little.

During his lifetime, Thunder was well-known as a desirable stud, and his services were in high demand with other pig farmers. He sired dozens of offspring around Martha’s Vineyard until the summer of 2010, when his stud services were officially taken over by his son, Thunder Jr.

From 2010 to 2012, Thunder was employed to root out and create a pasture at Tupelo Farm in West Tisbury. He happily consumed an acre of poison ivy and cat briars, rooted up old stumps and large rocks, and dug numerous wallows. He loved to be scratched with a flexible metal rake and would lie down and shut his eyes in happy abandon during this treatment.

In his spare time, Thunder delighted visitors to the Native Earth Teaching Farm, won several blue ribbons at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, and was the star attraction at a parade in West Tisbury where he upstaged the selectmen. He was also featured in “A Pig and a Pumpkin,” a short documentary shown on MVTV that captured his prowess at consuming pumpkins down to the very last seed.

During this past winter Thunder appeared in the MV Times when he escaped from his pen on Christmas Day and was heroically retrieved by officer Garrison Vieira of the West Tisbury Police Department. Clearly an expert with livestock, Officer Vieira lured Thunder with a bucket of corn a quarter mile down a dirt road, in the dark, back to his pasture.

Explaining Thunder’s death, Randy said that it is not economical to keep an animal you don’t use, and it is not good practice to have two boars on the same farm. Ordinarily Thunder would have lived only five years, but due to his rooting job at Tupelo Farm he had another three years of service.

“He was a good pig,” Randy eulogized, and many will miss him.

Thunder will be fondly remembered by his owners, Randy Ben David and Rebecca Gilbert and their extended families on and off Martha’s Vineyard, Jim Sullivan, also of Native Earth Teaching Farm, Joanie Ames of Tupelo Farm and her extended family and neighbors, the crew at Seven Gates Farm, and many others too numerous to name, who brought him leftovers, especially corn and watermelon — two of his favorites.