‘Operation Pig Therapy’ brings smiles, joyful tears to nursing facilities in south central Missouri

HUGGINS, Mo. – Mark Bengtson’s pig brought a woman to life, which brought him to tears.

The owner of BF Farm in south-central Missouri, one of the largest Kunekune pig breeding farms in the United States, brings the small, clean pigs to spread cheer in nursing homes in what he calls “Operation Pig Therapy.”

In one instance, he tells The Heartlander, a catatonic woman appeared to awaken while holding a piglet.

“When I put the piglet in her arms, she just came to life – it was amazing,” Bengtson said. “It brought tears to my eyes. She started petting it and started smiling. She typically sits there in a catatonic state all day. I was floored, the power that these animals have on the residents. That is what keeps me going. It makes me feel so good that I impacted somebody for a short period of time.”

Another woman was only 19 years old when she suffered a serious car accident and was placed in a nursing home. Once a piglet was put next to her, a miracle seemed to take place. 

“She was able to raise her arm, and she actually started to smile. That was the first time since the accident. The nurse was in tears. I had a hard time holding it back.”

Known for its smaller size and friendly nature, the Kunekune breed stands out. Bengtson says they aren’t destructive, and are considered clean animals. In the 19th century, the Maori people of New Zealand initiated the domestication of the breed and called it “kune kune” because of its fat and round appearance.

Bengtson says his pigs have a different impact on residents than other animals might. Kunekune pigs have consistently demonstrated a calming effect on individuals with disabilities. Despite the breed’s positive effects, Bengtson has encountered difficulties bringing his pigs to larger nursing facilities due to strict bureaucratic rules. Nonetheless, Bengtson is striving to gain attention for his plan to expand operations to Springfield, West Plains and Rolla.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve been very successful in my farming business. Now it’s time for me to give back. This is something I want to continue to do. I want to do it after the holidays and start it up again.”

Definitive Healthcare reports there were over 18,700 active skilled nursing facilities across the U.S. as of March 2023. Bengtson says a significant number of residents he meets lack family and struggle with loneliness every day. He feels his operation provides significant benefits for those lacking support.

During his visits, residents can also feed the Kunekune pigs. The farmer recalls a comical moment when one of his pigs detected food on a cart and slid along behind a nurse down a slippery hallway.

Bengtson began his operation at nursing homes in Cabool, Mountain Grove and Licking in November, and has aspirations to expand further. He’s also seeking to expand his reach to include 4-H clubs, schools, daycares and churches. The farm has already welcomed church groups and their children during the summer months for some quality time with the Kunekune piglets.

While the primary purpose of raising Kunekune is for meat, they also excel as pets. Bengtson’s unique pigs are sold nationwide, ranging in price from $850 to $1,500 each. If you are interested in purchasing a pig or scheduling a visit, go to the BF Farm website, its Facebook page or call Bengtson directly at 417-967-0271.

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