Keith Stokes went from being the president of the Arkansas State Pork Producers Association to caring for the live Razorback mascots with his family.
The UofA’s live mascot, a Russian boar named Tusk V, and his brother Spaz will turn 2 years old on April 19, on the Stokes’s family farm near Dardanelle, Arkansas, which is about a two hour drive from Fayetteville. Keith Stokes and his family share the responsibility of caring for the animals.
“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of labor, but it’s a labor of love,” Keith Stokes said.
Russian boar Tusk IV, Tusk V’s father, passed away on Jan. 12. Tusk IV served as the UofA’s live mascot for eight years.
The Stokes travel to Fayetteville 20-25 times a year for Tusk to make appearances at football, basketball and baseball games, as well as other events. The family loads up Tusk’s trailer 6-7 hours before kickoff and stays at the football games for about 16 hours.
Keith Stokes purchased Tusk I, a 475-pound Russian boar, in Greenbrier, Arkansas, in 1997 after the UA Athletics Department and David Bazzel, a former Razorback football player, asked him to find a live boar to represent the UofA.
The Stokes closed their poultry farm in 2002, and the live mascots have lived at the farm since. The hogs sleep for 8-9 hours a day in a heated and air-conditioned barn.
Razorbacks are cantankerous and mean in the wild, Keith Stokes said. He tries to make sure that the animals are comfortable in their environment. The hogs eat about four pounds of whole kernel corn and corn chops a day, and they are occasionally fed grapes and other fruit as treats.
“Arkansas has always been so good to me and my family, and we feel like this is our way to give back to our state,” Keith Stokes said.
Keith Stokes’s wife, Julie Stokes, interacts with fans and answers questions on game days. She loves meeting people and seeing how much they love Tusk, she said.
“We’ve had so many people come up to us and say ‘This is the reason why I came to the game,’” Julie Stokes said.
Julie Stokes said she thinks each Tusk has been different and that each has become a part of the family.
Julie Stokes said that she never expected to take care of boars, but she is glad that she does.
“Once it came to be, it’s just a way of life for us,” Julie Stokes said.
Julie Stokes and Keith Stokes’ 25-year-old daughter Abbey Stokes does all the social media for Tusk and has been around the animals since she was in sixth grade.
Abbey Stokes said the Razorbacks are like the family dogs because “they always want to be at your feet with you.”
“I don’t see myself ever doing anything different,” Abbey Stokes said.
In the next two years, Keith Stokes will purchase one or two 12-week-old female razorbacks as potential mates for Tusk V to carry on the lineage of the Tusk family.
“It’s very fulfilling to see young kids and have them come back and say I remember coming here and meeting Tusk I or Tusk II,” Keith Stokes said.
The UA Tusk Fund helps to cover the cost of fuel and updates to Tusk’s trailer.