The barn door slides open, revealing the soft light of the morning sun, and with one big stretch and a revitalizing yawn, it’s time for this hog to rediscover that glowing dark patch outside. Trot, trot, trot and jump – straight into his favorite mud-waller, his version of a morning cup of coffee, and starts his day strong. There’s a name for this mud-jumping hog, one that graces Razorback Nation every game day morning before kickoff: Tusk IV.
“If you want to see what it’s like travelling with a rockstar, travel with Tusk,” said Keith Stokes, one of Tusk’s caretakers. “A lady at church asked me one morning, ‘What is it like driving into a place with 70,000-plus people cheering for you?’ And I told her, just like I tell other people, ‘Well you got to know they aren’t cheering for us. It’s all for him.”
The handling and caretaking of six-year-old Tusk IV and his littermates – all Russian boars – is a family affair. With Stokes’ children, Chip, 28 and married with an almost three-year-old son – who calls Tusk his “big boy” – and seventh-grade math teacher Abbey, 22, as well as his wife Julie, Tusk always has someone near him.
“He is actually more like a member of the family, not a pet,” Stokes said. “Our lives revolve around his schedule, and it isn’t like we are being forced to take care of him either. He’s docile and tame, and he knows when he is in his trailer he is completely safe and protected, and we want to keep it that way to make sure he isn’t mistreated.”
If the family goes out of town for an event and Tusk has to sleep outside in his customized trailer, they do, too. Because the top of Tusk’s game day trailer is so large, they used to set up a tent on top and sleep above him. Now with their new-and-improved truck, the inside folds out to a double bed, and they have cameras to ensure Tusk is not bothered.
Back at home in Dardanelle, he lives comfortably in a converted 8,000 square-foot heated and cooled indoor barn, and a 10,000 square-foot outdoor pen. With the UofA’s support through the Tusk Trust that covers expenses and updates to the farm, Tusk is well taken care of, especially with being a part of the Southeastern Conference, which has “all the bells and whistles,” Stokes said.
The SEC is the “king of mascots,” except for Bevo the longhorn at the University of Texas and Ralphie the buffalo at the University of Colorado. Mike the Tiger at Louisiana State University, a fellow SEC school, has a roughly $3 million facility, Stokes said.
“Tusk’s facilities aren’t multimillion dollar, but his facility (still) meets his needs,” Stokes said.
For the Stokes’, Tusk and his littermates might have become part of the family, but they won’t let him in the house, which happened once before and ended with a broken lamp.
“Tusk was about nine months old and my wife wanted a Christmas card picture,” Stokes said. “So I brought him in in front of the Christmas tree … and he ended up jumping up on the couch, grabbed a pillow and shook it (in his mouth), which smacked the lamp and knocked it over.”
Stokes’ daughter Abbey remembers the day he was born in 2010, and the hog mother-son bond was not as magical as it could have been.
“The day after he was born, we brought him over to our house because his mother was crazy. She was someone like caught out of the wild. She charged us and was just crazy,” Abbey Stokes said. “He lived in our garage for the first six months of his life, so he started to think he was a person.”
The family decided he needed to get back to the farm, but even at the farm, Abbey Stokes said he’s just like a dog, excited and happy -- “the reason he gets excited is because he is getting food,” she said.
Even Tusk’s uncle, Tusk III, had a household pet-like personality.
“Oh, he was my favorite. When he passed away it was rough,” Abbey Stokes said. “You could walk over there and put your hand on him and he would lay down and let you rub his stomach. And when he would lay down, you could lay down with him, put your head on his stomach like a pillow They have personalities like no other.”
With these puppy-like qualities, Tusk doesn’t necessarily think he is a human – he thinks the humans around him are equal to him, 300 pounds of muscle.
And he is onto something: humans and Razorbacks have some similarities. If one or the other has a cold, they could pass it between them. The metabolisms are incredibly similar, Stokes said. The same goes for hygiene and maintenance.
“So many people think hogs are dirty because they roll in mud, but they are highly intelligent,” Stokes said. “There’s two functions to rolling in the mud. When he rolls around in it and the mud dries hard in summer, moisture can’t get to his skin because he will get a sunburn, so it’s his suntan lotion. And it’s also an insect repellant. Once it dries, mosquitoes can’t bite through it.”
But all that mud-rolling comes with a price for Tusk, and it happens during game week. Bath time.
“We start the cleaning process with rinsing all that mud off, and the Friday of the pep rally, we shampoo and we get that ‘do done,” Stokes said. “My daughter (Abbey) is all about the social media, and she films Tusk’s shampoos on Facebook Live so people can feel like they are a part of it.”
And if fans want more Tusk time, they can find his schedule on his Facebook page, along with a Saturday selfie or two.
This famous Razorback hasn’t always lived on a family farm. In 1994, local Razorback personality and former football player David Bazzel suggested to the coaches a reenergized “real authentic mascot to spice up games,” Stokes said, and because he had noticed as a player in the 1980s that the mascot at the time was an overweight, lazy duroc hog, which had been chosen because of its red color, he went off to find a live Razorback, according to Bazzel’s digital publication on his company Fourth Quarter Productions website.
No Razorback hogs were to be found, not even at the San Diego or New York City zoos. At that time, Stokes was president of the Arkansas Pork Producers Association, where he worked with his team to feed game day press boxes.
“He called me in as a consultant, and I worked with Dr. Starkey, the director of livestock poultry, and he said, ‘I think Bud’s got some,’ so I called Bud (a Greensboro farmer), and 10 minutes later I called David (Bazzel) back and told him, ‘I got you two.’”
That Saturday they went to pick the two hogs up and took them to Little Rock for testing. For a while the animals lived at the Little Rock Zoo, but after some health and safety issues with the zoo itself in 2006, the hogs were brought to Tyson Farms in Springdale, “actually right next to Ms. Tyson’s house,” Stokes said.
But that home security didn’t last long. Later that year, Tyson wanted to shut the farm down, and Stokes had just shut his down, so Bazzel got back in touch and asked if Stokes and his family would take them in. The timing couldn’t have been better, Stokes said. It was a match.
As many will say, there are lots of lions and tigers and bears, but there is only one Razorback.
“It’s one thing that brings the state together,” Stokes said. “I don’t own him. My family doesn’t own him. Razorback fans own him; we just get to take care of him.”
Although there are multiple Razorback hogs from the same bloodline, there is only one Tusk. Before and a little after Tusk IV was born, his 8-year-old brother did a one-year term to await Tusk IV’s rise to power.
The spring will welcome blooming flowers and a baby Tusk V, ready for his crown. In a way, the bloodline of Tusk is Arkansas’ own version of the Royal Family.
And that only means one thing: Long live the Tusk.