Monday, July 19, 2010

Trouble in Piggy Paradise

Hello everyone!  Sorry I've been gone so long.  I have a whole pile of stuff just waiting to be blogged, but I didn't want to put this one off.

I have a long story to tell today, but first off you need a bit of background.

#1 - It's hot here.  (And being from central Indiana, I can't hear the two words, "it's hot" without automatically hearing the Watson's girl complete the sentence with, "and you need a pool!")
#2 - no new pictures with this story because the story doesn't have the kind of ending you want to see pictures of.  Or I would have to include one of those disclaimers at the top of the blog *this blog is for mature audiences only.*

We're raising some freezer pork on our *little* farm.  If you don't remember how that all began, you can check back here.

This is the second year we've raised pigs, the Hubs and I.  Last year, we raised two and it went over so well, we bumped it up to four - 2 for our freezer and then one for Hub's sister's fam and one for Hub's brother's fam.  These other families have been pitching in feed money and help as we've asked for it.

Here are The Daves on their first night at their new home.  

Also, you may remember that I like to think of myself as being a farm kid.  I did 4-H with pigs and cattle and I have a deep, deep respect for the animals I raise(d) and I enjoy going and seeing the commercial operations with barns full of high tech air flow and temperature controlled barns full of buttons and dials and things that the farmers I am interviewing usually ask me to stay far away from.

Well, let's talk candidly for a moment -- these four pigs, the ones you see up there, are a big pain in my tookus.  They tip over their feed bowls, they dump out the water bowls, they lay in the water bowls they run around out in the lot when its hot out, they've rooted out two huge mud holes.... they just do things I wish they wouldn't.

Regardless of that, they are living, breathing creatures.  But one Saturday, when I went out to check on them in my pjs (yes, it was 3:30 in the afternoon, so what?!) I wasn't in the pen for more than five minutes before they had splashed water all over me, I had mud on my glasses, they stepped on my foot and squished mud into my fake-crocs and literally had just been a real pain.  But I still fed them, watered them and took care of them.

These pigs have it good, right?  They have a huge open lot with grass, they get to root around and do all the "natural" things a pig would do.

That's what's wrong with those big, nasty hog farms, right?  The pigs can't do what's "natural" for them, so the animals must be suffering, right?

The problem is, I'm not that competent of a pig farmer.  At least that's what I found out.

Now, before I go on, I want all you dear readers (yes, Mom, that's you) to think about the animal rights groups and the people who say we should all raise our own food because that would be best for the animals.  Those people who say that pigs shouldn't be raised in large temperature control barns with automatic feeders and fresh water supplies that the critters can't dump and lay in.  They ought to have mud holes -- that's how pigs naturally cool themselves.

One of Hub's and my pigs -- because two of the four are ours and should end up in our freezer -- got a bump on his belly a couple two or three weeks ago.  I told Hubs who was outta town at the time.  I pushed the bump, I squeezed and prodded at this Dave and he didn't seem to care.  My un-trained-at-pig-raising-mind thought, "If it's not hurting him, it must be fine."

Fast forward to this past weekend.  Bump is about the size of a softball in the Dave's sheath.  (that's the fancy word for the part under his belly where he pees from).

Add to the bump issue that it's really hot (and we DO need a pool).  Before leaving to go to the county fair for supper (because that's how we roll) the Hubs goes out to feed.  Dave with the bump wasn't looking too hot -- actually, that was the problem... he was looking TOO hot!

He drank a couple drinks, but had no interest in food.  Hubs sprayed him down with water and the Dave perked up some.  His tail curled back up and his ears perked back up.  But he still didn't eat or drink enough.  There was a storm blowing in and the air was cooling, so we left him alone to cool down and figured we'd check on him again once we got back.  But he wouldn't come out of the hot barn...

I asked my dad and several of the peeps at the county fair who are "pig people," including the guy we bought all the Daves from about the not-concerningly-large knot on this particular Dave's belly and the way he was acting.  The general consensus was it was no big deal.  Likely a rupture.  The game plan was to get him to the locker before it got too bad.

As you may (or may not if you aren't a blogger) remember the story my blogger-bud Katie wrote last week about her family's turkey farm and the problems they were facing with severe heat.

Well, when we got home from the fair, Hubs and I had to dig a hole for poor Dave to be laid to rest.  The heat got to him and he couldn't cool down.  From the way he was laying, I am sure, unfortunately, that he was in pain and/or suffering when he died.

So here's the question that keeps coming back to me.... how is that hot, painful, slow death better than the life he might have lived in a confinement barn -- where there is a steady cool temperature, clean water, fresh food and people who know what they are looking for in the way of signs of trouble?

How is is possible that us raising him on our own -- two people who have a relative idea of animal husbandry but who obviously didn't know how or when to ask for help -- was better than a guy or gal who is watching over hundreds of pigs per day and meticulously walking the pens to make sure all the pigs are healthy?

I will say one thing, while I have lost livestock in the past, I've never had to physically dig a four-foot hole, (ok, Hubs did most of the digging) by hand, in the dark, in the bugs, by the light of a truck's headlights and a flashlight  to put them in it.  I cried.  Not because of the hundreds of dollars worth of wasted money we were throwing dirt in on top of, but I felt bad that I thought I could do right by that pig and I didn't.

The old saying is if you're going to have livestock, you're going to have dead stock.

I think after this, I'll stick to letting the full-fledged pig farmers like Heather and Meggie's Hubs handle the growing of the pigs, and I'll gladly go pick up my bacon and sausage at the grocery.

I don't know that my heart (or my back) can take this again.


  1. Sorry to hear this. It's hard to lose an animal - even livestock - and wonder what more you could have done.

  2. Oh Whitney! I am so sorry for your loss.

    I agree with you about the larger farms not being the bad deal that some would have you think. The ones I have visited have been very nice and the animals were taken care of really well. Definitely better than I (a former farm girl)ever could.

    On another note, I am so glad to see you back in the blogosphere! We've missed ya!

  3. Whitney, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. It is never easy to lose an animal, but I really appreciate your message in this post. I truly believe that we raise our pigs in the best way possible for the best care of the pig. Being able to keep them in a climate controlled environment, protect them from the elements and predators, and make sure they have water and feed.

  4. oh no.

    I appreciate the message here, too. I hadn't heard the livestock --> deadstock quote until recently, but it's so true. And modern technology has helped reduce the amount of "premature" deadstock.

    I had this romantic idea of what farming was before we started, and now I wish I could leave it to someone else, sometimes, too. :)

  5. Thanks, everyone. Even still, I can't help but think that anyone out there who believes pigs would be better off raised on small, cute farms has ever had to bury one. I'm all for people raising their own food -- if they want to. But I just hope the day doesn't come that, if we decide to eat protein in the form of meat, we have to raise it ourselves.

    Rereading this post today, it seemed a bit scatter-brained, but glad you all were able to pick up on what I was putting down ;)

  6. That is such a bummer, for you, Whitney! But what a great message you shared! After all, we trust professionals with most other aspects of our life because we value their expertise...I never understand why some folks inherently think food production should NOT be left to professionals....and I think you know I'm not talking about you, because you certainly were not a livestock novice naive in the ways of the world before you decided to take this on. Hope things are going better and that we'll see you next week?


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