Happy-sad. That was the week.
It started with a sow, our prize sow, Tinkerbell, frothing at the mouth. Breathing very shallowly, with a cold feeling in her mouth and all over her head and body. She was due to give birth, but this was nothing like the other farrowing (birthing) we’d seen. She lay motionless for hours. She seemed in trouble. I covered her with a tarp and hay, because the day was pretty cold, and called the vet. I watched over her for a couple of hours while she seemed to be slipping away, even venturing to put my hand inside her to make sure there were no piglets stuck en route to the outside.
By the time the vet arrived, just after dark, Tinkerbell had perked up a little, perhaps because she had the body temperature to do so. Enough to start labour. Enough to pop out one slip (piglet) an hour or so after the vet arrived. Enough to see her through most of the danger zone. Another slip followed, right on cue, 20 minutes later. I relaxed, went home for tea after spending five hours by her side, and then went back out. Trouble hadn’t left. No more slips had been born in two hours, a sure sign of danger. They should appear every 40 minutes or less. Labour should be over in about four hours. I stayed by her side, oxytocin in hand, getting up the courage to give it to her when, suddenly the noises in the shelter changed. Slip number three was born! Then four. Then five, six, seven, eight and nine. Old breed pigs, and an old girl like Tinkerbell, tend to have smaller litters. We’re happy with about 8-10 slips from most of our girls. So I stayed another hour, presuming labour had stopped. The first slips were already clean and suckling. It was cold. Rainy. And the shelter only had room for the pigs, not me. I felt it safe to go home.
But the next morning showed I’d left too soon. There were more piglets. A total of 15 had been born, though the extended labour (at least nine hours) had taken its toll and three hadn’t been born alive. Tinkerbell lay, exhausted, and unlike her usual self, barely moved for the next couple of days. Good news is, she has now bounced back. The slips have already been running around the paddock in the warmer days since. Watching them scamper about in the low afternoon light is a joy I barely have words to describe. I always love seeing the young of our animals play, but watching these slips explore the world at the feet of their mother is particularly sweet.
Farming has its ups. And its downs. Twin lambs were born to Hettie, one of our ewes, late last week. But a day and a half later, one hadn’t suckled and was down. I’d been with friends when they brought cold lambs back from the brink a week before, by placing them in a hot bath and under a heat lamp. Our weakened twin died in my arms. It was father’s day. The frost had left its mark.
Cooked a bit of a shared table dinner on Saturday with Nick and Ross. For 60 people. The tables were 110 long paces and a flight of stairs from the kitchen. And my foot was giving me gip. Ross reckoned it was a bruise from wearing gumboots too much – an occupational hazard around here at this time of the year. It hurt. Really hurt. Especially after about 20 trips from the kitchen to the dining room. By the end of Sunday, I could hardly walk. Then I found the cause. A shard of glass over 5mm wide had been working its way into the ball of my foot. Now it’s out, there’s less pain. Carrying feed to the pigs still involves some heavy lifting and walking, but now it seems like a doddle by comparison.
We are but animals. Weak when injured. Strong when well. There’s a fragility to life. Tiny things can make us suffer, or make us unwell. As I type, great sadness looms over us. A friend fights for her life, making all my challenges seem inconsequential and small. The last week has held the big things in life. Birth and pain and joy and death. Constant themes when living close to the land.
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