I have been a farmer for a long time and I should know better, but with a mother’s heart I cannot just let a newborn baby die without trying. And that is what I had to do now.
Our American Guinea Hog, Blitz, just had a litter of piglets. Twelve of them to be exact. I had the pleasure to be present when the bulk of them were being born. There is something about watching the birthing process that never gets old. Blitz had farrowed before so I was not worried about the babies. The next day I went to work knowing that my daughter would be there to check in on them soon.
What she found was one of the piglets not doing well. He was weak and appeared to not have gotten to the colostrum. So she warmed up some goat colostrum that I had frozen for such a time, fed him, and left him with his mother.
When I got home, the piglet was clear out of the nest and huddled in some old blackberry vines trying to stay warm. That is when I knew that I would have to do something more for him. He was very weak so I fed him and wrapped him in a towel so he could stay warm while I did the rest of my chores. From then on he was my baby and I would have to be, as a friend called me, Momma Oink.
Not having electricity, I have to do some strange things. Like……to keep him warm I put a thick towel on the bed and let him sleep with me. I set my alarm every 2 hours to get up and feed him. He never went to the bathroom in my bed. I put him in a shopping crate with handles so I could carry him around with me during the day and make sure that he stayed warm and fed.
But he didn’t gain strength. He was constipated so I thinned the milk a little and gave him an enema. I found out that pig milk is 8% fat and goat milk is only about 3% so I stopped thinning it and added coconut oil to the milk. Then I added some egg yolk. But he didn’t thrive. Something else was wrong.
All this time, I took him everywhere. People loved him. He was soft and had this cute little cowlick on his head. The tellers in the bank would come to hold him. The people at the coffee shops would come to the car to pet him. I was told very often that to see and pet Mr. Pigger made their day.
There were days that Mr. Pigger was doing great. He would walk around and seem to be getting better. Then he would go to sleep and be so asleep that he would not respond to me trying to wake him. The hard part……was that I loved the little stinker and this broke my heart. Almost every day there was a point in time when I thought he had died. And I would weep. But then he would get up and want to eat. That roller-coaster was the hardest part.
I went to the Clallam County Fair and talked to a lady that raises a lot of pigs and was told that pigs need to eat every 15 to 20 minutes. What a shock! I was starving him to death…..was what I was thinking. So I went and started to feed him as constantly as I could.
But there were little things that kept nagging at me. Why was he not sucking out of the bottle? Why was he not getting strong? Why did he keep choking on milk as he was trying to eat?
The day after the fair I had a board meeting that I had to attend…..but I would not leave Mr. Pigger. I was 45 minutes to the restaurant where the meeting would be held, the meeting would be at least 2 hours, and then the return trip. I could not leave him that long……so I put in in a lined tote bag and smuggled him into the restaurant so I would not leave him in the hot car either. On one of the trips to the bathroom to feed him I knew it was over. I put my game face on, finished the meeting, and went to the car……and cried, and cried.
I cried all the way home and while I buried him. And I am crying as I write this. Love can hurt.
That night I called the lady that I met at the fair and was able to ask a bunch of questions. Since I am new at raising pigs, there is still much to learn. I was thinking that I had unwittingly starved him to death. And the guilt was overwhelming. But what I found was a different story. The reason that he wouldn’t suck and that he would choke on the milk is probably because he had a cleft palette. The two times that he had sucked, milk poured out his nose like a coffee creamer. Cute on the table but not in real life. I had never had to deal with that before so I had no idea what to look for. And now I know……and if it happens again, I know what to do. Let it go.
Now……….I know, as a farmer, that this stuff happens. But as Momma Oink, it was just devastating. And I know as a farmer, that I should not get that attached……but I did anyway. But the joy that Mr. Pigger brought for the two weeks that he lived was worth the pain. Not the day it happened, and not for the next few weeks. But the love remains even though Mr. Pigger is gone, and the pain is slowly going away.