Why does farming have to be so mean?

One of the things Jessica and I have always tried to do as parents is be straight forward with the girls. 

Often, their natural curiosity provokes them to ask serious questions. We’ve always tried to just answer them as straight as possible. Just like we were answering a curious adult. This is particularly hard when they ask questions about life and death. And we get a lot of those type questions as livestock farmers. What happened this morning has happened before and I assume will happen a few more times until they get a little older.

One of our new momma pigs was due to have her piglets last night. We went and checked on her around 10:00pm but there wasn’t much pass heavy breathing happing. Us being there seemed to make her a little anxious so we returned her privacy and went back home. 

It rained a lot throughout the night, and stayed pretty cold. This reinforced my feelings about farrowing (sows giving birth) in the barn. 

When we arrived this morning, the joy on the faces of those little girls was exactly the type of moment I live for. Immediately followed by heartbreak and sad tears because they could see one was dead. Looking at a few things I could tell, that piglet was  the last one out and stillborn. As I was trying to explain to them, as best as I could, how this is a part of life and although it is indeed sad, there is now 10 new babies laying right there that need all our love and attention. 

They seemed to cheer up and laughed at a few of the little squeaky grunts of the babies. But then the big one. Through the straw and hay, a tiny little movement could be seen followed by a distinctly different piglet sound. This piglet, noticeably smaller than its siblings  was off by itself, about 6 feet from the center of the nest where momma and all the babies were cuddling for warmth. This is bad. A runt pig, not nursing with the rest of the others is already behind and many times they can’t compete enough with the bigger babies so they get weaker and weaker until they pass. This little runt piglet flipped and rolled around for a second but seemed weak and not able to walk. Its feet were curled under and my heart was sinking fast.  The girls also knew enough from their experiences with these situations that something was wrong. 

We found an old jacked in the barn and wrapped this little girl up in as the girls were begging me to call Dr. Penny, or take it to Dr. Pennys house so he can fix it. 

When we got in the truck they were all crying,  all wanting to hold her, all begging me to save this baby. Asking what happened, why it happened, how it happens, can we save her, will she live, is she dead now?

I had to take a few moments and think about this one, I stalled by getting the heat turned on and trying to get an idea of what was wrong with it.  The last thing I wanted to do was give them a false sense of hope and have their feelings crushed again later. 

I after we snapped a picture to send to Jessica, I looked them strait in the eye and told them the truth. This little piglet will probably die. It was stone cold, couldn’t stand or move really at all and already had a dim look in her eye. I told them if we could get her warm, fast, and get her some food. She maybe, just maybe , might live. They dried up those tears and became mission oriented. As we were leaving Dallas asked me how it got away from the others and got cold. This is a very difficult question to tell a soft hearted animal loving 8 year old girl. The first part of the answer is that it may have very well just accidentally wondered a few steps away during the night and quickly got cold and lost the energy to get back in the nest to say warm. 

The second answer to this question and  the most likely to be what happened is, this sow with all her natural instincts knew something was wrong with this piglet and rejected it. This brought on a whole new set of tears. But I assured her we would do everything we could to try to save this little girl pig.

So far so good, I’ve reminded them that she could still not make it but for now a hot soak in the kitchen sink, a warm towel under the heat lamp and some colostrum seemed to have perked her up to an almost normal state. Her feet have straightened out and she is up walking and rooting around in her box. 

When we were leaving the farm, Raven asked a question that I couldn’t find a good answer to on the spot. 

Daddy, why does farming have to be so mean?