“I’m just an animal lover so I could never do that,” the lady at the library told me. In fact, she’s not the only one who has said this to me when the conversation about my line of work inevitably turns to the death of animals. I grit my teeth because I know they don’t know how what they just said cuts me like a knife. They’re implying that because, once a quarter, I can load up a couple of cows and several pigs and bring them to the processor or even dispense with a chicken myself, that I am made of stone. That I can just toss animals aside and don’t give their death a second though. In fact, I probably give more thought to their LIFE as well as their death than anyone I’ve ever had this conversation with.
Death is definitely the hardest part of life on a farm. It beats out shoveling manure, heavy lifting and hours and hours of fence work. I’ve never spent a sleepless night worrying about how I’m going to lift those 50 lb bags of grain the next day, but I have spent many worrying about a horse recovering from colic, a pig with scours, an anemic goat. I’ve sacrificed my own night’s sleep nursing these animals back to good health, or sadly, sometimes keeping them company and making sure they are warm in their final hours. I don’t, however, mourn or worry about animals we send to the processor. I celebrate them. I give them a final pet on the neck and thank them for providing us with entertainment in life and nourishment in death. Each time our family eats meat, we are thankful for the lives of the animals that provided that meat to us. Because we are so acutely aware that meat=animals, we are careful to eat less of it and make the most out of each pound. If you love animals more than I do, I’d encourage you to do the same.
Pigs are incredibly prolific. That mother of 19 kids and counting has nothing on a mamma pig. She comes into heat at all times of the year (unlike most goats or sheep who are bred seasonally) and, since she only stays pregnant for 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, she can be bred twice a year. When it came time to reunite Floppy, our oldest sow, with Mr. Oink (papa pig), I have to admit I had reservations. I mean, Floppy had two litters in the past seven months and I wasn’t so anxious to get her knocked up again. So… maybe I was a little too sympathetic, having recently myself given birth to our fourth child. My husband was clearly sympathizing a little too well with poor Mr. Oink who had been, shall we say, lacking in female companionship for a good while. They’re back together again and seemed actually quite happy to reunite.
When Floppy gave birth for the first time I was right there with her, watching her labor through the night. She gave birth to 13 beautiful, tiny little piglets with only some help from me (though she probably didn’t need it). As I watched her labor for hours, I couldn’t help think of my husband who had watched me through this process three times already. How did he do it? I felt so helpless watching her. But women, even more so those of the porcine variety, are so strong! Floppy labored without complaint, and proceeded to nurse and care for her babies until they no longer needed her.
When it came time for Floppy’s daughter, Lucky, to give birth, I couldn’t help but wonder if she would be as good a mother. Shortly after her estimated due date, she was waddling around still swollen with baby belly. Trotting around with a bit of tarp in her mouth, Lucky went in to her house and quickly reemerged, still on task. I went out to check what she was doing and found that she had been building a nest for her yet-to-be-born bundles of joy. (Clearly she thought the bedding I had provided wasn’t good enough.) Lo and behold, the next morning I went in the house to check and there were eight beautiful baby piglets nursing. She looked up as if to say “What??? No problem!” No epidural, no husband to rub her back, no complaints of swollen feet or aching back. For our farm animals, motherhood is instinctive. I wonder what those piglets will be giving Lucky on Sunday? Maybe I’ll serve her breakfast in bed myself.
A blog about farming and food. Kate Bogli owns and operates Maple View Farm, raising livestock and growing veggies, with her husband Jason. The farm has been in his family for 65 years.