Starting From Scratch

We said goodbye to a founding member of the farm

When we first started our farm four years ago, we bought one pig, Olivia. She was so kind and gentle our children could go into her pen and scratch her behind her ears. She would always grunt her approval.

Pigs in general, are such vibrant characters. Each pig has a different personality. Some are meek and shy, while some are more curious or more aggressive. Because of this, it is very important to me to spend time with my pigs so that I know how to manage them and take care of their needs.

I know, for example, that Olivia is extremely aware of the electric fencing that keeps her and the other pigs in their pen and out of the neighbor’s yard. When it comes time to move the pigs into a pasture, it is necessary to have a bucket of grain for the pigs, and bread for Olivia. She only moves past an old electric fence line if a piece of bread is dangled over her nose, while the others will venture anywhere towards the sound of grain rattling in a bucket. Sometimes it may take 15 minutes or more for her to realize it is safe to venture across the old threshold.

I remember this past fall she was being extremely stubborn and, after trying and trying to coax her into the new pen, I gave up. So I secured her in the original fencing and continued moving the other pigs. I’m not sure if the other pigs missed Olivia for those few days that she was by herself, but every once in a while, they would look up from the fresh earth that they were turning over to see her standing pathetically alone in a pile of dirt. Eventually she figured it was better to go with her friends and quickly made the dash to the new area when I opened the gate.

About two months ago, I noticed that Olivia’s naturally large belly was becoming more bloated than usual. It was impeding her ability to walk and the other pigs, realizing she was not feeling well, made the collective decision that she was the lowest ranking pig in the group and thus would only let her eat when everyone else was finished. After a few weeks of this, I decided to move her to her own stall where she would get lots of human love and her own food. I called a vet who came out to the farm to see if she could figure out what was wrong. At first glance, she looked fine and her heart rate was normal as was her eating and drinking. There was a possibility that she was pregnant, so we decided to monitor her health for a few weeks.

Shortly after that, it became apparent that she wasn’t pregnant and her health was getting worse. I noticed her bowel movements were pretty irregular, if at all. Then she began to have trouble standing to eat, so we needed to help her up. Then shortly after that it was impossible for her to stand and the only way she could move around to eat and drink was to pull herself along with her front legs. Because she was still eating and drinking and generally in good spirits, I kept hoping that she would get better.

Two weeks ago I realized she was not, in fact, getting better. I had two choices: I could call the vet to put her down, or we could do it ourselves. I called the vet and asked her to come and put her down, but I also asked her if she would be willing to perform an autopsy to finally figure out what was making her so sick.

The day before the vet was scheduled to come to the farm, my daughter ran up from the barn saying, “Olivia may be dying because she is making a really bad noise.” When I got to her stall, she was only able to move her head. She kept trying to get up, and she was getting frustrated and scared. I could almost see the panic in her eyes. I knew right then that we would have to cancel our plans to pick strawberries and spend the day trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible.

I sat beside her, and said a little prayer. I was stroking her head and talking to her like I always had, calling her a good pig and a sweet girl. I could tell by her eyes that she knew I was there with her. She would give little grunts in response.

After almost an hour, she stopped straining to get up, she was having trouble breathing and I could tell by her eyes that she no longer knew I was there talking to her and stroking her.

For the entire time I sat with her, I cried like a baby. I was sorry that I couldn’t fix what was wrong and I was sorry that I couldn’t ease her pain. I was sad that she was dying as she had been both my first pig and my favorite.

She died shortly thereafter.

I accepted her death and the difficult task of burying her came next. Like most farmers, my farmhand and I dug a hole in an unused section of our property to bury her along with lots of lime and dirt on top, in the hopes of keeping other animals away from her grave. Before we buried her completely, we did decide to see what was wrong with her.

Olivia had a huge growth in her stomach, which caused her large intestine to become severely inflamed. This growth must have gotten bigger quickly, which is why her belly looked so bloated and why she was having irregular bowel movements. Was it a tumor? Was it causing nerve damage so that she could not walk? Had she always had this problem? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I do know, however, that I tried my best and I will miss her as a founding member of Oxbow Farm.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, seewww.oxbowfarmnh.com. She can be reached at grahamkimberly1@mac.com.

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