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Compassion in the Great Green

Posted 5/8/2012 8:53am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

May 3

So my goal of blogging once a week has gone out the window where the sun is warm and the breeze is cool and the little valley between Shade Mountain and Herring Bone Ridge is every shade of green one can imagine. It is the great greenness that makes spring on our grass farm so busy. The many mouths that harvest our grass are kept very busy and happy in May while our legs and arms get an equally good workout carrying fences and dragging water hose to keep up with the rapid fecundity. 

The lambs, calves, and piglets make the rush of spring work more enjoyable even though I rarely get close enough to give them the squeeze I’d like too. The job of raising the young is left entirely to moms on our farm. Our job is to keep them on good, fresh grass, securely fenced in and predators fenced out. Or in the case of the pigs, provide a secure nesting place with a heat lamp for the sow and her litter and otherwise, try not to intervene. It is not a rule; it's a philosophy. A philosophy with soft, flexible edges that bends to the will of a child or adult who sees that nature does not always play fair.

Bottle feeding and raising a sick, neglected, or injured animal is a serious commitment and often times it doesn't work out as well as one would hope. Take Ebony for example.  Having a teeny piglet trotting after you while you work is like having a comedian at your back all day. They are such amusing little creatures. But Ebony grew up to be aggressive and mean to anyone but me.  She'd leap up out of her pen at visiting students and guests.  She bit my mother-in-law on the leg and gave her a big purple bruise that lasted a week! I've read that bottle-feeding pigs does not mean that they will become aggressive; it is likely just a function of their person(pig)ality. 

Just the other day I had a conversation about bottle pigs with our livestock hauler John and his partner Moe. John has a lot of experience with hogs and we've relied on him and Charlie for advice regarding the pigs.  Riley and I stopped in at his farm during feeding time while Frances was at piano lessons at his neighbor Henrietta's. While we were talking about beef and pigs and the ultimate fate of Ebony, he and Moe started telling stories of all the pigs and lambs they've bottle fed and raised over the years. They had some wonderful bottle-fed pets and others who became aggressive like Ebony. There were so many stories we couldn't keep them all straight. It was like having a conversation with the grandparents of a dozen or more children. 

"...and then one of those lambs went and left the pigeon out of the cage, do you remember?"  

"...and every day we'd drop Tutti (a piglet) off at your mom's place while we went to work and she would feed it and take care of it...."

I had to interrupt at one point in the story-telling to ask about the pigeon. 

"Wait a minute... how did you get a pigeon?" I asked.

John, this rugged farmer who hauls our animals to the butcher, is full of surprises. When his now-grown son was little, John found a fledgling pigeon on the floor of his barn. It had fallen from the nest and was nearly dead. John thought his son might like to help raise it so he tucked it in his shirt, took it home, and nursed it back to health with an eye dropper and a heat pad. 

"So how long did the pigeon live?" I asked.

"Too damn long!" John said quickly with hearty laugh. 

It turns out the pigeon lived nearly fifteen years in a cage in his house!

Soon the conversation turned back to pigs and the sows he had that were about to farrow.

"What about her?" I asked pointing to a very, very large sow in the next pen. 

"No... she's just waiting to die. She's too old and.. well I guess we'll just let her finish her life here."

"That's really kind of you. So how long does a sow live if you just keep her?"  I asked curiously.

"Too damn long!" he laughed again and we all joined him. The large sow, whose name I can’t remember, rolled her narrow eyes our way and grunted.