Monday, February 6, 2012
Seven Days - joys and sadness
It has been seven days since I have been here - a whole week has passed. It has been a beautiful week, to be sure. Many blessings and joys. Yes - there have been stunning sunrises - each day moving closer to the East - there have been days of washing drying on the line - running around on the hillside - nourishing broths - the simple beauty of a dry stone wall - and the cheeky company of the starlings at dusk.
But amongst all this, we have had sadness and worry too...
One of our pigs has died. The biggest one - the leader - within three days he was gone. It is hard to take in the fact that such a strong vital creature is no more. Of course that sounds very hypocritical, given that in 6 weeks or so, they would all be gone, but still...
We are not really sure what happened. He was fine - bouncing, grunting - so alive at the beginning of the week. I went, one morning to empty stuff into the compost heap, and he caught sight of me over the wall. He launched himself over wall - and the rylock fence on the other side of it, and landed heavily in the post and wire compost bin, which he duly set about devouring the contents of. I was scared - he was a big fellow. The other 2 followed him over the wall, and another episode of chase ensued. It took John all morning to repair the fence, while I kept the pigs out of his way by throwing pig nuts over to them at the other side of the pen. it was a job we didn't need at the start of a busy week.
Two days later, at breakfast time, John found him standing, shivering and hunched up - looking very ill. He didn't come over for food - he just stood there - it was very obvious we had a sick pig. We phoned the vet. "It could be a number of things" she said " a virus - infection - a peritonitis - or just maybe an off day".... she advised us to give an anitbiotic and see how he was the next day. John managed to give him some penicillin, and he took a good drink from a bucket held under his nose, before spending the rest of the day snuggled into his straw nest inside the ark. The others were obviously concerned about their brother, and went in beside him, keeping him warm and being with him.
The next day, he came out and looked a little brighter. This gave us some hope. He still didn't want to eat, but could be encouraged to drink. He had another dose of penicillin. He stayed outside for a fair bit of the day - rooting around just a little bit, but enough to give us some hope. At dinner- time, he wouldn't come to eat, but just stood down in a hollow under the trees. He was still there at bedtime, and John spent a long time coaxing him into the ark.
In the morning, I found him lying dead just outside the door. The others were still inside. It was a bleak morning- the rain was pouring down in torrents, and we all just stood gazing down at this poor pig lying there in the mud. A friend came and helped John to move him out of the pen, and the other two pigs came out then, looking for their breakfast. They hadn't wanted to step over his body.
We phoned the vet, and they told us to go ahead and bury the pig on the croft - no post-mortem or notification was required. There were contractors working down in the village, so the excavator driver very kindly came up and dug a large grave for us. "I've got pigs myself" he said, with great sympathy.
But, of course, we have held endless post-mortems ourselves. Every aspect of our pig husbandry has been scrutinised and analysed in the last few days - with each other, and with friends and neighbours. The incident with the compost heap seems the most likely cause. Has he ingested something there that has made him sick - or caused a blockage? No matter how careful we are with sorting out compost items, there are always some rogue plastic or metal items that seem to find their way in - did he eat something to cause an internal injury, or obstruction. Did he injure himself when he jumped the wall and fence and compost heap container? He was the biggest and heaviest of the pigs. It was unusual for him to initiate any escape attempt - the smaller female was usually first to lead the way.
Was it the conditions? Part of the pen was very porridge-y mud, but there was still a lot of higher, dry ground and plenty trees and bushes to root around in. They had a nice dry ark with lots of straw.
It could have been a virus, or an infection, but the other pigs are absolutely fine, and obviously the penicillin had no effect.
Feeding? The regulations are fairly strict on what you can feed pigs. Nothing can come out of the kitchen, so the pig bucket is a thing of the past. This was one of the things that had disappointed us, when we began our pig keeping adventure, and something I might talk more about another time. It seemed to us that the only thing to give them was bought-in feed - concentrated pig nuts, maize, beet shreds etc. (Ok - maybe the odd apple core or two might have found it's way over the fence ...). We discovered that all the animal feed available on the island contained trans-genic ingredients - mainly soya in the pig nuts, but I am pretty sure the maize flakes would be GM too. (it is hard to tell, because feed manufacturers list their ingredients on handy little tear off slips sewn on to the edge of the sack, and they are invariably missing by the time we get them). We asked about this at the feed store, and were told that " all the normal stuff we sell is GM - we can order organic in for you, but it is 3 times the price!" Sigh. There is a study that shows that pigs fed on GM maize showed intestinal changes and a lower feed conversion ratio. Now - the other pigs had exactly the same diet and yet they are perfectly healthy and showing no signs of ill health - but he was the biggest and greediest and a bully too, so he always got the lion's share. Was it GM feed that killed him? Who knows - and to be honest that is unlikely, given his sudden demise. I suppose it is natural to look for someone else to blame. Animals do die - we have lost hens suddenly before - our friend who helped us move the pig had buried two of his sheep that week; driving down to the croft, we saw another neighbour burying a sheep, and we sympathised with another crofter earlier in the Winter over the loss of a young calf. It has been a hard, hard winter for the animals - so much rain and mud everywhere.
So now there are only two little pigs - not so little now, and they will grow even bigger, now their gluttonous brother has gone. It was a sad experience - for us and for the pigs too. They were so concerned over the sick brother - really seemed to try to care for him. He knew - they knew... so many lessons for us to learn from them.