Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Mud, Wine and Piglets!

Dear Readers.   It's been one month, two weeks and three days since my last confession.. please forgive me.  

To be totally honest, it's been completely bloody manic!   As you know, Nelly's piglets arrived at the end of September.   They really were too cute - and continue to be so!   Also, after the lovely WWOOFer Steph left us, we took a few days off and went to West Wales.   First time that we've been away together for over three years.   It rained everyday, of course, but then again, it's Wales so you expect that.   We went on some spectacular walks, ate fantastic food from local producers and just chilled out - it was just what we both needed.

As with the rest of the UK, it hasn't stopped raining here since March.   As a result we are absolutely swimming in mud.   We moved Nelly and the piglets to a different enclosure shortly after we came back from Wales as the poor piglets could barely go outside for fear of drowning in the puddles and it was becoming more apparent by the day that dear old Daisy was also in pig and was going to be in need of the farrowing quarters herself.   This, I am sorry to say, was a completely unplanned pregnancy.  You know those escapee pigs I blogged about a few blogs back?   Well, they continued to escape on a regular basis and on one particular occasion decided to take all the other pigs with them.   Not only did they trounce their fence, but the fence of some Oxford Sandy and Black pigs we had too.   When I eventually herded them all back to their relevant pens, I noticed that Daisy had had company as there were some mud straddle marks across her back (about the only benefit of having a muddy summer that I can think of!).    Anyway, the boy in question was only four months old and it was doubtful if he could even reach, let alone have the ammunition, as it where.   So me, being me, dismissed it from my mind, did not record the date that this happened and stuck my head in the sand.  Brilliant course of action and of course, the absolute best thing anyone could possibily do... not.

As a result, we had no idea of Daisy's due date as, over the coming weeks, it became more and more apparent that the adolescent had actually taken full advantage of the situation.   I guessed at beginning to mid November, which needless to say, is vauge.   I spent the week before she gave birth checking on her at least four times a day and once at night, just in case she suddenly multiplied.    It was at one such checking that I got completely stuck in the mud.    We had some friends down from London and at the end of the evening, after a couple of bottles of wine, I decided to check on Daisy before tottering back to the house.   I crept up there and, as was the norm, all was quiet.   In my infinite, drunken wisdom, I decided to also check on Nelly in the next field.   I had a tiny hand torch with me that dimly lit the way.  As to be expected, all was well with Nelly too, so I wondered off back to the house, deciding to take a short cut across a REALLY muddy bit of field.  

I was fine for the most part, a little unsteady on my feet, but it was pitch black and very slippery so generally I was doing well.   Then I hit it.   The week before we'd been moving soil around trying to level the ground a bit.   The soil had not had a chance to compact at all and was, as I discovered to my peril, very deep.    My brain was not in full communication with the rest of my body and only registered the deep mud when my stride was brought to an abrupt halt but the cementing of my welly.   By this time, it was too late, I had already begun to take the next step and although both my foot and my brain willed my welly to come with us, it turned out it was finding the mud much better company.  I remember distinctly thinking "OK.  I'm going to have to walk through the mud in my socks - that's fine, I can do that.  I'll just come back and find my wellies in the morning."   I was tipsy enough to not even think that I might not stay on my feet, or even that it would be a problem walking the rest of the way without boots on.    Nor did it cross my mind that exactly the same thing might happen on the next step.    Needless to say, before you could say 'two bottles of Pinot' I had fallen flat on my face, elbow deep in mud.  It's cold...  really cold... mud.  It crossed my mind that people had probably died of hypothermia in mud before now - if anyone had been stupid enough to try and walk across it while pissed.   My husband, who had sensibly taken the normal, safe route back, found me.   He later described me as 'thrashing around' in the mud, when regaling the story to some friends.   We found my wellies and he led me staggering back to the house, whereupon he demanded I take a shower and go straight to bed.  Don't you love it when you're drunk and you stubbornly refuse to do anything anyone tells you, simply because they have told you.   Allegedly, I told my husband I didn't need a shower (!!!) but was frog marched anyway.   At 4am that morning, when I tumbled back into bed after another check up on Daisy, I found myself chuckling, uncontrollably reliving my mud thrashing moments.. much to the annoyance of my long suffering husband!

About five days later, Daisy gave birth to piglets.  I think she purposely chose the one night that Olly was away.   She started nesting at around 2pm and I knew I was in for a long night.   Already having the experience with Nelly was both comforting and stressful at the same time.  Comforting in that I knew roughly what to expect and stressful because, well, I knew roughly what to expect.   At around five, Daisy finally laid down and started her contractions.   I phoned my lovely friend Dee for moral support and bless her, she came up to keep me company.    By six, Daisy had given birth to a still born which had happened to Nelly too, so I wasn't too worried.  

Daisy Nesting

I had read that anymore than an hour between births and you should start to worry.   At twenty past seven I called the vet.   Daisy was shaking as the contractions got worse but nothing was happening.   'Probably need to do an internal examination,' said the vet, from the comfort of his sitting room.   From the tone of his voice, I knew he had no intention of leaving the warmth of that room.  'Have you ever done an internal examination before?' he asked nonchanontly.   'Eeer, no.'  I replied.   I desperately wanted to paint him the picture of my life.  I was not a hurly burly farmer, I was a wannabe, a townie who gave her pigs tummy scratches everyday and if it wasn't for her husband would probably bring them into the house to keep them warm.   But I didn't feel that would help my cause, so I kept schtum.   'Well, just get some lube on you and make sure you go in up to your elbow - call me once you've done it.'    Dee's pearl of wisdom was not to leave the disposable glove in Daisy.  

I found myself apologising to Daisy before sticking my hand up her rear end.   Not that she minded at that point.  Poor pig was obviously in agony.    And in I went.    Up to my elbow.    And I felt... nothing.  There was no piglet stuck, all pathways were clear.   I reported back to the vet who said that was it then.   If the boar missed his mark, she might have just had one piglet, which would have been the stillborn.    I politely agreed and put the phone down, not believing a word.   I know my Daisy, and she was goddamn pregnant with more than one piglet.   I decide to give it until eight fifteen and if nothing had happened by then I was going to call the vet and tell him to exchange his slippers for wellies and get down here.  

At five past eight the first live piglet came out.   It was a huge relief and Dee and I gave each other a congratulatory hug.   But here where the really stressful bit starts.   Daisy is a big old pig.   The piglets are tiny and not that quick on their feet at minutes old.   The piglets, without any intervention from Mum, find their own way round to her teats to start feeding.   Should Daisy rearrange her position at anytime, the piglets are in danger of getting crushed and it's a really easy thing to happen.   As a human, you feel the need to protect everyone, all at the same time and it's impossible... and REALLY stressful.    Especially as soon as you have a decent number of piglets all around her.   The thing is, if you do dive in and try and move them all out of the way when Daisy moves, you can make things alot worse.  Daisy was picking up on my stress and getting agitated herself, making her move around more and quickly too.   I was not helping.   In the end, Dee and I decided we'd be better off to go back to the house and have a cup of tea.   Daisy was coping well on her own and I was just flipping out.   

The first two piglets
Dee left at around nine and I carried on on my own.   The piglets just kept on coming!   By eleven, we'd reached ten and I was only going up to check on them every so often rather than hanging around stressing Daisy out.   At midnight I went up to check to find Daisy had inadvertently rolled on the biggest piglet and crushed it to death.   I felt awful.   Maybe, if I'd been around I could have saved it - but then I might have caused more stress causing Daisy to roll another way onto maybe two, or three piglets - who knows?  

I took the whole thing very badly.   I was exhausted and alone and felt totally responsible.   Farming was no longer the romantic notion of being outside all the time with chicks, ducklings and piglets at your feet in the beauty of a summer haze.   It was November, the middle of the night and I had a dead piglet that I had to deal with.   Farming seemed, at that moment, a life of extremes.   There are complete highs that little else can compete with and devastating lows.   It's all about life and death and both you deal with on a regular basis.   No wonder farmers get hardened to the fatalities of their livestock.   It's not because they don't care, it's because they have to in order to do the job they do.   And the job they do is absolutely essential.   Farming is essential (regardless of what the supermarkets think).  

I eventually got some sleep at 3am.   At 5am I got up again to check on everyone and then again at 7am.   I stayed up from there and stumbled through the next day in a complete zombie state.

The up shot is, we have nine very happy, healthy piglets and all are doing well.   They are now two weeks old and getting stronger by the day.

Nine happy and healthy piglets