I just took a 45 minute bath. Want to know what I was doing in there? I was scraping bits of pig feces from my legs, hair, and face.
If you’re wondering how I became covered in pig feces, I’m happy to explain. This is, after all, a farm blog on which I get to share with you the joys and pains of my farming life.
It began last night, when I sat down to do some work at the computer. I was quite enjoying myself – a cup of ice water with lemon freshly poured, rascals put to bed, Stuart out with the guys, my brand new birthing bathrobe on, oils applied, and a favorite station on Pandora playing lightly. It was lovely. And frankly, I was happy to be making good progress on some long awaited blogging projects.
About thirty minutes into my luxurious work session, I heard a slight knock on the door. It was dusk, nearly dark, and I about jumped out of my skin. We live twenty minutes out of town so it isn’t often that visitors come rasping at the door. Much less at night. The introvert and scared housewife in me ran into the bathroom to hide until the stranger left. But then I realized it may be important, so I ran to the door. In my bathrobe. I recognized my closest neighbor immediately.
Ruh roh. I knew what was coming.
“Hey neighbor. Just wanted to let you know that your pigs are out and were running through my yard. I saw them head down to the orchard… not sure where they’re at now.”
(If I wasn’t a proper Christian woman I would confess the words that ran through my head at this very moment.)
The farmer in me took over, as I imagined my expensively fat livestock not only damaging others’ property, but also becoming lost in the dark… on the mountainside… with no husband home to help wrangle them.. and two sleeping children in bed.
A quick phone call ruined Stuart’s chicken-wings-and-beer night. And another quick phone call pulled my Dad from a warm, cozy bed that he was already tucked into. My parents live closer than Stuart was at the time, so I figured they could get here faster to give me a hand.
I don’t know if you’ve ever wrangled pigs on the loose but it ain’t easy. I’ve said it before – pigs are not cows. They move in all kinds of wild ways. I knew I’d need help.
And where the heck were they anyway?
After the (slightly) panicked phone calls, I got into my super awesome golf cart – my main mode of transportation around the farm these days. I figured though I couldn’t venture far into the orchard with the kids asleep in bed, I could at least try and get a view of where they’d been and where they were headed down the driveway.
And so I sped down the driveway, waking up the sheep and Sal as I passed in a golf cart rage, my pink bathrobe ties blowing in the wind.
After a few more minutes romping around in the golf cart, I heard the neighbor shout, letting me know he’d seen them. I was hot on their trail. And within a few more minutes, had them spotted. Thank you, Jesus.
We live on such a large, open mountain – I cannot even describe the relief I felt when I saw those ‘ol hogs. Even if I couldn’t get them contained by myself, I knew I could stand and watch them for the next eight… ten… twelve hours if I had to until help arrived. Eyes on them meant I at least knew where they were. And the joy of that was the type of joy that only the anticipation of hundreds of pounds of pork can bring.
Coaxing them with fresh milk and their most favorite grain, I was finally able to get them back up to our driveway. And there I stood. Corralling the pigs. Sprinting after them as they’d dart away. Tapping their noses and rumps with a stick to ensure they stayed where I needed them to stay. Cussing. Panting.
And then I waited. Though slightly panicked, I waited.
Eventually, help did arrive in the form of my two favorite men and a few good sticks. Once non-pregnant reinforcement arrived (what can I say? I’m not as agile as I once was), we were able to shut the pigs in the shop to keep them contained while we contemplated our next move.
A quick inspection of the corral confirmed that they’d knocked a middle rail down and broken the two 8″ timber ties that were holding it in place. Then, they’d slipped through three stands of barbed wire. All to have a midnight romp in the neighbor’s yard. Lovely.
And here I was thinking that we’d learned our lesson about containing pigs. Silly me.
As the rest of the story goes, cattle panels were purchased, as was a 10′ metal gate. T-posts were sunk. Wire was utilized. It’s the most wonderfully, hideous, patchwork pig corral you ever did see – currently three layers of protection deep: cattle panel, barbed wire, wooden rails.
105 degree temperatures were the real kicker to our pig pen mending day – and yes, it took allllll day. On top of that, we had to still move the pigs about 300 yards up the mountain from the shop to the corral. Reinforcement was once again called and though anything but graceful, the pigs did eventually end up back where they belonged.
And even though it took two showers and a bath to get clean after it all, how thankful I am that they are alive, healthy, and where they needed to be. Sweet sigh of relief.
That was it right there.
Today, I also sigh for my dear cow Sally Belle, whose pregnancy test came back negative. And while my Facebook fans know I threatened to quit farming after receiving that phone call, I alas, will continue to push on in the great pregnancy battle.
I will push on through the rampant pigs. And open cows. I will push on through the owl attack that claimed 40 of our 60 meat chickens. I will push on through the 105 degree temperatures that make me want to claw my own eyes out. And through the uncomfortable third-trimester milking sessions with Sally.
I will push on because this is the life I love. Even though there are times when it’s seriously horrible. That’s just the truth of the matter.
This is what disappointment feels like. Failure to properly house livestock. Failure to get the cow bred back. Failure to keep the meat chickens safe from that damn owl. Failure on so many counts.
And unfortunately, it is is this failure… this pain… these extremely uncomfortable and costly situations that teach the most valuable of lessons. Lessons that farmers carry through with them the remainder of their days. There’s a reason old farmers and homesteaders are so wise – their wisdom has come with a hefty price. Sometimes in the form of monetary loss. Often times in the form of damaged property, injured animals, or even dead ones.
The lessons are not learned lightly.
So this, my friends, is what failure feels like.
And so I sit here, sipping my London Fog, and “planning” on how to remedy our “learned lessons”. The pig pen has been, as far as we can tell, reinforced up to Azkaban standards. I swear, if those pigs escape again, I’m just going to shoot them and call in an early pork harvest. Sally’s beau, Hiro, may be able to pay us another visit at the end of the month and we’ll see if we can’t get her bred this go round – perhaps leaving them together for a few more cycles this time. And as inconvenient as it is, we’ll have to start a second batch of meat chickens at the end of this month and have to call a wash on the first. There are still about 20 birds left from the first batch that will be ready for butcher in about a month, which will at least give us fresh chicken for a few months until the second batch can be raised, butchered, and stored for winter meat.
In a lot of ways, it’s just like calling “do-over”.
I cry ‘uncle’. Dear Lord, give me the strength to continue.
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