(Click to enlarge and clarify)
It actually was a pretty nice day, considering all the hoopla about a possible nor’easter. After Wednesday’s cold, showery front and yesterday’s upper-air trough with it’s deep purple and angry-looking clouds, the wind swung around from the cold north, backing to the west and even a little south of west. The sun flirted with the clouds, only rarely breaking through, but the day was milder and drier, and I decided I might as well enjoy it.
People are always saying that there once was a man who, on his deathbed, stated he spent most of his life worrying about things that never happened. That seems foolish. I spent my time worrying about things that actually did happen, but what I then discovered was that the dreaded events weren’t so bad as I had imagined. That takes a lot of the anxiety out of worry. Worry has less sting, and becomes more like simply observing.
I spent a lot of the day looking up at the clouds. The sky did not look ugly, or filled with foreboding, but rather it seemed confused.
A weak ridge of high pressure was trying to swing the north wind to a south wind, but a lot of “junk” was mixed in. The above map is enormously simplified. If one drew in all the fading traces of old fronts and occlusions and upper air troughs, (the meteorological Halloween ghosts and the ghosts of ghosts,) the map would be a veritable jungle of lines.
To be truly scientific you would have to keep track of every action-and-reaction, and every cause-and-effect, from the vast macrocosm down to the minute microcosm, and your brains would simply fry. I think that is what worry is: Frying brains. At some point you have to give it up, and simply deal in generalities.
If you look at the above map you can see the clouds from the building storm off shore, and the clouds from the digging trough to our west, and a partly cloudy area between them, over New England. That partly-to-mostly-cloudy patch was the generality passing over today. It was the brief “better” between two “bads.” Not much to write home about, but not without beauty, either. Sometimes a single sunbeam is all I need.
This brings me around to the brief life of pigs. They are often alive less than a year, going from little piglets to 200 pounds, and then to a frying pan as bacon. Compared to them we are like redwood trees, tall and seemingly eternal.
And boy, can pigs ever worry! If they run up against the slightest problem in their lives, their screaming squeals would convince a judge and jury they were dying. Five seconds later, they are happy as clams.
(photo credit: http://www.betawired.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Pigs.jpg )
I like to have a few pigs around our farm-childcare, as it seems important to me that children know, as our grandparents knew, where their bacon comes from. Too many people nowadays are completely disconnected from that reality. They lack the understanding that life involves the devouring of other life, and even seem to feel our Creator was wrong to construct Creation the way He has.
I think pigs are a valuable addition to a farm, for they make use of food that would otherwise be wasted as garbage. To those who say the garbage could be composted, I simply say pig manure is a better compost. What’s more, pigs tend to churn their manure into the soil, creating an area so rich that, if you move the pigs to a different spot, the old pen can become a lush pumpkin patch, even if was sterile soil before the pigs moved in.
Vegetarians are always reciting a bit of algebra to me, involving the fact it takes ten energy-units of grain to produce one energy-unit of meat, as if farmers are dunderheads and don’t know what is practical. The thing of it is that pigs can take zero energy-units of garbage, and produce one energy-unit of meat, in the same manner that goats can live on stony land that would grow zero energy-units of grain, and produce one energy-unit of milk. (And this doesn’t even mention the use we can make of hair and hides.) The old-time farmers knew what they were doing, when they allotted their time and their lands.
However there is no getting around the fact children like pigs, and find them fascinating. Perhaps pigs remind us of ourselves, in a way. One of my favorite things to do is to feed the pigs with small children watching, and then, when the beasts have their usual bad table manners, snouting each other aside, and slobbering and grunting and smacking lips as they eat, I turn to the children and pretend disgust, and exclaim, “What horrid manners! Disgusting! They eat like pigs!” The children always look up to me with laughing eyes and explain, “That’s because they are pigs, Mr. Shaw!”
I have to take care the children don’t make pets of them. When I first opened our childcare they did get too attached to a pig named “Brick”, and I felt terrible when the time for Brick’s slaughter approached. I said I was merely going to move Brick to a different farm, but a know-it-all nine-year-old informed the younger children of what would happen at “the other farm.”
I knew I was in trouble when I noticed a group of small girls glaring balefully, as I left for lunch one day. When I arrived back at the farm after a lunch I discovered my staff had nearly called the police.after the girls hatched a plot, and had secretly crept off while the littler children were being pacified and bedded down for “quiet time.” After a brief panic the older girls were discovered around Brick’s pen. When an explanation was demanded, they stated they were holding a prayer meeting. They were raining tears down upon Brick, who happily looked up at them, delighted at the attention. (To avoid a re-occurrence of this sort of Charlotte’s-Web-heartache, I now tend to limit contact with the pigs when they are tiny and adorable, and to give pigs names like “Bacon” and “Pork Chop”.)
I myself have gotten too fond of pigs in the past, though it is usually for material and selfish reasons. Such was the case involving two sows named Za-za and Eva, who were wonderful mothers and could raise 14 piglets because each had 14 working teats, (rather than the usual 12.)
Usually a sow is slaughtered after a litter or two, mostly because they get very big with time, and then can be harder to handle. Also I suppose the meat gets tougher. However I also discovered that having a pig die a “natural” death is not always a serene event.
It happened one night after midnight. Eve began screaming and crashing about in her pen. After ten minutes she was staggering, and ten minutes later she was on her side peddling her legs, and then it abruptly ended. The entire twenty minutes she was screaming in a deafening way, apparently in pain and in panic. (The vet later said ulcers are relatively common in older pigs, and Eva had one that ruptured.)
The next morning all I had to show for my affection and care was well over 300 pounds of dead meat that was nearly impossible to budge and was rapidly bloating. In the old days I suppose I could have hired some guy to come pick her up and haul her off to be turned into dog food and fertilizer, but in these modern times she was good for nothing but burial, using a backhoe. I had taken both an emotional and financial hit. I decided, as I remembered Eva screaming for 20 minutes, that dying in a half second, due to a bullet to the back of the head, was far preferable for the pig, and also for me.
Another danger, besides getting too attached to the pigs, is that children rapidly grow smaller than the little piglets they play with. Once a pig gets larger than the child it is important to keep in mind that pigs are not entirely civilized. Lurking within a cute, pink farm-pig is a wild boar, and when a pig gets over 150 pounds I watch even myself, even when scratching the beast’s backs and hearing them grunt in pleasure. (Often a pig will flop onto their sides in complete bliss, if you give their back a good scratching.) Despite their benign moods, one should never forget pigs become incredibly strong, much stronger than a man, and they do lose their tempers, often wounding each other over a nothing, a battle over a banana peel. They can do a man damage in a brief fit of temper. It’s not that they don’t like you; its just the way they are.
My general rule is to do my best to give a pig a good and happy life. When the end comes, the pig does not see it coming. They have no worry. All in all it isn’t a bad deal: I have fed them, and then they feed me.
I do worry, when it comes time bring the pigs to the slaughterhouse, because loading pigs into the box I construct in the back of my truck can be, (and has been), a complete fiasco.
I remember one 350 pound sow decided she didn’t like the looks of the ramp that led up into the truck, and started to back away. I had three strong friends helping me, and we were attempting to herd her with four-by-eight foot sheets of plywood. She was quite able to shrug us aside like we were flyweights. Various walls and fences were rapidly being smashed and crashed, and it was looking like the huge sow might bust loose and head off to some neighbor’s rose garden, when I remembered something I’d read about, and thrust a five gallon pail over her head. She tried to back away, and by steering her as I kept jamming the pail against her face, I backed her up the ramp and into the truck.
Today I put my worry to good use, and used every trick I could think of. I constructed a sort of alley from the pen to the truck, and limited distraction, including covering the ramp into the truck with a thick bed of straw, so it felt more stall-like and usual underfoot, than a metal ramp usually does. I underfed them beforehand, and then mixed a little blue cheese in with their grain, and let them have some good sniffs at the pail without giving them any, before opening the gate of their pen.
It is always more difficult to load two pigs than one, as the first tends to bolt before you can get the second one up the ramp and into the truck, but today they were more like lambs than pigs. I’ve never had such an easy loading, and the unloading them was the same, 20 miles away.
I think one reason the event was nothing like the worries I imagined it would be was because I didn’t have any sense I was harming the pigs. I reminded myself that, if I let them stay in their pen, they would suffer in the howling snow and wind, forecast for Sunday morning. Pigs have an animal instinct that smells your mood when you are scared or angry, or feeling guilty, but I felt no guilt, and they knew it.
And soon they’ll know if pigs can fly.
(Photo credit: http://paxonbothhouses.blogspot.com/2014/02/see-similarity-between-lincoln-and-obama.html )