It all started when I headed out to put the animals away.
It was a typical Friday night. I was alone. The rancher was working and my son was out with friends. The rain had finally stopped mid-afternoon after dumping another 1.8 inches on us.
It was wet and chilly. I wandered from house to house, checking on animals and shutting them in for the night. As I made my way to the front chicken house, I knew that my ducks had not come in for the evening. I called them. No response. I looked down toward the pasture where they usually sat. No, there weren’t any ducks there. I moved toward the gate that sat between the hog breeding pen and the farrowing house. I was preparing to look for my ducks in the pasture when I heard an unmistakable sound–the grunt of newborn piglets. This was not a good sign!
I hurried over to the breeding pen. Sure enough, our best sow was laying on her side in the driest spot she could find birthing pigs. The piglets, less than a pound each, were falling into the mud, searching for mama. I jumped in the pen and counted piglets as I pulled them from the mud and gently tossed them out of the pen onto some straw. One…2….3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11. Eleven piglets.
Time was of the essence. I needed to get them warm and dry. I needed to get mom out of the pen and into the farrowing house with her babies. It is a two room farrowing house and both rooms were full. To move the new mom in, I had to move one out. I’m not the best livestock hand and being by myself was daunting at best.
I opened the farrowing house. The sow came out and laid in the mud. She was hot. Whew! One task down. As soon as I put the new babies in the house the started squealing. The sow popped up out of the mud and climbed back into the house. I was back to square one.
I scurried up to the house and called the rancher. “She farrowed,” I said. “I put all of her babies in the farrowing house, but I don’t know how to get the one sow out and the momma in. My phone is dead. I don’t have help and I don’t know what to do.” He told me to get the sow out of the house and get a heat lamp hooked up. He would do his best to get home quickly.
I looked down at my shirt. I was covered in blood and sh**, and muck. I could hardly stand the smell. I stripped my shirt off and pulled on a clean shirt. I hurried back to the corrals. She’d had another pig. I picked it up and put it in th house. I opened the gate to the breeding pen in the hopes that I could get momma to follow me. I’m not sure how I did it, but over the next few minutes I managed to move the first sow out and back into the breeding pen. I tried to coax momma out, but I quickly gave up when she snapped at me.
I glanced around. How could I get her to move? What else could I do while I waited for the rancher? Oh! I needed to get the heat lamp set up. I retrieved a heat lamp from the barn. As I walked back toward the pigs, I once again heard the grunting of a little piglet. By this time it was full on dark. I had very little light. We never have what we need on hand–flashlights, extension cords, pliers, heat lamps–never. I climbed into the pen and felt around where I could hear the baby. Finally my hand touched the cold, muddy body. I had to get him to warmth!
After rescuing the final piglet, I crawled into the house to hook up the lamp. There was already a lamp hooked up. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Perhaps he only meant we needed a new bulb. I struggled to unscrew the bulb. I was instantly met with a face full of dirt and who knows what else. I closed my eyes (which mattered not since I was working in the dark) and continued to fumble with the bulb. I replaced the bulb. Still no light. I scooted myself out from under the ledge where I’d been working. I unplugged the current lamp and plugged in the lamp I’d brought down. Still no light. I was frustrated. I crawled out of the house. Soon after, the rancher turned in the drive.
Once the rancher arrived on scene, the story was over. We had to change out an extension cord to get the heat lamp working. The new mom didn’t want to leave the breeding pen. Eventually, we had everything taken care of and were ready to call it a night. As I took a shower before bed, I realized that, between the morning rain and the evening piglet delivery, I had worn and thoroughly soiled three outfits. What a day!