I’ve thought a few different times about how I would write this post. I’ve been preparing for it since the day I bought Belle. I didn’t think I would have to write it so soon, but here we are.
Living on a livestock farm, I’ve become all too familiar with the hard reality that our animals don’t get to stay here forever. That’s just not how things work. We sell some pigs as soon as they are weaned, and others will stick around a little longer until they reach market weight. But regardless of their final destination, they won’t be here long.
I’ve watched livestock trailers leave our farm before. Sometimes our trailer leaves with showpigs, sometimes a different trailer will leave with feeder pigs.
But the last time a trailer left the farm, it left with my very first pig Belle.
A little over a year ago, Belle hurt her hip. We weren’t sure if she slipped, got an infection, or pinched a nerve. All we knew was that she couldn’t put any weight on her back leg. Our vet came out to take a look, but he couldn’t figure out what what was wrong with her. We didn’t want to risk terminating her possible pregnancy, so we chose not to give her the recommended steroid, and waited to see what would happen.
To our surprise, she farrowed just a few days after her due date. She had a small litter- only two piglets- but over the next few days she seemed to get better! She was finally putting some weight on her back leg again. After 3 weeks in the farrowing crates, we moved her back to her own pen and we decided we would try to breed her at least one more time.
But it didn’t take long before she started limping again. The harder it got for her to walk, the less she ate. And the less she ate, the skinnier she got. One day I went out to feed her and she wouldn’t even stand up. I can remember walking up to William in the driveway with tears in my eyes to tell him I thought it was time to let her go. Unfortunately, processing plants won’t take a sow that can’t walk, so we were still going to have to play the waiting game. All we could do was keep feeding her and caring for her the best we could, and once again just hope that she would get better.
In the last few weeks, she finally gained some weight back and was able to stand again. It was time to make the hard decision to ship her. Two weeks ago, we finally loaded her onto the trailer for the last time.
Regardless of what you see in the news or online, farmers love and care for their animals. It wouldn’t make sense to treat our animals poorly. We expect them to produce well, and that won’t happen if we mistreat our livestock. But in the end, farming is a business. We can’t keep every single pig or cow or chicken that we get (though I really wish we could). We are in the business of selling show and feeder pigs, so if our sows can’t give us healthy litters, we have to let them go.
Belle was the first pig I had an extremely hard time letting go of. She was the first pig I could really call mine. Before I even bought her, she was helping me set goals and achieve them. (She taught me and my checkbook a few lessons along the way too!) In a perfect world, I would have kept her for a few more years and she would have farrowed multiple litters, but that’s not the way it always goes.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry a little when we shipped Belle, but I’m excited that her daughter is due to have piglets in the next few weeks. While I can’t keep my first pig forever, I can keep her genetics on the farm via her daughters and granddaughters.
Like I’ve said before, farming isn’t always fun. There will be many more goodbyes and tough decisions in my future. But in the end, I know the goals achieved, the lessons learned, and the memories made will all be worth it. Even if it hurts a little sometimes.