Arriving back to the homestead from a fun girls’ out evening, I did not anticipate the choices the coming hours would bring.
As you all know, we have been anxiously anticipating and working to prepare for Lady-Bug’s farrowing event. With her belly ever swelling, we knew our wait was drawing to a close. I have been checking on her more frequently over the last few days so I would not miss the blessed event. I pulled in and immediately changed out of my cute shoes and into my muck boots to spend time making sure Lady-Bug was settled in for the night.
As I entered the pen, I immediately heard an odd grunting from her side that I had not heard before. I quickened my steps through the sucking mud underfoot and rounded the corner. There in her house Lady-Bug stood; panting, grunting and anxious. Below her lay a beautiful black faced and cream kissed nose piglet, noisily rooting around. My immediate response of excitement was quickly snuffed out when I realized the piglet had mangled back legs. From mid-back forward the piglet looked perfectly healthy, but the hind legs were in the shape of a pretzel.
As my husband was away this weekend, it was just me at the homestead. After 20 minutes went by and Lady-Bug produced no additional piglets, I knew I needed reinforcements. I called my mom who quickly came out to assist. As the rain steadily fell, Lady-Bug panted, pushed and paced. As the minutes ticked by with no other piglets making their way into the world, my gut began to sense something was going very wrong. With only 1% of all pig births running into a problem, I tried to reassure myself.
With my mom and I both praying for safe delivery of the remaining piglets and for comfort for Lady-Bug, we stood with flashlights and worried faces as the rain steadily soaked us.
Knowing the likelihood of having to put down the deformed piglet, I called Gabe and he began his journey back home. Although I know if I had to put the piglet down I could, at that moment, I wanted to have my full attention on the distressed Lady-Bug.
My dad came as well to provide back up help and offered to put the piglet down in Gabe’s absence. Although I was grateful for the offer, I did not want to be the sole decider of this little one’s fate.
The minutes turned into hours and Lady-Bug’s distress increased. With Gabe on the way, my parents headed home. As I sat in the dark pen with the rain pouring all around me, I soothed Lady-Bug and told her to have strength and listen to her instincts. The lone piglet was surprisingly agile and scooted itself all around their shelter while Lady-Bug labored.
The evening faded into early morning and no progress had been made. I knew that the coming hours would hold tough decisions. As Gabe arrived home, the decision was made to let her be for a bit and see how she was doing after some quiet time.
After a bit, I headed back out in the rain to check on the laboring mama. I was so disappointed to still see only the lone piglet and an exhausted Lady-Bug. I used a gloved hand to check her to make sure no piglets were stuck in her birth canal and felt none. I offered Lady-Bug water which she refused, but she would take some feed. I was encouraged that she at least could eat some to keep her strength up.
As the early morning faded into late morning, I began to hurriedly call vets capable of caring for pigs and making house calls. After multiple attempts, messages and redials to various vets, we got in touch with a local swine vet whose expertise is pot bellied pigs. She hurried over to our homestead.
As she arrived, she immediately went in to examine Lady-Bug. As I explained the night’s events, I knew by her face we were not looking at a situation that could possibly have a good outcome. As my heart began to sink, I tried hard to stay positive.
The vet administered Oxytocin which assisted Lady-Bug’s uterus in contracting, while the vet tried to pull the remaining piglets out via her birth canal. Lady-Bug pushed and fought to work with the vet in helping her farrow. I knew the longer this went on the more Lady-Bug would suffer. As the vet thoroughly examined the lone piglet, she encouraged us that putting the deformed piglet down would be the most humane thing to do. With a heavy heart, I agreed and held the little one as the medication ceased her breathing. With the piglet put down, all our efforts turned to Lady-Bug.
The vet stated we had several options, take her somewhere to have an emergency c-section or put her down and try and remove any remaining piglets-although there was only a slim chance they would survive. Knowing that the stress of moving and surgery would be too much for Lady-Bug, I made the final decision to sacrifice Lady-Bug in the hopes of saving her piglets. I figured this was the decision any mama would make given the chance.
Lady-Bug was absolutely exhausted and I knew she was suffering. The vet explained that she would first sedate Lady-Bug and then euthanize her as she hurriedly removed the piglets. She handed me several towels and told me to be ready to catch the piglets and stimulate them to breath. As the vet administered the sedative, I watched Lady-Bug’s breathing slow. I stood with the towels in my open arms, praying for the health of her piglets. The vet then stated “I am going to euthanize her now.” I nodded my head in place of answering because I knew my voice would be heavy with emotion. With me, Gabe, my mom and my sister by her side, Lady-Bug took her last breath surrounded by family.
The vet made the initial cuts into Lady-Bug’s belly and searched quickly for piglets. I stood with open arms waiting for a piglet to be handed off to me. As the seconds ticked by, no piglets appeared. I sent up prayer after prayer that at least one healthy piglet would be found. A puzzled look spread over the vet’s face an she stated “there are no other piglets.” I knew at this point, the farrowing journey had ended in a way I never expected.
The vet reported that in all of her year’s of practice, she had never seen a case like this. She concluded that Lady-Bug had genetic defects and was likely impregnated by her litter mate before we adopted her. She reported that Lady-Bug would have likely passed away due to these genetic defects in the future, but with the stress of such a hard labor, her body was not able to pull through.
We buried Lady-Bug and her piglet together deep in the earth. We are so saddened by these unexpected events, but know this is the reality of farm life. Despite having buried two piggy beauties that day, the chickens still needed to be fed, the eggs still needed to be gathered.
Paul Harvey said it best, “And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer…God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’…God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church, so God made a farmer.”
It has been a challenging few months with personal struggles and homestead events. I am looking forward to our mini vacation this week to step away and recharge.
Until next time…