When I was a little girl I had a friend whose family were farmers. I loved Jackie and the Ludwigs, they were self-assured, no nonsense, capable people. They gave big hugs, and ate huge piles of food at their long table full kids and laughter.
Merle, Jackie’s daddy, was a ruddy man with gnarled hands and an earnest smile. I remember one afternoon spent with him in the pig barn, watching a sow give birth. The place was bright and cozy with heating lamps. There was a rail round the birthing pen to protect the piglets. All Merle had to do was tie off their umbilical cords, cut their milk teeth and look them over. The sow murmured peacefully. I watched, fascinated and relaxed, as mucky piglets slid from their mother into Merle’s hands. Jackie went to nap in the hayloft; piglets were a run of the mill happening. Then suddenly, to my horror, Merle dashed a piglet’s head against the concrete wall. It was silent — killed instantly. My anguished gasp must have disturbed him from his meditative method, because he glanced up and spoke (another shock; he wasn’t one to explain himself.)
“Abby, that piglet would have suffered and died. It was kinder to kill it.”
Then he turned back to his vigil, and I went to the hayloft and cried. I didn’t disturb Jackie; I didn’t want her to think I was a wimp. She was a real farm girl, I knew she’d never cry over a piglet, or doubt her father’s judgment.
I thought of Merle the day I found Chupa with her little legs spinning, covered in fire ants, unable to stand. I asked Felipe to kill her. I’m ashamed to say I usually lack the courage to kill , even to be merciful .
He said, “Let’s give her a day or two.”
I understood. When you raise animals, you’re responsible for bringing lives into the world . Even though it’s their destiny is to die, we’re still inclined to save them; give them time, care —hope.
Sadly, but appropriately, Chupa has been slaughtered. She never fully recovered from her head injury, and as she grew it was harder for her to walk and play without falling. I was concerned she’d tumble into the creek ravine and be seriously injured. My brother-in- law Santos, an experienced butcher, came to the house; she died here with us, swiftly. The meal was made for my sister-in-laws 50th birthday party. It was a fitting end to a truly happy piggy existence.
I loved raising Chupa, but she consumed a lot of resources and we lost money on her; small losses make a difference on a farm like ours. Felipe has since realized that not culling when it’s appropriate stresses the sow, and undermines her ability to care for her healthy piglets. I’ll not likely have the opportunity to bottle feed a piglet at eleven… one… three… and five o’clock in the morning again, and though I wouldn’t trade my time with Chupa for all the lost sleep —that’s okay with me.