Selfie with Chupa Selfie with Chupa

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.

And so the story goes. .

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.

Chupa spent most of her afternoons bathing in the bog. Chupa spent most of her afternoons bathing in the bog.

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.



Settling Down

Empire to the Rescue

Empire to the Rescue

When we chose Empire as the mother of our herd we had no idea how much she’d teach us , and how many times she would save our butts. Here she is with her new litter of 13 healthy piglets. But even queens make mistakes.



This is Chupa, one of Empire’s daughters, Empire accidentally stepped on her head. Due to her injuries, she could move her legs but wasn’t able to walk. I think she had a concussion.  I’ve been bottle feeding her for five days and she’s shown great improvement, she teeters, but she’s walking.  Though I would rather there hadn’t been an injury, it has been satisfying to see this piglet recover. Empire is helpful even when she makes mistakes.

selfie with piglet

selfie with piglet




Sitting Ducks

In my ‘About’ page I state; this blog will be about the milagros (miracles) and mishaps of our life in rural Mexico. This is an example of the kinds of mishaps that are common.

Recently, I lost both of my sitting ducks, Edith and Nona, to a fox. They were one and two of Three’s family, the only two I had left from my flock of six. They were both within 10 meters our bed as we slept, with only a screen door between us. They were collectively sitting on 22 eggs. Once we realized they were gone, Felipe placed the eggs under 2 sitting hens, but it was unlikely they would hatch because they were probably chilled for at least 12 hours. This was a pretty big failure, out of six ducks the only one that served its purpose was Three, all the rest were lost to predators. I have also lost three chickens.

Because ducks are fussy about their nests I left  Nona and Edith alone as much as possible. Their proximity to the house was sufficient activity. I didn’t notice their absence for about 24 hours, when I realized that Nona had not come for her corn for two days. The first day I thought she’d probably come out while I was taking Felipe his breakfast. Her eggs were so close to hatching I didn’t even want to peek at her, hoping to avoid the problem I’d had with her mother Lucy, who tried to kill each duckling as it hatched, likely due to some disturbance of her nest.

At the time the ducks were taken, three of my dogs were outside. Foxes are sly indeed; it must have waited until the dogs were called away on some hare-brained barking errand, as they are many times a night, and stolen away with them then.

My ducks and chickens don’t have a house for many reasons: building requires money, enclosed animals require food, and I like my animals to have the opportunity to express their nature, which I feel they are more able to do when they’re not enclosed. We have a beautiful yard with a large bird bath, they stroll in search of bugs, bath in the sun and the water; they appear content. Also, we keep ducks near the house to keep the scorpion population at bay, due to their long, hard, powerful beaks there are excellent scorpion hunters.

I miss my ducks. I was enchanted by Nona. Everyday, she stomped out of her nest all puffed up, banged at the screen, and demanded I go to the bodega (store house) to get her some corn. I took my afternoon break from writing during their elaborate bathing ritual, watching them preen was soothing relief for my computer weary eyes.

I still have Gerald, my drake, but his baths are not as dramatic as my sitting ducks were. I have allowed him to sleep on the patio again. I banished him and my first duck Lucy by installing a fence around it, because they slept right in front of the door and left a remarkably large pile of poop there for me to clean every morning. Duck poo had an unpleasant acrid chemical stink, not at all pleasant to wake up to. But now, as I wake to the stench of duck doo, I know that Gerald has made it through another night pressed against the front door just inches from my feet, and I am relieved.

I wish I had a smart, insightful way to wind this up, but I don’t. It sucks to fail. I guess I could give up, not keep animals, or wait until I could invest in a safe facility for them and could afford to feed them. Though it may be selfish, somehow that doesn’t seem like the thing to do. I like the way they meander the yard, and I cherish the deep pull of flight in my chest as they take wing.