Our pigs are not our pets. We do talk to them, play with them, pat them behind the ears and scratch their backs; but the pork they yield is a staple in our diets throughout much of the year. Losing one or both of them would be not only a huge waste of money, but of the loss of most of a season's growth.
Across the driveway and into the pasture I went, neither of the pigs were to be found. Listening carefully I heard their muffled grunts and snorts from the high grass on the newly opened side of the pasture. Big pig was standing over little pig, nudging her and trying to get her to play. Little pig lay there, staring absently into nowhere and breathing heavily. My mind began racing.
"I am not a vet!"
"What the heck? You were fine this morning!"
"Why did you choose eight thirty at night to get sick when no one is still open?!?!"
"OK, I can handle this. Signs, Symptoms, Pain, Eating, Onset, Provocation."
My step-daughter at my side, I began to evaluate little pig with the skills I had garnered as a first responder. These skills apply specifically to humans, but I figured it couldn't hurt. Hot to the touch - possible fever. Runny nose - possible respiratory issue. DH mentioned something about her limping - leg or hip injury. Nothing in the ears or around...
"Jen, is she going to make it?" The concern in my step-daughter's question was palpable. I had absolutely no idea but sometimes kid gloves are necessary with a twelve year old girl who has only recently been integrated into the realities of farming.
"I don't know, but I am going to do what I can and we will help her through this." I sent her inside to get a blanket and a thermometer while I continued my cursory evaluation and thought to myself,
"Would you mind telling me what exactly
is wrong so I can fix you, PLEASE????"
Fever confirmed, I went inside with my findings and left my step-daughter consoling the pig under a blanket in the middle of the tall grass. It would have been a great picture if I had been thinking like a mom and not like a fledgling farmer trying to save their livestock. A phone call to a friend (who wasn't home), an internet search for pig illness and treatment, a furious search through the garage and the house for the antibiotics I knew I bought prophylactically in case of something like this, then back outside to the hollering of a twelve year old.
Damn, I knew it - too late.
Mixing antibiotic as I ran across the yard; I managed to drop both the treats I had brought to entice the pig back into its house and the syringe (sans needle) to get the medicine into the pig. Zapping myself on the fence as I entered, I made it back to my step-daughter assured that I was going to find a dead pig and bracing myself for what I was going to tell her about the cycle of life.
"We should bring her inside and I can sleep with her in the living room until she feels better." Laughter is the best medicine and that was exactly what I needed at that moment in the falling darkness, at the bottom of the hill, in the tall grass, standing next to a sick pig, swaddled in a blanket. I calmly told her that inside was no place for a pig, we would get her into their house with big pig and they would keep each other warm for the night and we would see how things were in the morning. Disappointed, she made a half-hearted attempt to get little pig up and into her house. We call her little pig because she is smaller than the other pig but she is in no way little weighing in over 100 lbs at only three months old. DH came outside and applied a much firmer hand successfully getting her inside their house with big pig. I did not ignore the advice of several of the websites which told me that they should be isolated from one another, lest the other pig get sick too. I just don't have quarantine facilities big enough, or safe enough to house either pig.
Morning came to find big pig pushing at the door to the house and little pig lying listless in the corner, alive, but not looking good. I fed her some treats and left DH with instructions to administer another dose of antibiotic during the day while I was working. Two days later, she was up and around. I started to get excited that we had stumbled our way through this emergency and come out on top - then big pig started limping.
While we are not certain as the exact cause of this mystery illness, we have isolated it to two possibilities - some older ricotta cheese which may have been past the ability of their digestive tracts to handle and a frog found half chewed in the area of their water bucket. It took about two weeks for both pigs to be return to their normal activities. We stopped the antibiotics as soon as both were up and walking around again with only a slight limp. The fevers have not returned and both pigs have resumed greeting us each night at the pasture gate when we bring them their dinner.
Knowing that we made it through one realtively major emergency with only some lost sleep to show for it is very encouraging to me. I am not sure what I was more worried about; how a twelve year old was going to handle the possible death of the pig or how I was going to financially manage having to add 300 lbs worth of protein back into my now meager grocery budget.