The following was submitted for the Whitmore Farm blog by Trevis Carmichael, one of our interns summer/fall 2013:
The thrumming in my head turned out to be my cellphone alarm, not whatever strange machination the dream-logic of my mind had turned it into. It was something like 3:00am and I quickly prodded my hand around on my nightstand to silence the noise. I hoped I had turned it off fast enough to have not fully pulled Kasey out of her slumber beside me.
In the dark, I pawed around for the clothes I had worn the previous day. I figured the ladies wouldn’t mind if I didn’t dress up for the occasion. The night previous had been Kasey’s night to check and nothing had happened. We were on a four day rotation. We had arrived at Whitmore Farm a couple months prior and had yet to see any births but the season was upon us.
Unfortunately, our expectations of an earlier spring didn’t come to fruition. The first weeks that the sows could be expected to start farrowing had been cold. They had been moved from their pasture to the barnyard so we could keep on eye on them. Conveniently enough, the “old barn” here had been renovated recently and we didn’t have to travel far to check on the sows. In fact, a single concrete wall separated our apartment in the barn from the animal space.
I was dressed —mostly— grabbed the flashlight, and stumbled half coherent into the other half of the barn. I flipped one of the light switches on so that a soft light cast across the heaving masses of life. I was just settling in to the fact that hogs are just as personable and playful as any dog, only a couple weight classes higher. Each had her own rhythmic breathing going; some the staccato patta patta patta on the exhale, others the swine equivalent of a sneeze on every other.
There was something uniquely beautiful about the scene. For some reason I was reminded of those background sound CD’s you see near the check out at Barnes and Noble — Thunder on the Plains, or Waves Crashing on the Coast of Ireland — that are simply 78 minutes of an audio of some romantic place. I could imagine the scene in front of me on the cover and the title Sows in a Banked Barn Sleeping Restfully, Safe from the Cold.
I opened the two blue metal gates that made the lane-way for handling the sheep and goats and moved as delicately as one can half awake and wearing muck boots. We were to check all the sows and make sure that if any were giving birth or looked on the verge, we would stick around and assist the process. Essentially this meant making sure each newly emerged piglet made the correct first choice of left toward mother’s life-providing teats instead of right and into the cold oblivion. It seemed wrong somehow that the first choice in their lives was 50/50; life or death.
It was the probably the third night I had been in charge of checking and because nothing had happened yet, the anticipation was building. As I delicately closed the second blue gate, I could pick out one of the sows breathing that sounded more urgent and strained. She was apparently already awake because she turned suddenly towards me, startled. Suddenly, I was fully awake. I was immediately sure this was time.
She did what can only described as “a near-term sow trying to get up off her side in the middle of the night dance.” She used the support beam beside her as a fulcrum to get to her feet and anxiously searched for some characteristic in the straw bedding all around her. Again, this looked like a dog trying to find a good place to lay down. I figured she was looking for just the right place to start having some babies now that I was present.
She grunted and snuffed and shook her had as she dug through the layers of straw. She reached a spot that seemed satisfactory. I was trying to decide if I should go get Kasey, did I have time? Could one of these piglets slip out quickly in the short time it would take me?
The sow then turned towards me, looked me in the eyes, and grunted. I figured she was about ready to send one out. Shouldn't she be on her side though…….?
* * *
I went back to bed with a particular grin on my face, I’ll leave the adjective modifying grin out to avoid any bad puns. I debated whether or not I would tell anybody about my mistaken conclusions about what that sow needed to do. I decided to wait a few months. What came out of that sow on the fateful night was, sadly, not a piglet.