As this is a working farm with animals raised for meat, I was (kind of) prepared to be involved with slaughtering at some stage, though I have to admit I was very apprehensive about the idea. But, sadly, one of the animals decided to end it all without our help…
So here’s the sad story of Missy the pig. A couple of weeks ago one Friday we had horrendous weather – snow, then hail, then more snow, then torrential rain. Of course, life on the farm continues so we’d fed the pigs breakfast and walked the goats in the rain, though the rest of the day was spent indoors. Fortunately, when it came to the evening feed it had brightened up a bit. Jeroen had had to go to the dentist so Andrea and I went out to feed the pigs before the rain began again.
The furthest pig enclosures are home to the big male D’Rock (approx. 800lb) and his mate Missy; his other mate Girlie is in the enclosure next door with their piglets. The enclosures are ringed with electric fencing that’s designed to give them a short sharp shock if they touch it – they learn very quickly to stay within the boundary and only really touch it by accident, and then you hear a loud squeal and they carry on with their lives.
We took the buckets of food down, as usual, and dropped it over the fence for the pigs to eat. The fields were very wet and full of puddles but that was to be expected, given the weather. As per usual, the pigs pounced on the food and jostled each other to get the best bits. D’Rock pushed Missy, and she stumbled quite heavily into the electric fence, but rather than squealing and carrying on as normal, she staggered across to the sty, lay down, thrashed around for a while and then died, right in front of us. Then D’Rock mourned her by shagging her head …
At one stage I climbed into the next enclosure so I could get into the sty to see what was happening. She was fitting at the time, and it was obvious there was nothing we could do.
The theory is that she had a weak heart – her daughter had dropped dead for no discernible reason some months earlier, leaving four tiny piglets behind. It could well be a genetic fault caused by some inbreeding further back in their family. So the combination of a weak heart and a hefty shove into the electric fence – plus the fact Missy was probably standing in a puddle at the time – led her to fit and have a heart attack. And D’Rock, animal instincts kicking in as he realised what had happened, mourned her in the only way he knew how.
Apart from when my cat was put to sleep (RIP Peaches ☹) I’ve never seen a living thing die in front of me, and I found it very upsetting and truly shocking (no pun intended). In fact, later that evening I had a bit of a cry.
Jeroen had arrived back from the dentist just as all this was happening, and eventually he managed to get D’Rock into a separate part of the field so we could get to Missy’s body. We then had the problem of how to move a 500lb pig a thousand yards to the house, so she could be butchered rather than going to waste. I was despatched to collect Andrea’s adult son from his home a couple of villages away and between the four of us we managed to get Missy in a wheelbarrow, but she was off balance and it fell over, tipping her into the mud. For the next hour we tried various methods of moving her, including getting the tractor up to the field to drag her out. However, it was now pitch black and pouring with rain again, and everything we tried failed. We even considered putting her in an oil drum and rolling her! Eventually we tied her to a door (easier to pull along in the mud) and dragged her just outside the enclosure, so D’Rock could be released back into the main enclosure so he could return to his sty for the night.
Fortunately, the task was much easier to tackle in daylight. Next morning, Jeroen was able to get the tractor in a good position and, with only a couple of snapped ropes, dragged Missy to where he needed her. She was pulled up onto a pulley, snout to the ground, and Andrea had the gruesome job of gutting her, which was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen, though I did watch with morbid fascination. It was especially interesting to see that the pig’s kidneys were actually kidney shaped, and the small and large intestines were very interesting, in a totally gross way. Once gutted, Jeroen took over and butchered the pig – I had the fun task of washing up the saws and knives!
We then spent the rest of the weekend processing the meat – as this was such a sudden and unexpected death there wasn’t enough room in the freezers, so we cut most of the pig up into cubes ready for mincing, which would take up less room, and then borrowed a freezer from friends. By the end of the weekend I was sick of the sight of meat, though she did taste very nice in the burgers Jeroen made!
In my youth I was a vegetarian for about six years, and while I’ve been an omnivore again for a very long time, I still wasn’t entirely sure about my relationship with meat. So it was interesting to find that when I was cutting big chunks of meat into small cubes, I was fully aware that this was Missy I was cutting up – a pig I had fed and petted and talked to – and you know, I was cool with that. If we’d left her to rot it would have been a total waste, and actually she was being raised for meat anyway, that was her purpose in life, ultimately. And she’d had a happy life, with good food and fresh air and company and plenty of space to explore. And I was totally fine with that. I don’t know if I could actually kill an animal to eat it – I guess we will see, as that’s bound to happen at some point while I’m here – and I definitely think I will make more effort to buy free range meat rather than factory farmed from now on. But it showed me that I am designed to be a meat eater, and that’s okay.
It was a pretty undignified ending for a fine sow though.