Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Honey Baked Ham.

Posted on | December 14, 2011 | 8 Comments

So far, the test pig is a bit of a dud.

He managed pretty well for the first 2 days.  Then I had to go to work for a 24 hour shift.  The animals don’t get sick/injured/die/give birth/escape every time I go to work off the farm.  But if they’re going to do it, that’s always the time they choose.  By the time I strolled in the door at 6:00 am, Pretty was waiting for me.

“We better check on Papa Noel before school, ” she said, with a glisten of tears in her eyes.

I almost told her I was going to do the barn animals after I got her and her brothers on the bus and slept for a few hours, but what was the point?  As any farmer knows, you will not sleep a wink wondering how bad it is really is in the barn and thinking you might have saved an animal by dealing with things earlier.  The parable of the lost sheep may be unfathomable to the rest of the population, but every farmer I know has staggered out into the darkness to search for the single member of the flock that is struggling, regardless of how many are resting safe and comfortable in the barn.

So we headed out into that magical light when the moon is still shining on the west side of the house and the predawn pink is showing on the east side.  And even in that dim haze I could see Papa Noel was not doing well.  He stumbled onto his side several times as he emerged from a lump of hay.  He let most of the milk in his bottle dribble onto the ground and didn’t show any interest in his pellets.  He began shivering immediately and sneezed a couple times.  When I approached to stroke his side I could see several of his feet were swollen right about the coronary band.  To top things off, one of eyes was stuck closed with gunk.  Not a good start to the morning.

Back inside the house, everyone got ready for school (We’d already missed the bus, so I’d have to join the drop off line of vehicles filled with parents in suits and dresses and NOT bleach-stained sweat pants covered with hay, mashed pig pellets, and an unidentifiable but stinky black blotch), and I sent a few quick emails out to friends for pig advice.  When I returned from that humiliating appearance at the school, I settled on 2 cups of strong coffee instead of a nap, and then hit Google to see if any medications I had on hand would be helpful.  Obviously the oral aureomycin wasn’t sufficient, but luckily I had some penicillin that was in date.  And had specifics on how to give a pig an IM injection.  Go figure.

I still liked arnica for swelling and pain in his feet, as well as general trauma, but decided to switch to the tablets dissolved in water rather than just slipping them in his mouth.  Maybe he was spitting them out.  And since I was going to be home, it wouldn’t hurt to dose him with that every 4 hours or so until I saw a big improvement.  Maybe I’ll save the sleeping for when I’m dead.  Plus, the last thing he needed was to waste energy trying to keep warm, so a new shelter was in order.

He’s not coming into the house, I told myself as I searched the farm property for scraps to make him a smaller, easier-to-conserve-heat, pen.

He’s not coming into the house, I told myself as I tried to figure a safe way to run a heat lamp to him without leaving the cord in the rain or the light too close to the hay.

He’s not coming into house, I told myself as I lined up medications and syringes and foot ointments and applicators on top of feed cans in the barn.

When I picked Papa Noel up, he began to scream.  He didn’t stop.  He went on and on and on, screaming and shaking and turning his blind, gunky eye towards me, and trying to hold his limpy leg away from my side.  He screamed so loud and for so long that I couldn’t even hear my neighbors cursing me or the sound of the sirens approaching because of the 911 call telling the sheriff’s department that someone was being murdered.  He screamed while I stroked him.  He screamed while I shushed him.  He screamed while I remembered 2 horrible facts:

I am NOT a vet.

I am NOT a pig farmer.

I faltered.  I began to lose my nerve.  I felt panic sliding up my spine.  I started to crouch and let him down.  But then, in the midst of that awful screaming, I remembered another fact:

I AM a mother.

Dealing with screaming, sick babies is my forte.  And there’s one thing that always calms a sick, screaming baby.

“We are going into the house, ” I told Papa Noel, and tucked him safely under my arm.

He screamed as we came in the front door and down the hall.  He screamed as Tasha, the ferocious Rottweiler, headed upstairs with her tail tucked between her legs.  He screamed while I put the stopper the mudroom sink.  He screamed while I gathered barn towels and a wash cloth.

He stopped when I gently set him in warm, steamy sudsy water.  He stood stiff and still and quiet as I began splashing water up to his knees and dribbling warm rivulets down his back.  I began to hum.  Because nothing bad can happen when you’re humming.  He tipped his head and looked at me with his good eye.  I hummed and he began to lean into my scrubbing on his sides.  I hummed and he turned his butt to me for a good wash.  I hummed and Papa Noel, the same piglet who had just barely tolerated us touching his sides and the ridge of his back for the last few days, let me scrub behind his ears.  And in his ears.  And under his tummy.  And soak his eyes until the gunk rubbed away.  And run the washrag up and down his sore legs until I could see exactly where the swelling started and see if he had actual sores or just clumps of dirt.  Then I put a couple of towels in the dryer to warm up.

When the water got cold, I let it drain and replaced it with more fresh, warm water so I could clean his toes.  And between his toes.  I hummed while rubbing under his chin.  And I hummed while I gave him a quick shot of penicillin in the scruff of his neck. He didn’t even notice.  I hummed while I wiped all the creases in his snout until they were spotless.  And I hummed while I dribbled a bit of arnica past his lips into his mouth. He didn’t mind at all.  Only when he began to shiver a bit did I drain the water for last time. I placed the towels from the dryer in the empty sink and draped more warm towels over his back.  Then I left him there to root and snort happily while I went out to the barn to make more suitable digs for him.

Turns out his first pen was too big.

But keeping him locked in this crate would be too small.

Good thing I have enough junk resources laying around the farm that I could make an area that was just right.

Please note the heat lamp and the fancy bucket “gate” (Enabling one to step in and out of the pen with ease if you’re under age 30 and with only the assistance of one hand to lift your thigh clear of the pickets if you are over age 30).

It’s a pen even the 3 Little pigs would love.  Or is that the 3 bears?  Or Goldilocks?  Hmmmm…I’ve read The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales so many times I can’t remember who actually needed a house that was just right.  Anyway…

When I returned, I warmed Papa Noel a bit more with the hair dryer on low and then scooped him up.

“We are not staying in the house,” I told him.

Because this is real life and not a fairy tale, he screamed all the way down the hall, out the door, across the yard, and into the barn.

I hummed.

But when he got to his new pen–tucked into the most sheltered corner of the kidding barn, with fresh straw, and a heat lamp right outside the door to his dog house–he stopped screaming and grunted happily.  He scarfed down an entire bottle and nibbled his pellets before submitting to an all over body rub with extra scratches behind the ears and under the chin.  At some point, he drifted off to sleep.  And since I didn’t have a blanket to put over him, I settled for moving the heat light so it would keep him warm where he slept.

After checking my friends’ advice, I’ve decided to stick with the penicillin and arnica until the swelling clears up.  Plus a bath every couple days to clean out and dry up any lingering infection in his feet.  By the time Pretty came home from school and went out to give him another dose of arnica, Papa was up & about, looking for some more food, and using all his legs again.

Turns out you don’t have to be a vet or a pig farmer.  In a pinch, being a mother works out just fine.

Which actually doesn’t even surprise me at all.

P.S.  I know what you’re all thinking.  But I’ve heard that hand raised, coddled pig is the best tasting meat on the market.  Papa Noel will so sweet his ham hocks won’t even need the honey glaze.  And just think of the sugar-cured bacon!  Yum, yum, yum! 😉


8 Responses to “Honey Baked Ham.”

  1. Courtney Leckey
    December 14th, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    Cute piggy!! Can I come and snuggle with it?

  2. Jennifer
    December 15th, 2011 @ 3:25 am

    That pig is so stinking cute!
    I believe you and your honeybaked dreams… I’m just not sure all the rest of us will be able to handle it. A few more posts about Papa and we’ll be hoping a spider who weaves words in her web will show up in his pen!

  3. Kelsie
    December 15th, 2011 @ 5:01 am

    Gotta love a mudroom sink…I am sure that bath did wonders to help cure what ails him too…Not to mention a great bonding moment…meaning you will be able to catch him easy when the time comes 😉

    Hope you got a little sleep last night too.

    Blessings Kelsie

  4. katherine
    December 15th, 2011 @ 7:23 am

    Hey neighbor,
    You are my favorite blogger. I smile every single time a read a new post here.

  5. Jill
    December 15th, 2011 @ 9:54 am

    And all was right with the world ( for the next few minutes ). Sweet story. Good luck!

  6. Annabelle
    December 15th, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    the truth! you just need to be a mother… and we eat our babies too over here in CA.

  7. Cheryl
    December 15th, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    you tell a story so well. thanks. I skip all the other emails when I see yours.

  8. Lisa D
    December 19th, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

    Again – I am a city girl. I don’t even want to meet this guy!

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