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A Revelation
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Cindi    Posted 06-19-2004 at 07:02:04       [Reply]  [No Email]
Fred and I were standing at the side of the auction barn staring at five great, huge Yorkshire sows that were waiting their turn in the sales ring. Each of them seemed to have an injury of some sort. One had a gaping wound in her shoulder. Another lay on the floor, her massive left flank quivering constantly. A clear indication of pain. The immediate question in my mind was, were these animals brought here because they were injured or were they injured in the process?

Any one of them could have been Daphne, or Emily, or one of our other sows. I wondered breifly if any of them had ever been scratched behind the ear, or given a treat of five-day old cinnamon bread, the way we do for our brood sows on occasion. I think at least one might have been, as she came tentatively to the fence and looked me right in the eye, standing there as though expecting...something.

Behind us, a wild sow resting quietly in the floor of a trailer. Around her, were eight brand new wild piglets, shaky and confused as they wandered about on the strange hard surface of the plywood floor. It was clear that the sow had given birth during transit. There was no water or food in sight.

Without doing an actual head count, I guessed that in the pen next to the sows were thirty some pigs in the neighborhood of forty to sixty pounds. The only surface of the floor not covered by pig were the two southern corners. The toilet areas for all those pigs. In order to to keep from lying in their own feces, they were stacked like cord wood...three deep in some spots.

Fred could not seem to take his eyes off the old sows.

"There's something seriously wrong with taking an old sow who has provided service and God knows how many litters of pigs, and having her end up this. Like so much dead weight." He said.

"What do you mean?"

I peered at him anxiously in the pale-yellowish light eminating from the inside of the auction barn, afraid of what he was going to say. He shrugged.

"It just seems wrong." He said, not meeting my eyes.

"Let's go sit back down." I said, not wanting to hear at the moment, the rest of what he had on his mind. I was afraid it would be too close to what I was thinking. There was no way to keep from making comparions between these sows and ours. Sows that we know almost as well as we know our children. Their habits, their quirks, their personalities.

I don't know what we're looking for when we go to these places. We tell ourselves that we're looking for a place to sell our animals. That's why when we heard about this one, a new one in the area, we went to check it out. Initially, we were very impressed. It was clean, and well-lit. The staff walked about briskly in new t-shirts with the name of the auction barn emblazoned across the back. The animals came in one door, were displayed on a concrete floor covered with fresh cedar chips and then, after the bidding, were hustled out another door with clockwork precision.

We returned to our seats on the bottom row of a bleacher, so close to the bidding ring that I could smell the breath of the animals as they paraded through. I tried to tell myself that this place was different. It was shiny and new and the animals would benefit from that. It was a good auction. A 'better' one.

Then, as I always do, I started watching the animals closely.

It began with the goats. Some of them so young that they had clearly been weaned too early. I did my best to turn a deaf ear to their plaintive cries for their mothers. Some of the older goats were limping, one out of four legs displaying some obvious sign of injury. Nannies with udders that were grossly misshapened. Billys that were missing a horn, or were underweight, or just so dam ugly that only their mothers could have truly found something beautiful about them.

One young nanny came in, tripping and falling as she passed the threshold. She righted herself and went to the middle of the ring, staring out at the faces peering back in at her. Her ears flicked backwards breifly as the auctioneer started his rapid sales delivery. For almost two full minutes she stood stock still, taking it all in. A price was settled on and she was ushered out the other door, and I couldn't help thinking how she interpreted what she saw, as she peered through the fence at the buyers.

We waited for the great sows to appear. I don't know if it was morbid curiosity, or a sincere need to know the price they would fetch, but wait we did. Until almost eleven p.m. Finally, the first of the old girls announced her arrival with a enraged squeal. She burst through the door causing the three ring attendants to sit up and take notice of her immediate whereabouts. Despite the gash in her shoulder, she moved like a queen, prancing back and forth, daring anyone to get in her way.

The auctioneer started the bidding at two hundred and twenty-five dollars. This sow had to be in the neighborhood of five hundred plus pounds. It was clear that the owner was aiming for at least fifty cents a pound live wieght. When the bidding stalled at one hundred and thirty dollars, the auctioneer banged his gavel abruptly.

"No sale! It takes two-twenty-five folks."

"No sale, number twenty-six!" Announced the auctioneer's aid over the loudspeaker, and the old sow was herded back out the other door. My immediate thought was that she would be crammed back into the small pen she had come from, and maybe forced to wait there for the next auction and maybe better results. Would anybody tend to that shoulder? Would she survive for another two weeks?

Fred and I got up and walked back to the holding area again, where the four other old sows still waited.

"Can you seriously picture one of our animals here?" Fred asked.

Of course I wanted to say no, but out of frustration I vented.

"What else is there!?" I demanded. "We can't just keep them forever! If we can't handle culling our herd we may as well just give up! We can't feed them indefinitely if they are not producing, Fred. They could live for fifteen years. We would go banckrupt."

He got quiet for a moment, still staring at the sows, and then said something that brought a feeling of releif mixed with anxiety. He spoke so quietly, I had to lean close to hear him, and when he spoke, my eyes stung with tears.

"Maybe we're not cut out for this."

For the first time, he put into voice what I have suspected all along. Instantly I remembered the day he had to leave the property when one of our boars had to be put down. How bad he felt the day he had to shoot a pig that escaped. How he refused to put Low-Rider down when he was born missing half his back legs.

I remembered how long he waited before making the decision to put Clementine down, and even then he didn't do it, he let Jake do it. It took me two years to convince him that J-Lo had to go, and even though he finally agreed, she's still lying out there now. I tried to remember even one incident of him performing a mercy killing and could think of none, and the truth hit home like a punch in the stomach. My husband does not have the heart for this life.

That only leaves me. The question is, do I have the heart for it? Can I be the one to make the hard decisions? Can I be the responsible party? Was it fair of me to assume that he would always be the one?

We're off now, to buy feed. A three hour round trip and there will be some serious discussing going on. I don't know what our future holds. We may have to make some hard choices. We may have to consider another life-style. Fred may have just been speaking the words of a weary man who has a great deal of compassion. Maybe his words were hasty, but history indicates that he spoke from the heart.

I don't know what's going to happen.

KellyGa    Posted 06-19-2004 at 16:47:17       [Reply]  [No Email]
Cindi, Cindi, Cindi, what to say. Well...after visiting I can see Fred is a sweet hearted man. So, if that leaves you to make all those culling decisions all to yourself, that would get old fast. I know its hard enough for YOU to make the decisions, but when you don't have anybody backing you up, it makes it even harder. I know I'm not cut out for it. Thats why all my chickens are pets, lol!!! I don't have any answers for you, wish I did. Maybe just do what I do, have a few of everything and enjoy them for what and who they are.

Ron/PA    Posted 06-19-2004 at 12:03:34       [Reply]  [No Email]
I guess I'd be a bit upset as well, but I'm also shocked. We have 2 local livestock auctions and neither one of them would sell injured stock, and anyone leaving a newborn litter out like that would probably be run off the property by the farmers before the management could even get to it.
You can sell anything from a single chicken to a dairy herd, but if it shows up there it better be healthy and unharmed. We all know that injuries can occur during loading and unloading, but sick or wounded animals aren't welcome. If you bring 5 pigs and have one at home with a wound, they'll sell it on your word, but don't show up with it at the auction.
Then again once you unload them into the stall, or park the trailer, it's best to consider them income, not pets.

eg    Posted 06-19-2004 at 07:15:11       [Reply]  [No Email]
i understand! i can remember by father used to
tell me that i did not have what it takes to be
a sucessful farmer, and that is why i am now just
a country boy with a yard full of chickens. what
ever decesion you and husband come to i wish you
the very best. take care, eg

JDK    Posted 06-19-2004 at 08:42:06       [Reply]  [No Email]
It is difficult for small operator as they become so familiar with their animals.I grew up on a family dairy farm.We had 30-40 head all of which were named,not numbered and were as familiar as friends on the street.Each cow had it's own stall with a name card above and they knew which one was theirs when returning from pasture.This used to fascinate non-cow folks to no end.Each animal had it's own personality and looking out at the pasture you could say"Jingles is actin frisky today,or Blackies limping..etc.It was always a stressful time when culling a non-producer,injured or aged cow or when one died,but I grew up to realize that it too was part of the"necessary" part of the business.
Nowadays I see the big corporate farms,hundreds of cows,being milked around the clock.No names just a number tag,no"personal" stall,just a gathering pen if they're not chained up 24/7 like a row of milk making machines,easily replaced if they wear out or break down and wonder if these"farmers" many of who commute to work,have any consideration for the anumals at all.God/Nature/The Grand Scheme/Great Spirit etc gave humans dominion over the animals however, how we choose to excersize our superiority is for us each to determine.In such a case as Cindi originally posted we must"see" the whole picture,but do not need to participate in parts of it.Perhaps the auction barn should be eschewed in lieu of private sales/farm auctions.For me at least,it is easier to see the animal leave in a dealers truck or be delivered as ordered than to participate in that facet of the process.JMHO/Sorry for the length.

Cindi    Posted 06-19-2004 at 15:55:50       [Reply]  [No Email]
I was going to put off the conversation until we got well down the road. I didn't want to bring it up first thing. Wanted to wait and get my thoughts arranged first.

No sooner did we pull out of the yard, than my mouth started moving all by itself.

"Something you said last night has been worryin' me."

"Oh? What was it?"

"You know...about us maybe not being cut out for this."

"For what?"

"Fred dammit! Think! Last night you said it at the auction."

"Oh!" He peeered at me through his sunglasses. "What about it?"

I could see that he was going to make me peel him like an onion.

"" I pushed.

He shrugged.

"Well, I just meant that maybe we were not cut out for the auction environment. I don't mind telling you, Cindi, I have a real hard time with some aspects of this life. I can kill deer or wild hogs or something like that every day, and it doesn't bother me a bit, but when it comes to killing something that I have been feeding for years, something that has been working for us, it's a whole different story."

"I don't mind you telling me that! In fact, I'm glad that..."

"The thing is..." He interrupted me. Ooops. It appears I had done opened a flood gate. (grin)

"The thing is, I think it's wrong to use an animal and not have some way of repaying them for their service. What are we going to do? Let Daphne have twenty or thirty litters of pigs for us, and then the minute she can't produce, haul her off to some bone factory?"

"Bone fac...?"

"You know what I mean." He frowned. "There needs to be some compensation for services provided. It's only fair. It's only right. Don't you think? Maybe," he continued, "maybe we could turn them out in the grove, and just feed them a little bit, let them root and finish out their years in peace."

"No. That won't work." I shook my head. "We'll end up with a bunch of little wild piglets out there or worse yet, they could get out of the grove and end up in the highway or something. We can't risk that liability."

"Well, then, we'll section off a pasture for retired sows, and just leave them be."

"But we still have to feed them. How do we justify the expense?"

"It costs us about eighty cents a day to feed one of those sows. I think it's more than a fair return for what they provide us with."

"But there has to be a limit. What happens when we have fifteen retired sows out there? Then you're talking twelve dollars a day. We have to have a plan. There has to be a cutoff. We can't support them indefinitely."

"Maybe so. Maybe we can come up with a time frame, but whatever it turns out to be, know that I am not going to waltz out there and put a bullet in their brains when the time is up. I'm not too proud to tell you that it would break my heart, and I just won't do it."

I smiled at him.

"That's okay. I'm glad that you feel that way.." I patted his hand. "We need to have a time frame arranged. The day a sow hits the retirement pasture, the clock starts. After three months, say, we call in doctor Gary and have him put her down with a shot. That's thirty-five dollars. It'll end up costing us about a hundred dollars more or less a head, to retire a sow, by the time you figure in three months of feed and the shot. The proceeds from one show pig. That's do-able, don't you think?"

"Well, it's a sight better than dragging her to an auction, or shooting her. That sounds like a plan."

"Just for the record, you don't have any problem taking piglets to the auction?"

" may seem weird but I don't. I don't feel like I owe them anything. I want to see them handled humanely, but I know what we are raising them for. I don't have a problem raising animals knowing that they are going for food. I just feel an obligation to the sows, and I won't just dump them."

I turned my head and gazed out the window. I didn't want him to see me smiling. He's just macho enough to take offense and think I was laughing at him. Which I wasn't. Of course I wasn't. If he could callously walk out there and kill a sow, a friend, an employee, if you will, in cold blood without a second thought, that would frighten me a little, to be honest.

It may be unconventional and even downright stupid, to pay to keep an unproductive animal, even for just a few months, but it appears that that is exactly what we are going to do. It's well worth the hundred dollar retirement fee, so that we can both sleep at night.

Chas in Me    Posted 06-19-2004 at 16:15:39       [Reply]  [No Email]

I don't know you or your situation, but I am guessing we have been treated to another story.
You have a remarkable talent for conversation, and I like reading what you write.
True or not, Thank You again.

steve19438    Posted 06-19-2004 at 17:18:18       [Reply]  [Send Email]
a "novelette" perhaps? fine writing.

KellyGa    Posted 06-19-2004 at 16:51:19       [Reply]  [No Email]
Well good, I am glad he was able to talk to you about it. Men sometimes tend to hold too much in, and he spilled his guts for you, thats saying something about y'alls marriage :)

Cindi    Posted 06-19-2004 at 17:41:19       [Reply]  [No Email]
Hey Kelly girl!

I knew we would find away to work it out. We always manage to somehow. It took four years for him to say right out loud that he can't/won't/couldn't possibly do what is really required to be efficient and profitable. Oh well, one day I'm going to be old and non-productive. Nice to know he feels this way. Not that I am comparing myself to a sow. You know. (grin)

Thanks steve, chas, eg, JDK and Ron also for responding.

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