Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Bill dumped the feed along the sides of the freshly scraped pen and looked around. 747 wasn't there to greet him as usual and though he could usually pick her out in a crowd, he began to look at the ear tags for her number, seven-four-seven.

All of the hogs had individual numbers though some were known by names. All of the boars were written down on cards by their names even though they had numbers. It was just easier that way because everyone involved knew who George or Bill were but nobody knew who 1047 was. The boars were only a handful but the sows were well over a hundred and thus they were mostly just numbers, that is with the exception of 747.

Yes her name was her number but she didn't mind. She was one of the smartest and friendliest pigs that Bill had ever seen. She could unlock any gate on the farm until he had taken to putting padlocks on them. Even they didn't stop her and she took to jumping the fences from time to time to get where she wanted to go. As Bill searched the pen where she had been the night before, he began to suspect that she had jumped again. He climbed over the fence into the next pen and began to scrape it clean.

When he was done, there was still no sign of 747 so he reached back over the fence and grabbed the buckets of feed that he spread down the sides of the pen. The sows lined up and hungrily ate. Bill started to turn towards the fence with the next pen when he heard a dragging sound from inside the barn. He stooped under the low opening and saw 747.

Almost immediately upon her arrival, 747 had been different. The other guilts had been more interested in checking out their new home but 747 had sidled up to Bill and put her head under his hand. At first he had absent-mindedly scratched her head like he would a dog until he realized what he was doing. Then he paid more attention and scratched her with more enthusiasm, this time behind the ears. She looked up at him with those big blue eyes that just shouted her enthusiasm for being scratched. Thus had begun a routine that lasted over the years of the scratching behind the ears every morning at feeding time.

In the far back corner of the pen, 747 was sitting down with her legs splayed out to one side in an awkward looking position. When Bill approached, she tried to get up but couldn't. Bill grabbed a hold of her and hoisted 747 back onto her feet but she immediately fell back down. She tried dragging herself forward a few feet but wasn't able to make much progress. Sighing, Bill opened the rear door of the pen and shooed her into the barn proper. There in a small pen off by itself, he helped 747 drag herself into it where he hoped she would recuperate with time. Occasionally hogs would go lame for a variety of reasons and getting them off by themselves away from crush of the others who liked to push and lay upon one another helped them to heal up faster. Bill gave her some food and water, knelt down and gave her the morning scratch behind the ears and made his way back to the rest of the pens and the morning chores.

Not only had 747 been a friendly guilt, but she had been a great mother. She always had nice healthy litters and was one of the best mothers for carrying for her offspring. She always checked repeatedly with plenty of warning grunts before lying down to avoid smothering her piglets as some mothers were prone to do. Her litters were always healthy pigs and easy to work. 747's friendliness carried over and her piglets were almost as trusting as her. Long after many of her peers had been weeded out and sold, she continued to stay on.

A week later, Bill knew what had to be done. He got the rifle from the top shelf of the closet and grabbed a handful of cartridges from a shelf down in the basement. He loaded the rifle and slowly made he way out to the pens. Out in the lot, he leaned the gun up against a fence post and walked through the pens into the barn. He opened up the gate of the sick stall and greeted 747. It has been a week of rest and all the food she could eat but her plump body had already withered down to where bones were now starting to protrude. Her rear legs, still dragging along the floor were now covered with sores and infection beginning to set in. The truth was now apparent. She had broken her back jumping the fence and no amount of time was going to heal her. Bill scratched behind her hears and tried to avoid looking into those blue eyes as much as possible.

As gently as he could, Bill hoisted her broken hindquarters onto a piece of burlap and with 747 pulling with her front legs and Bill pulling the free end of the burlap, they managed to scoot through the pen in front where the pigs were busy eating their feed and out the front gate into the empty lot out front. 747 sat there in the splayed out withered stance and looked so peaceful in the glow of the morning light. Bill scratched her ears and laid out a pan of table scraps. She bent down and pecked at them but only with half a heart. Bill picked up the rifle and watched her for a few minutes and then saying a quick prayer, aimed it carefully and pulled the trigger. She fell instantly.

Bill walked to the machine shed and drove the tractor with the front loader out to the dirt lot and carefully loaded 747 into the scoop. He drove around the barn to the backside of the hill and carefully dug a hole and buried 747. Most culled sows ended up at the local meat locker and were ground into pork. Bill had hoped that 747 would mend and thus his optimism had kept her in a pen until she had withered enough that she wasn't fit for taking to a locker. He now wished that he had taken her in just so that he hadn't been the one to have to end her life. However, he hadn't and he had done what had to be done so that she didn't have to suffer anymore.

As Bill drove the tractor back to the shed, he thought about 747 and figured that he would never see another sow like her. He was right. He never did.


The City Girl said...

Gee Ed, this was EXACTLY the type of story I need to read right now. ;-)

I sometimes feel sorry for you guys. You seem to have to do this kind of hard work a lot when it is probably just as hard on you as it is on us females.

So pigs have blue eyes? And a guilt is an animal and not just an emotion? It must be a sow that has procreated?

TC said...

I was totally hooked from the beginning on what would happen to 747. The end was heartbreakingly realistic.

I remember as a kid, wanting to name all the calves that were born on our beef farm. I learned quickly to not do that. Instead, I ended up attached to the cows. Only... eventually, they go too. And it's never easy.

sage said...

I enjoyed reading this! Thanks.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Great story Ed, great story.

geri said...

This read like a James Herriot book. Really touching.

Ed Abbey said...

City Girl - It hadn't occurred to me about the timing but then I wrote this probably three weeks ago. Should I write about the numerous surgeries my family paid for to keep my dog around for another few years to make you feel better?

This breed of pigs did have blue eyes and fair skin that burned easily. Yes, a guilt is a female pig that has never been bred before.

TC - Raising livestock is definitely not an occupation for those who wish to be sheltered in life.

Sage, Mother Hen & Geri - Thank you for stopping by and reading it!

Beau said...

Nice story Ed. Thanks for sharing it-

sage said...

Last night I posted about what could have happened to 747! :)

PhilippinesPhil said...

I always said that the best stories always end with the pig's death. Ergo, I saw it coming from a mile away. Actually, I think all pig stories end with the pig dying, don't they? But this was cool, different. Next time write about the spider over the sty. Stupid non-athletic pig, broke her own back.