The Honks

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Anyone familiar with my story up to this will know that I’m potty about pigs but extra specially potty about one. Honky is a pig I reared from birth. She was completely bottle fed by me having got severe scour and almost dying. Then when I tried to reintroduce her to her siblings they bullied her so she effectively became a member of the household.

Eventually she was moved out and socialised with her own sort but she still has a big part of my heart. The fact that she’s an utter wagon is neither here nor there. She’s grumpy, touchy, easily irritated but also when she feels like it and entirely on her terms – affectionate and loving. She also gives me a huge welcome if she hasn’t seen me for a few days and she demonstrates extreme happiness.

From birth she’s had foot problems. The vet where I lived before said she had laminitis and so I fed her special food for horses who suffer the same. She tends to get bouts particularly when she’s in season and there’s been times she wouldn’t get out of bed even to eat. I’ve seen her walk on her elbows when it’s been very severe.

However, recently I noticed her front feet were very long and in need of a trim. Then I discovered one hoof was split. I spoke to the vets in Wellingtonbridge and I also enquired with a man who pared cattle’s feet. He said straight away that she wouldn’t fit in the crush he uses to hold the cows as he had difficulty even holding weanlings. So the vets decided the only option was sedation. You can’t just lift a pig’s foot like a horse and you can’t just do anything to her Honkyness. She is super sensitive to any interference on her person.

The vet practice rang me to say they were having difficulty sourcing the sedation for pigs and over a week went by. I called in one day to see what the problem was and was told they had got it and would be out the next day. I got a brainwave and asked my neighbour who is a blacksmith if he would be here as well to advise. He agreed.

During the summer one of the weaners had cut her foot very badly probably on some glass or barbed wire or rusty barrels that had been dumped and buried on the land here by the previous owners. I had spent ages picking up anything I had come across but pigs being pigs had obviously rooted up more. It was a really nasty gash but I figured out that it couldn’t be stitched but it needed a deep clean and she probably needed an antibiotic shot. A young slight woman had come out and to say she rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in is an understatement. Most vets have very little experience of pigs and are even scared of them. She asked me to try to hold the pig and she dived in and began cleaning the wound. Holding a 65kg squirming, squealing pig is not easy and it took us all our strength to get the wound cleaned. She was marvellous so I asked for her to come out to sedate Honky.

They rang me to say they were on their way and I rang my neighbour. Another vet had come along, a young man who also was really impressive. You might wonder why I am commenting like this but I’ve had experience of calling vets in the past to come to treat a horse who were patently scared of horses and vets who were totally useless with pigs. Just like any profession there are many more average than excellent.

They had a look at Honky and estimated her weight. I suggested in the region of 300 kg and they thought it was in the ball park. Mary drew up a syringe of the sedative and said that she reckoned it would be more than enough. I grabbed a bucket of food and gave it to Honky then got the other two out with their food. She got the needle in behind her ear easily and we waited and we waited. I asked how long it would take to act and she said about 5 minutes. After about 10 she appeared a bit shaky on her feet but then she can often appear like that. They kept saying any minute now. She started to shake her head and make strange noises but showed no sign of going down. It was like she was trying to clear a fog from her brain. I said I don’t think that is going to work and they decided to give her another dose. This time she was much more irritated by the injection and they just about managed to get it in. And then we waited and waited and waited.

She started to go down but fought it tooth and nail. Then eventually she keeled over.  But she had managed to stagger back up and over to the only place in the shed that wasn’t bedded and she began to slam her head down on the hard ground as if she was rocking to get back on her feet. My immediate instinct was to rush over to stop her hurting herself. They all screamed at me to stay away from her. She could crush and kill me. So we could do nothing but stand and watch this horror hoping the sedation would take enough effect and she would stop. But it didn’t. Larry my neighbour shouted that she was going to do herself serious injury and jumped over the fence to grab a rope. He knotted it in such a way that he was able to get it in her mouth and behind her tusks and he pulled her down. Immediately Thomas lay across her head and Mary set to work with a very blunt set of clippers. At this stage it was getting dark and they had to work with only light from a head torch and fast to get the job done before the sedation began to wear off. Mary said to me to get more straw to surround her with and as I squeezed behind Larry he released tension on the rope and she began to move. Even with two doses that would floor an elephant she wasn’t fully sedated.

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After about half an hour of paring her feet and cleaning out an infection in one they were almost finished. Larry once again released the tension on the rope and she began the head slamming again. He had to tighten it as they sprayed blue spray and gave her injections of anti-inflammatory and antibiotics. Then they told me it “should” wear off in an hour. Four hours later I was still beside her shoving straw under her head to prevent her bashing her brains in. I couldn’t leave her for a minute. I had let the others back in as they were going crazy at the door wanting to go to bed. They of course wanted to investigate what was up with her.

I sat beside her stroking her head and shoving straw under it for ages. At one point she began grinding her teeth and it was so severe I was really worried she would bite her tongue and choke on the blood. Then she began frothing at the mouth. At this stage I was completely terrified and too scared to leave her for a second. I had put my phone in the house to charge or I would have rung the vets to come back out. She began to vomit a huge amount of green bile that smelt horrendous and I had to try and clear that out from under her head. Eventually the head slamming began to slow down to just periodic bouts and I was able to get up. I banked up straw all around her, left her but came back out to check her every half hour. At about 10 pm she had moved into a normal lying position with her head up. To say I was relieved was a massive understatement.

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Finally the head slamming stopped and she appeared to be sleeping

I checked her a few more times before going to bed and considered checking her during the night but figured out what she needed was sleep and peace and quiet.

Next morning she looked up when I went into feed the others but didn’t get up. I carried her food over to her and she took a mouthful but seemed to find chewing painful. I’d say she had bitten her tongue. I tried her with a bowl of watered down cream as I had some in the fridge but she wouldn’t even take that. I had to go into the vets to get more antibiotics and copper sulphate for a footbath, so got a brainwave and bought yoghurt and bananas. She delicately ate a whole bunch of peeled bananas (she’d normally eat the skin as well). I couldn’t get any fluid into her but was relieved she had eaten the fruit. She never ventured out of bed all that day or the next.

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Sick, groggy and disoriented the next day

On Sunday morning she refused her food again but ate the bananas and yoghurt and this time I managed to get some kefir into her. She had got up on Saturday but was very distressed and agitated. She would lie down then get up again on repeat. I put the radio on and it appeared to settle her. I left it on for two days.

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Listening to LyricFM

During this time my neighbour was popping in to check on her (and me) and he said he reckoned it was a big mistake to sedate her. The vets had said that pigs aren’t like other animals and you can’t reverse the sedation. It was a miracle that she didn’t have a heart attack during it or do herself a serious injury. I don’t think I could watch any animal go through what she did again and certainly not her.

It was such a relief on the Sunday evening when she was actively shouting for her food because I had to begin the antibiotic powders then (the injection they had given her was only good for two days).

Then on Monday when I discovered her outside,  I was overjoyed. If anything had happened to her because of the sedation I don’t think I would ever have forgiven myself. I know she had to have her feet treated but sedation must be extremely hard on pigs. The whole thing was an absolute nightmare and I was fit for nothing after the stress of it.

They say you should never get too fond of animals you rear for food but Honky was given a pardon days after her birth and she’s the very same to me now as a dog, a cat or a horse. I love her and in her own way I know she loves me.

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