The Cut

The first cut is the deepest, right? I haven’t been updating this blog as I would have done normally because a lot has been going on, but also a really hurtful comment cut me to the quik and I just couldn’t pick myself up afterwards.

Normally stuff like that doesn’t bother me. The person who made it is a nasty piece of work, obviously with a lot of personal issues but there are times when comments do hurt.

Anyway I picked myself up as I always do and got professional advice. The professional in question was hugely encouraging and told me never to listen to people like that and always go with my gut. He said to me you know your animal better than anyone else (just like you know your child). Isn’t it interesting how people like the nasty piece of work have neither chick nor child, but yet sit in judgement on those of us who do?

My baby

Life was chugging along nicely, despite the lockdown. One Saturday evening, after a day working outside in garden, I went to feed all. The only one who didn’t appear was Honky. I called her then could see her lying in between my first two paddocks. I went to see what was up. She was lying in the shade and couldn’t seem to get up, even though she was trying.

I rang the vets and Thomas arrived in less than an hour. He checked her thoroughly and said she had a slight temperature but she’d been lying most of the day in the sun. Other than that nothing else wrong. He gave her a vitamin injection, a steroid, an antibiotic and told me to see how she was over next few days. He gave me an antibiotic and an anti inflammatory to inject for the next three days.

Sick and sore

She stayed out all that night, much to my distress but at least it was warm and there wasn’t rain forecast. I dragged out straw and banked it up around her. I left her water and food and checked on her several times before I went to bed. I didn’t sleep much and was back out to her at 5.45am.

My good friend Martha in Wales (a small free range pig farmer) had messaged me and suggested it might be mycoplasma arthritis and she’d need a different antibiotic. I waited until 9am and rang Thomas. He met me and gave me the new antibiotic.

She jumped up the next day after my neighbour injected her. I had tried but couldn’t get the needle in and she had got really distressed. She jumped up after he injected her and started to stagger towards the shed so we went behind her encouraging her to keep going. The relief was immense. At least I knew she was in and had shelter.

She improved daily and was mad to get out. I had fenced off a small area outside the shed initially but she had stumbled out as far as the fence and looked sadly at me. So I made the biggest mistake ever and let her out. I went into the third paddock to check the newly-planted trees and heard a shriek. I think the sow chased her and tried to bite her (re-exerting her dominance). When I got back to her she was distressed and seemed to want to go back to the shed. She was falling and stumbling but I went behind her and held her tail to steady her. I don’t know how I knew this. I think I’d read it somewhere but it worked. She managed to make it back but was really distressed and hyperventilating.

I’m not sure but I think she must have injured her back because she was back to square one. I rang the vet and he suggested giving another course of antibiotics. I went and got them. But then started thinking; I really felt like I needed a second opinion. My neighbour recommended another vet. Initially when I spoke to him he was reluctant to barge in. But I convinced him to take a look at her. He arrived out and thoroughly checked her over, gave her a pain killer and injected her with the second course of antibiotic and anti inflammatory. He said if she didn’t stand up it wasn’t a great sign but felt she would in an hour or so and told me to check her. She stood up two hours after he left!

She perked up initially and then went back downhill. I felt she was in pain and remembered sachets of anti-inflammatories the original vet had given me after she’d had her feet pared. I started her on them and once again she picked up. But she was struggling to walk. I asked another neighbour to have a look at her. She’s a physiotherapist and had told me she’d worked on horses.

She began to treat her daily. After 10 minutes the first day she stood up and had a wee. We held onto each other in disbelief. From then on she was able to stand easily and walk backwards…

Going forwards was more difficult and her right leg didn’t seem to know what to do. Carole reckoned she had the equivalent of a slipped disc. She worked on her every day for a week. She worked on the muscles mostly, hoping that taking the tension out of the leg and lumbar region would relieve the pressure on her nerve.

Physio

A couple of days after the second vet had come out, he rang to see how she was doing. When I told him about the physio his exact words were “wow, keep it up.” He told me she could stay on the anti inflammatories for quite a while and to see how she was on them.

Second time out

After another session with Carole, I left her do do some work outside. When I went to check her later she had vanished. My heart stopped and I ran out to look for her. I found her out at the back of the shed having a root. I panicked and tried to get her back in. She was mad at me but managed to get back in with difficulty – cutting her back feet badly when she fell.

She was back to square one again. This time she was depressed and literally stopped eating. She hadn’t been eating a lot but I had managed to get some food and “nice stuff” into her (mostly fruit). I was really worried. In fact three times I had planned her funeral. Every time I had done, she made a comeback.

I decided to throw the kitchen sink at her one last time and then give up. I knew I had to get her to eat. I kept at her coaxing her to eat, trying to fool her by putting “nice stuff” into her food. The tramp sussed out the nice stuff like a heat-seeking missile and spat her own food out. She even refused to drink. I sat beside her with a syringe and squirted water, then kefir into her mouth. She began to grab the syringe and suck like mad. I balled up her food and she ate some from my hand. Initially she was really gentle but as she got the taste for it, I was afraid she’d bite me and having had to go on two antibiotics in the past after she accidentally bit me, I really didn’t want to go there again.

I got a spoon and she learned really quickly how to eat from it. I’m not sure if the reason she’d given up trying to eat was that sitting up was sore or what. But anyway she’s now back eating and drinking herself. She had a lot of involuntary jerking when she stood up in her back right leg but that seems to have settled. So now I’m hoping she will start to get stronger standing and moving. She’s making a better attempt moving forward and doesn’t seem to lose her balance so easily. She’s not out of the woods by a long shot but she’s much more herself.

The comment made was that I was keeping her alive for my own “ego” and to publicise my blog …….

I’m not sure how being that stressed with worry about her, I couldn’t sleep or eat properly benefitted my ego, but sure lookit. On the positive side I reckon I’ve lost a stone. And as for publicising this blog………

I have never given up easily on anything in life and I won’t give up on her as long as she isn’t suffering or miserable. I saved her life at two days old and fought to keep her alive. We (myself and my son) worked on her when she couldn’t walk, doing our own rudimentary physio on her. I have looked after her every day since, making sure she was healthy and happy and never in pain.

Just because she’s a pig and not a dog or a horse with laminitis, doesn’t mean she isn’t worthy of effort. Just because she’s a pig and most pigs are reared in miserable factory farms, doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve a good life. Just because she’s a pig doesn’t mean she can’t be a pet. Just because she’s a pig doesn’t mean I can’t love her.

The Spring

          Post-breakfast snooze

The beginnings of spring were felt almost it seemed in mid-winter with buds on trees and daffodils in flower in January. I kept looking at them hoping we wouldn’t get more snow to bury them. So far we haven’t and we are in the middle of another mild spell after a brief cold one.

 

All the animals are out enjoying the mild winter and the pigs in particular have spent relatively few days in bed. Apart from a post-breakfast snooze if it’s cold, wet or windy.

 

Having barely had contact with the vets since I moved apart from the weaner who cut herself, I had that awful experience with Honky’s pedicure. And then one day I noticed the fat cat appeared very fat. He was always at the door inside the shed in the morning waiting for his breakfast so figured that was why.

I had installed a cat flap in the newly replaced windows that up to this had been propped open to allow the cats to get in and out. But one morning after a very vicious storm I opened the door to a soaking wet shed that seemed much brighter. The entire iron framed window had been blown into the field.

The shed is south facing on that side and most of the wind we get here is southerly or south easterly. I had had new glass put in in the summer and by some miracle it was still intact despite big stones that had been rooted up by the weaners. I decided I had better get the window closing properly and the cat flap was installed. Up to this the feral cats from the stable yard across the road had begun coming in for food. The cat flap stopped them for a while. It didn’t stop the goats though…….

The goats hear me in the shed with the cats and jump up on the window sill for a nosy and what better way to have a nosy than stick your head through the flap? Thankfully Freda Goaty McGoatface can’t manage this with her horns.

Anyway I noticed the fat cat had what appeared to be big jowls. But one morning whatever way I looked the jowl appeared lob sided. I felt it and he made a low growling noise. It dawned on me it was a massive abscess. I rang the vet and made an appointment. It was Thomas one of the vets who had treated Honky that day. He said yes it was an abscess and inserted a syringe to see if he could draw the fluid but nothing came. He gave me antibiotics and told me to see how he was in a few days.

Two days later it burst as I was trying to give him his antibiotic. Initially I thought he had got sick. It drained for well over a day. I assumed that would be the end of it. But a massive hole appeared in the skin and underneath you could see the fang marks into his flesh. It was horrific. He seemed very unwell and wasn’t eating. I took him back to the vet who said straight away it had developed into cellulitis probably caused by Pseudomonas and it definitely was a cat bite. He said cats are totally vicious when fighting and go for the jugular. They also have a lot of very nasty bacteria in their mouth.  He injected him with both a new antibiotic and a pain killer and told me to bring him back every day for the next three days.

 

He thought he would need surgery to remove or debride (I had to come home and Google that) all the infected tissue but couldn’t do anything until the infection was cleared. At the next check up he said he thought it might heal on its own and he wouldn’t need surgery. I was so relieved and he seemed better in himself. But then a couple of mornings later I noticed the area was very hot, inflamed and the skin seemed very taught so made an appointment. They decided to take him in. Thomas rang me at lunchtime to say he had cleared away a lot of necrotic and infected tissue and strangely enough, fat. Then stitched him up and put a drain in. He said it would need a lot of cleaning and care but I could pick him up later that evening.

When I collected him he was still very staggery so I left him in the cage. He wouldn’t eat or drink and kept making awful howling sounds. The effect of the sedation wearing off. I don’t know what sedation does to a brain but it really can’t be good. Looking at what Honky went through and knowing how I felt after I last had a general anaesthetic it’s no wonder that they try not to use them on elderly people or anyone with dementia or Parkinson’s.

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I spent the next few days dragging 5 litre bottles of sea water up from the beach, boiling and cooling it and bathing him in it. I also dripped honey into the wound and fed him kefir (antibiotics wipe out all bacteria including the beneficial ones and they need replacing). I also diluted Citricidal which is grapefruit seed extract and a powerful antimicrobial and used it for cleaning the wound. He had to go back the other day to have the drain removed and this time it was Mary who had also treated Honky and the weaner. She isn’t happy about it at all as the swelling is back so wants to have him in on Thursday to do a biopsy and possibly culture the pus to see what the bacteria is. He’s had four antibiotics already and they are not working. The sign of things to come with bacterial resistance? It’s not only humans who will be affected but animals as well.

It’s worrying because he’s an old cat. At 10 he’s the longest surviving cat I’ve ever had. When I lived in Meath, cats were regularly wiped out on the road as it was impossible to keep them in. He has only survived because he is so damn weird and nervy and afraid of his own shadow. He is also the gentlest cat and has played with every kitten who has passed through.

Meanwhile back on the ranch the goats continue to amuse and frustrate. I had to boost the electric fencing to three strands and for the moment it is working although they will still jump it or dive through it to follow me down the fields. I feel guilty restricting them so but until I get a fence erected to stop them getting in around house they have to be contained. They demolish plants and jump on or in everything including the car or a ladder if you happen to be up it or not. 

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A couple of weeks ago I was jarring up marmalade one evening when I heard a commotion at the gate and someone calling me. I went out to find Paddy who had cut the trees down in summer and another man. “I hear you’re looking for a pocán” says he. “I am” says I. “But I only want the lend of him.” He says straight away “a bit like a man?”.

Lots of laughter and innuendo later he gave me his phone number and we will do a deal. I asked him what he did with his goats and he said nothing, they were like his children. I get that. It’s funny both goats and pigs are highly entertaining, intelligent and thoroughly frustrating but you get to love them in a way I can’t imagine loving cattle or sheep or even horses of which I have experience. He reckons my goats are older than I thought they were so I will borrow his billy at the end of the month. The gestation is five months so that means kids around the beginning of August.

I wonder will motherhood calm them down any?

 

 

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.