The Lone Survivor

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no “right time” to put this out there. I’ve also concluded that far worse things in life can, will, and do happen … and they keep happening, so that puts this event in perspective. But, nonetheless, for my 12-year-old son, “this” was the unexpected life lesson that ushered in the new year for him. For us.

It’s no secret that my son, Nick, loves animals more than people. And they tend to love him back. He forged a bond like handcuffs to a convict with his market hog – “BatPig” – last spring. After doing everything right, everything by the book, he took her to the county fair and together they won their class, won reserve champion of their division, and ultimately brought home the 4-H 2 Reserve Champion Gilt trophy, (or “First Place Loser” as his older brother likes to tease.)

It was a surreal moment; this doesn’t happen to the “little people” in the county where 4-H was founded. The competition is fierce. But with the proper guidance and feed recommendations, Team BatPig pulled it off. Many had complimented my son on this “pretty pig” and her potential to have “pretty babies.”

And for the first time in years of showing hogs, we brought our market hog home. She was going to be a mama! After weeks of perusing potential Daddy Pigs, we settled on a Hampshire cross boar. BatPig was aptly named for her distinctive blue mask, so we were seeking to add some color and chrome to her offspring.

Three months, three weeks, and three days – plus one – passed. The anticipation was overwhelming. Nick’s excitement was palpable. We checked BatPig late morning on January 14. She was close, but not showing any imminent signs of labor. We proceeded with our planned day which included a comedy show about 30 minutes away.

Inevitably, my cell phone buzzed with a message: “The first piglet was stillborn.” We rushed to the car. By the time we arrived home, the message was, “Things are not going well.”

I called the farm where two experienced friends were hovering over BatPig and doing everything they could as labor and delivery nurses. When I arrived at the farm – having left Nick at home with family – I walked into a scene that is forever etched in my heart. Our sweet BatPig in pain and struggling to bring her Littles into the world.

“Oh, my god…what have we done to her?” I thought.

The second piglet was also stillborn, as was the third. The growing Labor and Delivery team did everything from pray to mouth-to-snout breathing and chest compressions. To watch this team of 4-H advisors and friends do so much to try to save just one piglet for the sake of my son was so humbling.

Finally, baby number four was squeezed and pulled into the world not breathing. Just when the L&D team was about to give up their efforts, he startled, jolted and took a breath. Hallelujah!

This little boar – featuring the color and chrome we desired – was the Lone Survivor of a litter of five (possibly six, maybe more?). BatPig was unable to deliver the rest of her litter. Her little man though called to her to be fed and snuggled up to her for warmth. She welcomed him despite her pain and mothered him as long as she could. She was a good mama, she just wasn’t physically built to be one. How could we have known?

Soon though, months of hope and longing turned into one of the hardest days of my son’s life. BatPig’s health continued to digress due to her traumatic birth injuries. With confirmation from the veterinarian that there wasn’t much that could be done to save her, we made the heartbreaking decision to let her go; to let her move on to care for her babies in Heaven.

As for Nick, he said his goodbyes to BatPig with a brave face, tear stained cheeks, and a shattered heart. He asked me to be with her while she was put down and tell her how much he loved her, thank her for being “some pig” and assure her he would take care of her baby boy.

It may sound silly to some; after all, “It’s just a pig. That’s what they’re bred for.” But those few days – from the start of labor to witnessing BatPig’s demise – were some of the hardest days of mothering I’ve endured.

I watched my son’s hopes fizzle away after months of excited anticipation, but sometimes life is like that. “I feel like I’ve lost my best friend,” he said.

It’s taken a few tries to sit down and put into words what this experience has been like, just like it took a few days for my son to go back to the barn knowing BatPig wouldn’t be there. Words of encouragement just don’t console a broken heart. Explaining the process of grieving doesn’t ease any pain. He has to live it, to learn from it, like we all do. He will move forward and keep that promise to BatPig to care for her son.

As for the Lone Survivor – now known as “Apollo” – he is thriving with a foster sow; an experienced Berkshire who keeps him in line along with his now eight foster siblings. He stands out a bit in the crowd, but hasn’t slowed down a bit.

When asked if he was ready give up pig farming, Nick replied, “No, I want to see this through and make BatPig proud of him (Apollo).”

So we have at least one more season of market hogs, this time knowing the final outcome (barring any further tragedies), and still aware there will be more tears. Live and learn…live and learn…

**Shout out to Kaffenbarger’s Good Oak Farm Show Pigs, KM Farms, and Massive Swine Show Pigs for guiding us through this event.**





Beware of The Hog(s)

Just when I think there can’t possibly be any more for my children to learn about their 4-H market hogs, a chicken enters the barn.

“Chickaletta the Hen” was the lone survivor when Ms. K – the owner of Kaffenbarger’s Good Oak Farm – decided she would no longer be raising chickens and focused her attention on the family hog operation. Ms. K rounded up the brood of hens and relocated them to another farm, but Chickaletta managed to hide and avoid transport. She became a legend on the farm, and a daily encounter for the last three (four?) years.

Chickaletta spent her days scavenging for food scraps and laying eggs in undisclosed locations. She survived amongst steers, cats, ginormous dogs, random wildlife, crazy weather, countless cars in and out of the driveway, toddlers, and teenagers.

But, ultimately, Chickaletta would not survive amongst hogs. You see, hogs are – ironically – carnivorous (technically, they are omnivorous, as they also like marshmallows and beer). You know the lore about getting rid of bodies on a pig farm, right… (awkward pause) …anyone?

As we suspected, there is a pen of Mafia Swine in the barn. These smooth criminals recently had their feeder removed from their pen and are now hand fed twice a day; clearly, this isn’t often enough, and Chickaletta? Well, she made the same mistake as Icarus – she flew too close the sun, er, the pen, rather.

It seemed a typical day at the farm, the kids were fighting over whose turn it was to do what chore, and I was threatening to “never let them participate in 4-H again!” if they can’t figure out how to get their work done.

In the middle of the barnyard chaos, we noticed the pigs in the pen next to ours were all very interested in something. What that something was – we just weren’t sure, but they were all quiet and circled around the “something” as if to keep it a secret.

“What are they chewing on?” I said to my kids while giving a cursory glance to the Mafia Pigs. I walked over to the pen and opened the gate with every intention of taking away whatever it was they were so nonchalantly munching.

I leaned over, reached, and screamed, “OH. MAH. GGAAWWDD! It’s the CHICKEN!!”

My horrified children audibly gasped and ran to the pen to see for themselves. One pig was chowing down on a chicken foot, while the others yanked, pulled, and chewed on the obviously deceased hen. It was truly a scene from a horror movie.

I quickly escaped the pen, not about to become their next meal, and ran to get Ms. K. “Uh, you need to come into the barn,” I said, half gagging. “Your pigs are eating something.”

“What?” she said. “A mouse? A cat?” Clearly, the Mafia Pigs have a reputation.

Just an hour earlier, Chickaletta had been roaming the barn, minding her own business, eating scraps of feed, and then she became one herself.

The moral of the story: always be aware of your surroundings and others, because like herd of hungry pigs, the real world can eat you alive at any moment.

#4Hlifelessons #barnlife #chickenlivesmatter #nooneissleepingtonight

County Fair: The Aftermath

*Originally published in July, 2014. (4-H Season 1)

By the time you read this, the county fair will almost be over. As a first-time 4-H mom, I will be exhausted from a week’s worth of activities that begin in the early morning and end late into the evening.

I will also be consoling my child. My child, who opted for a 4-H project over playing baseball; my son, who carefully picked out his animal, a pig he named Wyldstyle (if you have seen the Lego Movie, you will recognize this name).

For nearly four months, we drove to the farm where he fed her, washed her, cleaned her pen, learned to walk with her and direct her steps; all with guidance from the farm owner, 4-H advisors, and our wonderful pigpen-pals and parents.

She was stubborn, moody, often rough, and through it all, my son learned to handle her. He also learned that Wyldstyle liked to have her back scratched and enjoyed belly rubs, too.

I watched him grow to adore Wyldstyle, the market hog. Like all market hogs, Wyldstyle unknowingly-or, perhaps knowingly-faced the same fate they all do.

Back in the day, I too, showed market hogs at the county fair. I learned quickly- after I mistakenly gave my first one a name-not to get attached. But it happens and I’m not as tough as I used to be.

As the county fair approached this year, I noticed my son having moments of quiet when we left the farm. I knew what he was thinking about and it broke my heart. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. His first county fair was coming up; he was supposed to be excited.

And he was, just not about how it would end.

Let me preface this by saying, before we committed to the project, we made sure he understood that a market hog is terminal. He knew. I knew. And, as a 4-H alumni and supporter of the organization, I said, “Yes, it will be a good experience for you.”

And it has been. He scored an A at Skill-a-thon. He can read an ear notch with his eyes closed. He has made new friends. And he knows what it means to truly care for an animal.

Although Wyldstyle’s life was short, I believe it had purpose. She wasn’t fattened up just for dinner. She was a teacher and a friend to my son. And before you accuse me of being a spy for PETA, know that I like bacon, too.

And there have been moments with this animal when bacon never sounded so good. But there were also days she looked at my son and I believe she was trying to tell him something. If she was aware of how their story would end, I hope she would thank him for giving her short life meaning and for treating her well.

If it weren’t our family, then Wyldstyle would be with another family teaching them similar lessons. Regardless, her fate would likely be the same.

My son is hurting and because of that so am I. But I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t give up the memories we made or the time I spent with him because of Wyldstyle and 4-H.
Even if my son decides to never take a market animal to the fair again, at least he now knows why. He knows what it entails and what the experience means and how the story ends. He also knows that Wyldstyle’s life wasn’t in vain; that his beloved pet-project had a reason for being with him.

So, until next time, if there is one, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

Mean People Suck (but they matter, too)

It’s been a while since I plopped down in front of a computer to tap out anything more than a work-related press release, but thoughts are running rampantly around in my head like caffeine dosed 2-year-olds. “So, what’s new?” those of you who know me might ask; well, I feel compelled to rein them in and make some kind of sense of them. And besides, with the millions of post-election “thoughts on paper” being circulated, what’s one more? So…

I am an Ohio-born and raised, college educated, married, mother of three (not, in fact, an “uneducated redneck in a flyover state”). However, my husband of 15-years was not born in the United States – but more on that later. He is now a legal U.S. citizen who came “through the front door” of our great country with his mother when he was a young child. She wanted a better life for her son. They both became naturalized citizens of the United States, lived, worked, went to school, and paid (still pay) taxes. My husband is now a grown man, college educated, successful in his career, a devoted father and husband, and a proud American. His diverse background has been a benefit to him; he is able to speak multiple languages and travel the world with ease.

Maybe now would be a good time to tell you: his mother was Peruvian and his father, Austrian. His grandparents hailed from Italy, as did mine. And probably yours, too; maybe not Italy, but somewhere other than the United States (unless of course you are of Native American decent). Let that sink in for a minute: your grandparents, great grandparents, someone somewhere in your genealogical lineage came from another country. A country outside of the United States of America. This person, or more accurately, these people, are why you are an American (or maybe you are the first generation in your family.). They were the brave souls who also wanted a better life for their children and themselves.

Not only did they seek a better life for their families – (or, maybe they were running from the law? We all have one of those relatives. No judgment here.) – but their DNA contributed to how you appear to others. Hold-up: “What? Where are you going with this?” – right? Bear with me…

As I said, I’m the mother of three. My children span in age from 7 to almost 13 years old. They all three have their father’s deep brown eyes, dark hair and enviable olive toned skin that tans beautifully in the sun. Do they look “different?” I don’t think so. Did I expect to have to defend them from racist-ish comments? Never. Never ever – not even once – did this cross my mind. But it should have. Because guess what? Their heritage is apparently a problem for some people.

And let me preface this by saying, the comments my sons have had to endure started long before Donald J. Trump ever announced his intention to even run for President of the United States. Long before Trump was elected to office our sons endured comments about being deported and speaking Spanish. And, might I add, comments about being a “Muslim terrorist” and “little Indian.” Seriously, if you are going to attempt to insult someone because of their heritage, let’s get it right, shall we? Peru is not in the Middle East and there are no kangaroos in Austria. Check the map.

I know, I know…kids will be kids. Kids say things and do things that can be hurtful. Mine are not immune to that, but if I ever learn of them making a comment that can be construed as discriminatory or prejudiced (and please, tell me if they do. I want to know.) …then they will wish their kinfolk never decided to hop on the boat. (That’s a joke, people.)

I’m not trying to be offensive to anyone, but I’m sure someone is offended anyways: it’s called “an attempt at humor.” Are all of our children learning hate speech? No. My children encounter plenty of people who have no idea of their heritage, nor do they care. To them they are just typical – sometimes annoying, sometimes cute – kids.

While I firmly believe that prejudice and hate speech are learned behaviors, I will say that in the past few weeks it has become more prevalent. The number of comments being made is alarming and I’m past the point of being able to say, “Just let it roll off and move on.” It’s insulting and it’s hurtful, but not just to my children and the others who are enduring these comments, but to the many others who are – for example – of the Muslim faith. The term “Muslim” has become an insult; a term used with malice for the purpose of hurting another person.

Maybe in my little bubble, I thought kids today were colorblind and beyond hurling what they perceive as verbal insults like “little Barack Obama.” True story; a couple years ago my son stepped off the elementary school bus and asked why someone would call him that, and if it was meant to be hurtful. Was it? I’m not sure what the context of the conversation was, but when it continued into the next day and the next and the next, I assumed it wasn’t meant to be a compliment.

SOAPBOX WARNING: We all bleed red. No one gets out of here alive. We all make mistakes; every one of us. Every. One. Writing all of this might be a mistake – I’ll let you know later – but another example: why are our citizens running through the streets insulting one another, burning dumpsters and embarrassing themselves? What’s with the signs dropping the F-bomb? What happened to preaching peace and love? Does that not apply to all? How is this helping anyone in our country? You can’t fix what you perceive to be a mistake by making yet another one. You are combating the very thing you protest against – hatred – with hatred.

If you want to protest, you have that right, by all means protest. If we all agreed on everything, nothing would ever change. But, please, show our children how to be this “tolerant” that you speak of; show them how to be peaceful; for the love of God and country, show them how to maturely accept things as they come and make the best of it.

Oh, here’s another idea: put your thoughts on paper. How does that saying go…ah, yes: the pen is mightier than the sword. Be a Keyboard Warrior and share your thoughts. People may disagree with you, but that’s okay = free country!

And, this might sound preachy, but pray. What have you got to lose by doing so? If anything, you can give voice to your thoughts and concerns, your values and reasoning … before you throw a rock through the front of a local business. Let’s teach our children to pray; pray for our country and yes, pray for our enemies both big and small. Pray for the ones who hurl insults and hatred. Pray for unity and understanding. Pray for those who call you a terrorist because your dad speaks another language. Pray for our leaders, even if you don’t like them. If it matters to us, then it matters to Him. And I think our country, our citizens, our land, our choices matter to Him.

But mostly, our kids matter. No matter what else is happening in our country or world, our kids, our friend’s kids, our enemy’s kids – they all matter. What doesn’t matter is what color their skin is or where they are from. They’re watching and listening at home, at school, on TV, everywhere. Let’s do our best to raise respectful, responsible citizens.

We all have to live under the same big sky, and contrary to popular belief, our children aren’t little terrorists (humor again, people, just humor. Try it. It’s fun!), but they are the ones who will suffer at the hands of ourselves if we don’t pull it together.