Thursday, March 17, 2011

Miss Cracklins, part 1

Creepin' up to say 'hey'
Here is why I've been hesitant to write about the pig formerly known as Cracklins:

we gave her a name and she enjoyed belly rubs and then she got mean and then she became sausage.

There, ok, I said it.

That's sort of what it comes down to, but at the same time, I'm not sure how to go about sharing the humor and smiles and, frankly, the agony caused by this one particular sow.  The book Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn describes the challenge writers and activists are faced with when translating a problem into action from readers: people feel overwhelmed by the idea of hundreds, thousands, or millions of beings [whether women, children, oppressed peoples, or animals] in trouble.  But if you can just tell the story of one, and give the reader a way to feel connected, you can build support or garner donations or accomplish what it is you've set out to do.

So what is the problem here?  The problem is that when most people go to the supermarket and pick out neat little bloodless packages of chicken breasts or ground chuck or pork loin, they only see the meat.  There is no connection to the animals.  To channel Temple Grandin again, it was here, now it's meat.  Where did it go?

Miss Cracklins was somewhat of an abberation.  All of the hogs on the farm are fairly social— they're used to the humans, legs, boots with stick-things coming out of them, whatever, that walk through the herd and bring grain and move fences.  Some of them don't mind being touched, some of them squeal if you get close, and some of them like back scratches.  Pigs are curious and they aren't above taking little bites of your boots when you're standing amongst a swirl of them.  But this goofy one, Miss Cracklins...  you'd be out in the field counting or fixing a fence or something and it would catch your eye.  This pig would be standing right behind you, waiting for a tummy rub.  And she would lay down and roll over, eyes closed, and let you scratch her to your heart's content.  As long as you were willing to stay there, she was happy to be there.

Out of 100 or so hogs running freely in a huge wooded pasture, many of whom looked almost exactly like she did, I could pick her out of the crowd by her fat neck.  Good lord did she have a fat neck, and I mean really.

The Cracklins fairytale continued as it became apparent that she was going to be a mama!  In raising free-range pigs, unlike in factory operations where confinement makes temperament irrelevant, a friendly sow makes life easier for everyone.  In theory her pigs would be friendly too, and if you had the choice between a sow who wanted to take a chunk out of your butt and one who wanted a tummy rub, the choice is pretty obvious which you would want to keep around.

On the day that we loaded for the last fall harvest, we saved her out.  Once again, among 20 hogs who mostly looked the same, there was Miss Cracklins and her fat neck.  She had a diva personality and was obstinate about being moved... even sweet-talk and grain failed to win her over.  But she was still here and everyone was excited for her little piggies to arrive.

She farrowed while I was home for Christmas, and out of 8 pigs only 2 survived.  Some sows have really great maternal instincts and others just... don't.  But even that could be forgiven for an inexperienced sow.  What I noticed, however, was that while the other sows in the field with her became increasingly friendly [game of tag with the Plastic-Loving Pig, anyone?], Cracklins became more aggressive.  It didn't make much sense to me but the signs were unmistakeable.  She was still small, but I kept imagining her with an extra 100, 200, 300 pounds of weight and attitude.  I certainly wouldn't want to work with her.

I had a difficult time choosing, between all of the sows I had come to know, which ones to keep and which to send for one final harvest.  They have distinct personalities.  With Cracklins, even the thought of sending her, a named pig, made me a little uneasy.  I'm new to this and I'm a softy prone to anthropomorphizing.  But for many reasons, she was loaded onto the trailer with the others.

to be continued...