Day Writing by Heather Hamilton Maude: Nights like this
We are farrowing sows, and two gilts, at the moment. It is the middle of the night as I write this, between checks on the gilts.
We all have those unwritten jobs that come with marriage, those best left unsaid before the, “I do’s.” One of mine was farrowing gilts; a task my sister-in-law was happy to relinquish. You see, when a gilt requires assistance, most men’s hands and arms are too big to provide it. While they do make snares and tongs and other tools that can be used, they don’t always tell the whole story. Plus, in the way only husbands can give what I believe are intended compliments, I have been told not many women have both small and strong arms like his sister, and me.
It’s not that far off from calving heifers. One notable difference is that you’re almost always one and done with calves, whereas with pigs, you have no idea how many are in there. It can string out for 24-hours or more. Those scenarios don’t typically end well. On the flip side, our farrowing barn is heated and our calving barn is not. It’s no big deal to take your winter coat off to palpate a gilt, and your arm doesn’t come out steaming and freezing simultaneously.
Over time I have come to love farrowing gilts and sows. I am also one who loves to check heifers. There is something about a barn or calving lot in the middle of the night paired with the anticipation of new life. Content animals eating or resting. The world around you asleep.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the aspects of life the majority of society miss through never experiencing nights like this. Nights potentially filled with new life, and all the wonder that comes with that. Nights where you not only meet life, but death too. I have one little guy whose umbilical cord dripped blood all afternoon. While it is now tied off with string from a salt bag, and he is all tucked in and as cared for as he can be, the fight of his life is before him, and I wouldn’t put the odds in his favor at the moment.
How can people understand animal husbandry and all it entails without experiences like that? It is hard for me to wrap my brain around how one could miss it. But then, I tend to forget it is an extreme minority who spent their youth in the corner of cold calving barns on nights like this, being shushed, playing nursemaid, and when all went well, watching that newborn calf stagger to its feet before slipping out. Not many four-year-olds sneak away from the house, like mine did tonight, to get out to the barn to see the baby pigs and hold one. He had already seen them once, and been assured that he would be necessary help in working them tomorrow. Braving the dark by, “walking fast,” pushed along by the same adrenaline and excitement I feel.
God always feels close on nights like this one, in barns, whether warm or cold, or in those moments outdoors, waiting to see if all is going to turn out alright. Perhaps that plays into some of society’s problems as well. Along with missing the countless lessons that come with new life, and death, are the ways in which those lessons help paint the bigger picture. Then again, the good Lord knows a whole lot more about society as a whole, and per each individual, than I ever will. I’ll just focus on remaining grateful He allows me to be among the fortunate few who experience nights like this.