Farm Life, Pigs

Tuffy Pig

Tuffy11 This week we’ve had some ups and downs in the barn. Before I go into that, I want to clarify the situation we’re going to discuss. The following story relates to the breeding pigs we keep for the purpose of showing in livestock shows and Fairs throughout the summertime. This is not part of our modern pig farming, or a means of farming that earns income for our family. Our ‘show pigs’ are strictly our hobby, and their lovely presence occupies quite a bit of our time, energy and in this case… emotion. When you own animals, become attached (like I do sometimes), things of this nature can happen and leave a person pretty heartbroken. The miraculous, then devastating story of one little pig and the complicated farrowing of a gilt, was something I wanted to share.  I had really hoped we could save this little pig, like we did the “4 Orphans” that we raised in our garage. Apparently the injuries she sustained during birth would be too much to overcome.  Here’s her story and the constant reminder that life is fragile, yet beautiful. TuffyPig1 Cleo is in labor… Cleo is a nice crossbred (pig that has many different breeds in her pedigree) gilt (female pig that has not given birth yet) that we bred to a boar named Crazy Bone from a local boar stud. On Wednesday at 4 a.m., my husband went to check her progress to see if she was having pigs or not. When he arrived to the barn, she was, but he could see hind legs presenting and immediately came to her aid.  As the birth of the piglets progressed, only a couple of the 9 born were presenting evenly coming out of the birth canal. The last of the pigs born was finally coming out head first, but totally upside down. This pig was stuck. My husband tried everything he could to get this pig out and nothing worked. (Walked the Mama, rolled her over, scratched her belly to flip her, more walking, etc.) In the meantime, we summoned the vet, just in case. Dr. L. was in surgeries and was unavailable for another 4 hours. At this point, there was nothing to do other than wait. So we all hung around the barn until then. Chores1 Dr. L. arrives… The vet arrived and was able to free the pig and laid it in a clean pile of shavings. After nearly 5 hours in the birth canal, a person would never think the piglet would be alive. But… it was. She was, and she took a pretty weak breath. The vet gasped, saying “My goodness, that pig is alive!” so my husband immediately went to work, trying to assist her breathing, rubbing her body, and getting her plenty warm. Once her breathing became less spastic, my husband text me the news. Overnight I hoped she’d make it… my husband was unsure but she spent a few hours by herself, and she was alive the next morning, miraculously. (*The abrasions on her ears were made by the ‘pig puller’ device that was used to free her from her Mama.) BarrettPiglet1 Tuffy pig… I knew that if this pig was going to survive what it did prior to being born, we’d give her the best chance to survive, even if it meant extra effort on our part. I took my son to the feed store and purchased lamb milk replacer (to supplement her, after I helped her latch on to her Mama).  I got a few liquid syringes from the local pharmacy, they even gave them to me for free when I told them what I was doing, and we set off to the barn for the day. TuffyCristen Feeding routine… For the better part of 2 days, I kept this little miracle pig on a strict schedule of feeds every couple of hours. I tried to keep the mentality of a newborn infant by assisting her in sucking on her Mama for about 1/2 hour (she wasn’t the best at this, looking back, it could have been a bit of brain damage from the birth and getting stuck), then supplementing her with a liquid syringe which took about 10 or 15 minutes. She did pretty well for quite a while, but then ultimately ended up passing away suddenly. TuffyPig2 Finding Tuffy… I was on my way to give her the early afternoon feed, with a quart jar half filled of hot water and the milk replacer. I got to the barn (my in-laws place) and realized I had forgotten the syringes, I started crying helplessly,(I had a bad feeling) ran into the barn, put my boots on (to check to see if she was alright before I went home for the syringe) and found her, passed away. Immediately I screamed. (I didn’t know I was this dramatic, but at the time I felt it.) I grabbed a t-shirt that my mother in law gave me to use earlier, and wrapped her up in it. I then placed her under a warm lamp near a sow that hadn’t farrowed yet, and decided it’d be up to my husband on where to dispose of her body. (I know, I know… but even this was hard for me.) I stood in the farrowing house and sobbed like a baby. Like a gosh darned baby. My son was with me and he wandered back to the farrowing pen and said, “Mama, there are more Tuffys to love”, reached over and pet a few of the littermates. BarrettTuffy You may think… One may think that because we are involved in modern pig farming, that animals are numbers to us and we don’t become attached, ever. I can say this is not true, and any pig in any of our barns, that needs attention for any reason, is tended to. It is in our best interest because they are an investment to our family, the food that nourishes us and another being that needs our care to survive. I’m sure there will be some seasoned pig farmers that read this post and roll their eyes at this Mama. Let me tell you, I have experienced things in my life that align with this loss a bit and it wrecked me, even if only for a while. It is disappointing to pour every effort into something, only to have a negative result. But ultimately, I’m not in charge… fist pump and nod to the guy upstairs.


That little pig… Tuffy Pig, was named because she was a “toughie” and survived a traumatic birth experience. After giving her every chance we could, she just couldn’t hang on. Sometimes the toughest lessons to learn are the richest ones in life. But I’m not ready for many more of those in the near future. No recipe today… I have a candied bacon recipe for you this week but didn’t feel that it fit appropriately in this post.

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  • Reply Stacrying McCullough March 8, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Bless your heart…cried reading this. .that’s what makes you and Mike wonderful at what you do. You love and care for those animals..completely. ..I would be the same shame in that. At all.Thinking of you and your piggys! :)

    • Reply Cristen March 11, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      You are so sweet, thank you so much Stacy! If you are ever around here, you’d better stop by and see us! I’d love to bake you a pie!

  • Reply Jodi March 8, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    We had a calf do something very similar to this last week. Born early. Her mom didn’t care for her at all. She was way too cold. She lived in the milking parlor for 3 days. I really thought we had turned a bend and then came to milk at night to find her dead. I know what you mean.

    • Reply Cristen March 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Oh Jodi, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope things are going more smoothly for you now! Thinking of you.

  • Reply Leann March 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Sorry for your loss…our gilt, also named Cleo, farrowed 8 pigs by herself and the last one, I just couldn’t get out. Had the vet out, C-section, she stopped producing milk and the babies didn’t get enough colostrum, they all died. It is tuff, at some point I thought about quitting the pig raising gig, but its what I love to do. This was a horrible year for us, we lost several other babies for various reasons, but, I will be back! Thank you for sharing, at least I know I am not alone! Leann

    • Reply Cristen March 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      You are not alone Leann! I’m so sorry for your losses too. I hope your Cleo is okay. I think it is crazy we have sows with the same name. Our Cleo is cranking now, her pigs are little butterballs and she’s feeling so much better! We’ve had our share of mishaps (no one talks about them, so you feel alone). With show pigs, so often the genetic selection is based on traits that don’t coincide with mothering, birthing etc. We are pretty careful to select good genetics, but inevitably something odd happens now and again. Hope you are well and things are looking up for you.

  • Reply Stacey McCullough March 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm has my name a Stacrying McCullough …lol…some days…

  • Reply erinn March 8, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    gosh, that’s sad. i find your compassion and hard work so inspiring, and wish everyone appreciated that the majority of farmers have their hearts broken again and again and again while managing the circle of life every single day. it’s so sweet that your little one already shares your empathy and work ethic. how very promising for the next generation.

    • Reply Cristen March 11, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Thank you so much! My heart has had a hard time recovering from this one. It hurts me to see little ones I can’t save. However, there will be more circumstances like this I’m sure… and it’ll turn out brighter next time. :)

  • Reply Melody March 9, 2015 at 1:42 am

    With tears after reading little Tuffy’s story, thank you for sharing. She was sure loved while she was here. Thinking of you all!

    • Reply Cristen March 11, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you Melody!

  • Reply Beth Ann March 9, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    You definitely dispel any myths about how pig farmers care for their piggies. Your compassion and vigilant care for Tuffy Pig made me tear up. What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing. You show such care and love with your animals and that is such a wonderful thing that most people have no clue goes on behind the scenes.

    • Reply Cristen March 11, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you Beth Ann. It isn’t easy to tell the stories of the times that aren’t the greatest on the farm. Your kind words always help me!

  • Reply a friend March 25, 2015 at 2:04 am

    You are truly a loving, inspired person and are clearly passing and long strong values to your children. God bless you all.

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