Life and Death of a Pig

Ashley Browning

Ashley Browning › Born in Atlanta, GA in 1981, Ashley Browning was raised as a city girl with a love ...

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Six weeks ago we butchered our first hog.

It was a decision that was hard to make and one that we thought about over a long period of time.

This wasn’t any ol’ feeder hog. This was our breeding sow, Pink Lady.

But after 2 litters (that were not 100%) and after having an awfully hard time keeping her in perfect health, we decided to butcher her.

 I haven’t been able to speak much of it for several reasons. One is that when we purchased her, we thought that she would live out her life breeding and giving us piglets, meat to sell, and meat in the freezer.

The second reason is that it was quite sad as we let ourselves get attached to her, knowing that we get attached to the breeding stock (because they will be around for much longer). And that our plans didn’t work out as we had thought they would. We liked her even though she was quite pushy most times.

The third reason was that the execution did not go as planned. And even though she didn’t suffer, it was truly hard to see (for me, anyway). I cried. Hell, I flat out boohooed (is that a real word?). Sobbed uncontrollably. I felt like an executioner walking down death row to take the next inmate. It was so very very sad.

While I want my kids to know that there is no life without death, and that this is where food comes from–it is a hard thing to teach.

When we butchered her we also found a very interesting thing. She had a HUGE fluid filled cyst on her liver. Explains why we never could get her healthy between pregnancies.

After she aged in the fridge a few days, we started to eat her meat. I would have waited longer but we had just lost a freezer full of chicken and had no other meat to eat. As a few weeks went by, we put more meat in the freezer and I simply could not eat pork anymore. It just, literally, left a bad taste in my mouth. It actually tasted fine but just made me sick to my stomach. Perhaps it was the fact that we did all the butchering ourselves or perhaps it was the way it all ended. All the things that went into making the decision to butcher her. The hopes, the dreams, our hard work, her life and the money lost, all down the drain.

I have a long way to go, my friends.  I had no problem eating the chickens we raised last summer, I knew from the very beginning that they were our dinner. And anyway, how could I get attached to 60 very skittish birds?

I got attached to our sow. Her births on the farm were some of my favorite times, despite the fact that we lost so many piglets to her not-so-attentive care of them.

And then today–oh, today. It all flooded back to me. Winter, so many pig deaths, sick pigs in the house, hand raising pigs, and taking so many to the butcher.

You may recall that about 2 months ago we lost 2 piglets from our sow’s winter litter. We buried the last one down from the house, at our daughters’ request. She was given a proper burial, in an area that, 2 months later, we would put the remaining pigs in.

I won’t go into detail but I found her hide in the pigs hut today.

The girls were with me and while my first thought was that they were ravenous pigs and on and on, I know how animals are. And I know how special and sweet the world can be. Those pigs were trying to take care of her, not knowing what was really going on. Shit.

The worst was that my oldest really lost it emotionally. It was a hard winter on us, but especially with so much death for my little girls to experience. While I want my kids to know that there is no life without death, and that this is where food comes from–it is a hard thing to teach. And hard for us as adults to learn as well.

Such is life on a farm . . .

This post originally appeared on Ashley Browning’s blog, The Browning Homestead. We have reproduced here with her kind permission. You can read her post in its entirety right here. Thanks, Ashley.

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Photo credit: Staci Strauss