the emotional rollercoaster of homesteading
Just when we thought we had this homesteading thing down, life threw us a curveball. Did you ever have one of those weeks where you went through just about every emotion you have? All the highs and lows? Well, we did not have one of those weeks, we had one of those days this past week. In fact, I think I felt just about every emotion I have. Happiness, sadness, scared, panic, anxiety, grief and relief. All of which happened within about 24 hours.
Homesteading naturally comes with raising animals. Here at Two Branches, we raise ducks, chickens, turkeys, bees and pigs, all of which provide some sort of food source. Last year, we started the adventure of inseminating our internet sensation pig, Marge. She had a litter of 10 and we unfortunately lost one, which was devastating at the time, but we were ok with it because all of our homesteading friends warned us to be prepared for loss. Momma pigs are very large and clumsy animals and unfortunately accidents happen. We felt lucky to have lost only one and to find that Marge was a great mom, especially for being a first timer. We sold some of the piglets and raised 3 that went to the butcher for our freezer. There are some who don’t understand how we can eat the pigs we raise, but we do so knowing that we have raised happy and healthy animals. We realize and respect that it’s not for everyone. And trust me, we never take the ride to the butcher lightly. It’s not easy.
This year, we decided to venture into inseminating not only Marge for a litter of spring piglets, but also one of her offspring, Sox. One of our farmer friends and trusted advisor told us that we needed to breed her because of her strong genetics. Anytime we get information from others, it is just another reminder that even though we might feel like we know what we are doing, there is always room to learn new things. So, monthly cycles were tracked and because they we co-habitating, their heat cycles were in sync. Just talk to any parent of teenage girls, (shout out to my parents of 4 children, 3 of which are female) and you will understand.
We made the calculations, and based on available butcher dates in the fall, we figured that we would need to inseminate mid-November. Pig gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, putting their due date as March 8th. The insemination process is ideally done in at least 3 doses and then the waiting begins. A pig’s heat cycle is about every 21 days, and it’s a long 21 days to wait! So the first 21 days went by with no heat, then the next 21, so we were confident that both moms were expecting.
We started to see physical signs about 3 weeks before their due date and felt some movement of the little ones. The days went by and the mommas were both “nesting”, slowing down, and resting more. As a mom myself, I felt a special connection knowing a little of what they were feeling. They certainly got extra snacks and attention in those last few weeks!
Remember I told you about those 24 hours of feeling every emotion possible? March 8th came and we knew from our past experience with Marge, that Sox was going to give birth, that day, right on schedule. We checked on her periodically throughout the day and knowing that it’s our animal’s world and we are just living in it, we knew to just leave her alone. One of the late afternoon check-ins revealed new life! There was a little spotted cutie snuggled up to her mom. About an hour passed and on the next check we were saddened to find 2 babies that did not make it. Did we know exactly what happened? No, but we suspected that they got rolled on, which we were kind of prepared for after last years’ experience with Marge. No matter what, it was still very sad.
We live in the Northeast and March is a funny month. We can have spring-like temperatures and we can also still have many days of winter temperatures, and the late afternoon/evening of March 8th was no exception. At some point in the birthing process Sox got herself turned around and was basically giving birth out the side door of her house into the cold. Ok, so here is where the panic sets in. My better half, the brains of this crazy operation, was out pruning our grapevines when I realized that we were going to have to intervene if these little ones had any chance of survival. So I called him over in a quiet and calm voice (remember there is a mom giving birth at this very moment) to show him what was going on. We quickly grabbed towels and as she birthed, which was about every 10-15 minutes, I was picking up the babies, drying them quickly then handing them over to him to try to get them to nurse. Please keep in mind that I am the one in the family who hates getting dirty, I can’t stand getting dirt on my hands or under my nails, but this was one of those moments that life throws you when nothing else matters. It’s just emergency “go mode”. We were so “in the moment” that we did not even know how many piglets were born. Once we were sure that the birthing was done, our count revealed that there were 10. One of the babies was struggling a bit to breathe and we assisted by suctioning out its mouth and nose, but we both knew that the chances of this little one’s survival was slim.
Our experience with Marge last year was so great. She was so nurturing and attentive, and careful when she stepped. We were not seeing this with Sox and feared what we might find the next morning. I don’t think either one of us slept. We both got up early and decided to check on the situation together. We are a great team and this was not the time to let the team down. Unfortunately, our fears came true. We lost an additional 4, for a total of 6 lost lives. We were devastated and scared for the remaining little ones and we knew there was not much we could do, just monitor and pray hard. I will share with you that if there was ever a moment that I thought, “I am done”, and that I can’t continue this lifestyle, this was it. But, as mother nature would have it, Marge came to the emotional rescue in the afternoon on March 9th, giving birth to 7 beautiful babies. She quickly reminded us that we will have sad, emotional days and experiences on the Homestead, but better days are always ahead. Just as we witnessed last year, Marge is a great mom. Thank you, Marge.
This past week was a humble reminder of how difficult this lifestyle can be, and also how much joy it can bring. Death is hard, but new life is exhilarating! Sox’s surviving 6 are doing well, and she seems to be getting a hang of this Mom-thing. I guess it does not matter the species, we all have our parenting struggles and the strong ones will always survive.