Thoughts On An Unexpected Death On The Farm
“When you take responsibility for an animals life, you must also take responsibility for its death” –Emilie Tweardy
I didn’t realize how emotionally connected I had become to my pigs until I had to kill one unexpectedly. A few days ago one of the two pigs we’ve been raising for meat was mortally injured and left paralyzed in half of its body, and after consulting with the vet, we decided to euthanize him. It was solemn and shockingly violent, but thankfully it went very quick. First the vet sedated him, and once he was unconscious, I shot him twice between the eyes with my rifle. Later, alone on the farm, I buried him in the ground with a few heartfelt prayers.
I know we made the right decision, but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. The worst part was seeing the crippled, feverish pig suffer – that’s when I realized how visceral the bond was that I had developed with him over the past few months. It is a strange, new feeling – not like the grief of losing a pet, there were no tears – but more of a heavy sadness that hangs like a weight from my chest.
This is my families first go at pigs, and one of the things my wife and I are reflecting on now is that our pigs have become a familiar comfort to us – a vibrant part of the interconnected living system of our farm. I knew I would have to butcher them soon, and I had always imagined harvesting them with reverence knowing that they would be recycled to nourish my family and friends. Now I’ve lost that meaning for this pig and I am struggling to make sense of it. He will feed the soil food web now and next season we will plant a mulberry tree over his grave that someday will feed another generation of pigs. Still, something feels wrong and I have to sit with that for now.
I think I’ve already recognized some lessons from all of this. One is to always have an on-farm plan to butcher in emergencies so the meat can be salvaged. Another is to raise a more resilient breed (it seems like this particular injury is common in Mangalistas). There is an idea I’ve heard that industrial-scale agriculture fosters a society that becomes inured to violence, and that might be true to an extent. But then it must also be true that the experience of raising animals, working alongside of them, and taking responsibility for both their lives and their deaths, makes us take violence more seriously. I know that it has for me.