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How the Boar Stole Christmas

Posted by Julia Smith on

Following is an account of Julia's accident and the events leading up to it and immediately afterwards. Julia wrote it while still on pain killers when she was supposed to be resting so please bear with her if it isn't up to her usual standards.... You can also see a shorter, prettier version of the story on CBC.

Things started going sideways here at the ranch pretty quickly after this blog post. I checked Rosemary (the sow who was due to farrow) every hour through Friday night but she showed no signs of labour. I stayed up all night Saturday night watching her but it wasn't until after dinner on Sunday that the piglets started coming. It normally takes a sow 2-4 hours to deliver 9-14 piglets. Rosemary was having a hell of a time. I spent a good part of Sunday night armpit deep in a sow's lady parts pulling out piglets. By 11:30 the next morning, the last piglet was delivered and by some miracle, Rosemary was not only alive, but doing relatively well. She had delivered 19 piglets in all. The last 6 were (not surprisingly) stillborn but 13 is STILL a large litter.

So for those of you keeping score, I had 3 completely sleepless nights and 2 of checking sows every hour that week. Meanwhile, the cold weather had rendered our electric fence completely useless. Electricity can't travel through ground that is completely frozen and so cold it is downright dry. It was worse than even the driest summer day and the pigs quickly figured out that the fence was off. It was anarchy. We have some small pastured with permanent fencing but that is where we train the newly weaned piglets to the electric fence. It isn't really set up for almost market ready 100lb+ hogs. Our barn was built for farrowing sows, not to house growing pigs and we already had two sows in there. We were building fences out of anything we could get our hands on. With the ground frozen solid, there was no hope of pounding posts. There were (and still are!) pigs everywhere... in the barn, in the weaning pens, in temporary pens, in the trailer... anywhere we could contain a pig, got pigs.

On Wednesday, I wished Ludo good luck and with a heavy, anxious heart, hit the Coquihalla to get back to the coast for our big holiday market and turkey/ham pickup day on Thursday. At least I can report that that went off without a hitch thanks to our amazing, hardworking staff. It was 10:30pm before I could leave and head back to the ranch. I arrived a little after 2am and fell into bed, exhausted.

We weren't even out of our pyjamas yet Friday morning when we saw that we had pigs loose including our 1000lb boar, William. (Here's where the squeamish & small children might want to stop reading). Ludo took off after the marauding herd of juvenile delinquents and I, took all my worst judgement and sleep deprivation off to round up William who was marching up and down Duke, our younger boar's fence line doing the man dance.

Now William is the sweetest boar you will ever meet. We've raised him since he was a baby and he is as tame as they come. But he is still a very large animal with very long, very sharp tusks so we are careful to stay out of the “tusk zone” at all times. Well, at most times. I made a stupid, stupid mistake and stood too close to his head that morning as I tried to redirect him away from Duke. He swung his head around towards me and one of his 6 inch tusks went right through my thick winter layers, and most of the way through my abdomen. Ludo was only about 100m away but on the other side of a hill so I used every oz of adrenaline I had and I started running and screaming. Thankfully he heard me before I collapsed and was able to bundle me up and get me to the hospital 20km away in Merritt far quicker than an ambulance could even have gotten to me.

From Merritt I was transferred by ambulance to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops where in spite of the fact that over 100 cars had been involved in accidents on the highway that day, they still managed to take care of me too. The first CT scan showed that the tusk had gone right through my abdominal wall into my liver. The doctors couldn't believe there wasn't more damage so I was sent for another CT scan. Lucky me.... just the liver. Apparently if you're going to put a hole in a major organ, that's the one to hit. In surgery, they put 3 layers of stitches in to close the hold in my abdominal wall and also performed laparoscopic surgery to ensure they hadn't missed anything.  I spent a few more days being fussed over by the incredible nursing staff, doctors & wound specialists. They said I could go home when I was “comfortable” which sounded fairly ridiculous under the circumstances so I took that to mean “now” and I called Ludo and asked him to come break me out that night as soon as he finished feeding.

I wasn't trying to be tough. Quite the opposite in fact. It's really hard being in the hospital surrounded by people who are in just as much pain as you are with their friends and families all milling about who are just as worried about them as yours are. I think being in the hospital over Christmas is particularly bad. It is really draining and I felt like I could rest and recuperate better at home.

I'm not sure how restful it is for Ludo who has added “nurse” to his job title but we're better together and I don't think this is any exception. Ludo takes me to the hospital every other day for a checkup and dressing change. The wound in my abdominal muscle is so large and the risk of infection so great that they decided it was best to leave it open so they can clean it and monitor it more closely. It is pretty neat watching the measurements get smaller every 2 days.

I'm not sure how long my recovery is going to take. I guess I'll learn more when I see the surgeon next week. I know I'm not going anywhere any time soon and it will be a long time before I'm wrestling pigs, lifting freezers in and out of the truck at the farmers market or hauling sides of pork around. It isn't just the physical wounds that are taking some time. My brain is a mess from the anesthetic and pain killers and my heart and soul are battle weary.

Update: 

My wound continues to heal but since writing this, we have suffered another round of bad luck. One of our horses suffered a life threatening injury on Monday. Thankfully, we were able to stop the bleeding in time for the vet to get here and sew him up but Ludo now has another patient to care for twice a day and a big vet bill. Then yesterday, we suddenly lost our best sow who leaves a litter of 10 piglets behind who now need feeding. She was my favourite.... the daughter of my favourite before her. We tried to save her for 3 hours. I lay with her trying to warm her with my body heat and squirting medicine & water into her mouth while Ludo dealt with the piglets but it was to no avail and we had to put her down. Running around administering emergency first aid to large animals and performing autopsies (we had to recover her organs so the lab can find out what went wrong) is not bed rest but other than being completely exhausted, I don't think I've done myself any more serious damage. Ludo continues to hold everything together but the strain is wearing on him too. 

I'd like to sign off with something chirpy like "well that's farming for you!" but I've never felt less chirpy in my life. I'm sure things will get better. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Update

My friend Dawn set up a GoFundMe Campaign to help with the unexpected expenses (labour, blown up generator, vet bills, etc). I'm pretty embarrassed about this but lord knows we could use the help. Another great (and tastier) way you can help is to buy pork :) Thanks so much.


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2 comments

  • I am sending you get well wishes and hoping you are doing well; I appreciate all your hard work and efforts at farming and treating animals well; thank you for your involvement at Vancouver winter farmer’s markets, I am encouraging others to come out there for your great food too ! Take care, all the best.

    Judith on
  • “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny” ~ CS Lewis

    You two are changing the world around you. You are opening people’s eyes and it isn’t for naught! I’m so happy you are ok and you’re healing – even though not resting like you should be ;) Thank you for all that you and Ludo and your team do. The dream you have is worth the struggle. Take help where you can get it, get some rest and I’ll be sending you a ton of strength from Vancouver.

    Alisha on

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