Not everyone is enamoured with pigs. I say they are an acquired taste, preferably with eggs in the morning. The Vet is ambivalent- it’s another animal and somewhere in his years of tertiary training he has learnt about its biology, physiology, reproduction, and as with such a lot of veterinary issues, its diet and digestive tract.
But for Stanley, out the back of beyond living on 20ha of organised chaos, pigs are a passion. Pretty hard to put an age on Stanley, a bachelor by choice, though not necessarily his own. It’s just no woman in her right mind would want to live like that and have to compete or at least help look after such a variety of swinish pets.
Stanley is a harmless sort. Where a lot of blokes will talk about going fishing, or hunting or rugby, he is more interested in pigs and Biggies. He once told us his grandfather had been a pilot in World War I and somehow survived to fire up the young Stanley’s mind with stories of battle, honour and glory and in his adolescent years. This was all mixed in with a generous dolloping of Biggies, the fighter ace.
Grandpa eventually shuffled into the bright blue beyond, but the fascination with Biggies stuck. Stanley had a book collector’s dream of original and reprinted stories and could tell us whether it was a Sopwith Camel or Pup, a Tiger Moth or a Vickers Viking that Biggies flew on any particular mission.
The boundaries blurred a bit between what his grandfather had actually done and what Biggies was famous for, and so did the distinction between his farm livestock and Biggies characters. The roll call at feeding time includes Piggies and Algy, a couple of endearing black Hampshire pigs with matching white saddles around their girth line. Then there was Ginger, a golden syrup-coloured Kunekune and her patchwork litter mates Taffy and Tug, and in the next paddock was Li Chi and Full Moon, a couple of massive Large White/Landrace cross sows. Further down were the boars, a Landrace sire called “The White Fokker», and the Major, a brindled Kunekune with tusks that curled around like an old Englishman’s moustache.
Fortunately, pigs are usually easy care. If you feed them well and give them a dry snug house and a bit of a mudhole for entertainment, chances are the Vet won’t be needed in the short timespan between their birth and conversion to bacon or pork.
But some of Stanley’s flight crew were getting a bit aged, and it was inevitable that the call would come one springtime.
“It’s Full Moon, doctor.»
“Nooo, don’t think so, it’s been waning a week or so now, why?”
«No, I mean its Full Moon, the pig!»
“What, pigs flying now?”
“No, its Stanley here, up Humphreys. Mah pigs in trouble.
Full Moon. She started farrowing but nothing’s coming out. She’s right not happy. Can you come see?»
So the Vet and 1 wended our way the hour or so out into the distant reaches of council road maintenance. Stanley was pacing by the house as anxious as any expectant father.
Full Moon was indeed a massive white pig and hugely pregnant, her great udders already leaking milk, with a coloured discharge coming from her back end. She was in constant motion, standing and straining, then sagging onto her side and straining, but nothing was showing.
«How long has she been like this?”
“About three hours now. 1 saw her starting this morning and left her to it. Normally they farrow without any trouble. Algernon produced 10 just last week, and Piggies is due soon too. But then I checked an hour later and she didn’t look right. That’s when I rang you, and it’s an hour after that.» He looked at us accusingly.
«Can you get a rope on her head and round her snout?» the Vet asked. «I’ll have a look at the back end and see what’s happening.»
Stanley efficiently tied the sow to the railing and the Vet lubed up his arm and inserted it gently inside.
«Hah,” he said soon. ‘Two piglets, racing for the exit, one front first and one breach. I can just get a hold of the snout of the first one and I’ll push the other back a bit.»
Soon enough he brought a little pig forth, but it was bloody and lifeless.
«Must have been a bit too long for this poor little beggar. I will give her a shot of pituitary hormone, just to give the contractions a boost and she should manage on her own. We will just watch and see what happens and make sure she cleans them up ok.»
Sure enough, a few minutes later a second piglet emerged. This one was alive and well. A short time later numbers two, three, four and five slipped out. The pig was looking happier now and began to nuzzle and lick her babies. Five minutes later she flopped down again, strained mightily and three more popped out, followed shortly after after by a bloody mess of afterbirth which she promptly began to eat.
‘Ah well, that will be the lot then,” said the Vet. «Lucky to only lose the first one.”
«That’s a relief to be sure, not as many as last year, but she’s not a young pig anymore,” said Stan.
«Reminds me, how do you get a pig to hospital?» he asked.
We looked at him.
«Well, by hambulance of course!» he chortled. “And what do you call a pig with no clothes? Streaky bacon, hee hee.»
We went up the house and joined him in a cup of tea and admired his Biggies books. Did you know Biggies had 32 kills and was himself shot down eight times? And did you know pigs are more intelligent than dogs and they can be taught to push a ball, or pick up a ball? And they can learn things first time up?
“Dogs can’t do that you know.”
After a quick check on Full Moon and her new offspring, we left.
It was only a week before we heard from Stanley again.
“Just wanted to let you know Full Moon is doing fine. And Piggies has had her babies too, 11 of them.”
“Any difficulties?” the Vet asked.
«No problems,» said Stanley. “It was just a case of bombs away.”