Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pigs and cows and sciatica, oh my!

There are 365 days in a year and 24 hours in every day, so why did a 150-pound pig decide that NOW was the time to get itself completely tangled up in Electronet? After yesterday's 7-hour barn cleaning marathon, I can now say I truly feel your pain if you've ever suffered from sciatica. The last time I was walking, holding my back, moaning, groaning, and breathing like this was 21 years ago when I was giving birth to my last child! I was simultaneously crying in pain and laughing at the complete absurdity of the situation! Getting a pig out of Electronet in my condition was quite a challenge, but it is free -- and I bet it will never go near Electronet again.
my Facebook status yesterday

I have no doubt this would all be quite hilarious if I were watching it in a movie. But I'm not. I'm living it. But let's start at the beginning ... (It's okay if you laugh. I promise I won't get mad.)

I've had sciatic pain off and on for the past year. When I was mistakenly diagnosed with reflux earlier this year, I started sleeping on a wedge, which did nothing for my digestive problems but after the first night of sleeping on the wedge, I realized that my low back pain was gone! So, I thought I had learned how to deal with it. On Monday someone came out to help clean up the kidding barn and get it ready for kidding season, which will start in December. Because my back has been bothering me a little, I made a point of not doing any heavy lifting. I did all of the gross little things ... like cleaning off the shelves behind the kidding stalls, cleaning the store room, removing fly strips, and other tedious but important jobs. (Now I really wish I had taken a picture! It looks great!) Other than my knee feeling a little more swollen than normal, I was feeling fine. We worked from noon to seven, then I came inside and cooked dinner. By 9 p.m., I knew I had a problem, but I figured a good night's rest would take care of it.

Not even close! I woke up yesterday morning wincing in pain every time I moved. I was moving slowly and taking tiny steps. When I came downstairs, the first thing I did was an online search for sciatica. I didn't learn anything terribly helpful, although I found it curious that most of the articles said it is made worse by sitting. Hmm ... mine was always worse from laying down flat, either on my back or stomach. Sitting never seemed to bother it as much. So I figured I'd spend the day sitting in front of the computer, icing my back off and on all day. It was going pretty well until around 2:45 when I suddenly heard a pig squealing non-stop! I limped to the window as quickly as I could manage, as the squealing continued. The pigs are in the front yard cleaning up the acorns and hickory nuts. When I looked to where the squeal was coming from, I saw a pig tangled in the Electronet that was keeping the goats in their area.

"Oh! Good grief! Seriously? Seriously? Today?" I hobbled to the front door and headed outside without even changing my slippers to farm shoes. Having been shocked a couple of times by an electric fence, I knew the pig was truly in distress. And just in case I had any doubts, it was continuing to squeal non-stop. I made my way to the barn as quickly as I could and unplugged the fence charger. The squealing stopped immediately. As I then headed towards the pig, I saw absolutely zero movement. Oh no, it's dead. No, it wouldn't have died at exactly the same second you unplugged the charger. But it's not moving. Why isn't it moving? And so my thoughts spun out of control until I was close enough to see that the pig was blinking its eyes. The whole time I was moving from one end of the front yard to the other, I was also holding my back, taking deep breaths, blowing them out with a loud moan, and occasionally throwing out a swear word for pain control.

When I finally reached the pig, I realized that it had pulled up five of the stakes that held the fence in place. Although I was able to remove one strand of fencing from across the bridge of its snout, I couldn't figure out how exactly it had put itself at the center of this gordian knot. A strand of fencing ran so tightly across its back that I couldn't even slip a finger under it. In my pain-induced fuzzy brain, I had the brilliant idea to pull the pig backwards. Keep in mind that I can't squat because of the arthritis in my knees, and now I can hardly bend my back, so I am bending my knees as far as I can, and I'm trying to bend my body forward at my hips. I foolishly thought that I could simply use my arms to pull the pig backwards. Hey, at least I knew that I wouldn't be able to use my back to pull on it. Of course, the pig wanted nothing to do with me pulling on it -- as if I could actually have moved a 150-pound pig with only my arms!

First I hobbled to the house for a pair of scissors so that I could cut the strand of fencing. Even though we probably own seven pairs, there was not a single pair that I could easily find. Thanks to the fact that, more than once, I've caught my husband using goat hoof trimmers to cut and strip electrical wire, I realized that they were probably an even better idea than scissors, which probably would not have worked anyway. So, off I hobbled towards the barn, huffing and puffing, moaning and groaning, and holding my back the whole way. We always keep an old pair of hoof trimmers in the side of a hay stack to use for cutting baling twine, so they were easy to find. And then I made the same arduous journey back across the yard, looking like a woman in hard labor, minus the obligatory baby bump out front.

I finally reached the pig, who now had enough strength to squeal in anticipation of the fact that it knew I was going to touch it again. This was not one of the friendlier pigs who actually enjoys getting a scratch behind the ears and a back massage -- and even if it was, it probably would not have been after being tangled in an electric fence and being shocked for a couple of minutes. I slowly began my descent into the semi-squat, hinged bending at the hips until I could reach the wire across the pig's back. Because I couldn't even get my finger under it, I pushed the tip of hoof trimmers under it as gently and slowly as I could so as not to accidentally stab the pig. The moment I heard the snap of the hoof trimmers cutting through the fence strand, the pig bolted, running as fast a pig could possible run, across the yard, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder without slowing down.

When I finally went back inside, I complained on Facebook. I knew I would still need to do evening chores a couple hours later, but that seemed like nothing after dealing with the pig fiasco. Mike had done double-duty on a lot of things that morning because he knew I was having trouble, so I only needed to provide hay for a few animals and bring the goats and cows into the barn. Simple enough, right?

I'd love to say that I had nothing but positive thoughts throughout evening chores, but that wouldn't be true. I had all sorts of visions of goats running amok, dancing on hay stacks, and gorging themselves on the pig grain. You see, I had to move them from their pasture, across the front yard, and through the whole barn to get to their stalls. I also had to move the milk cow and her calf into the barn. Milk cow? What milk cow? Oh, right, I haven't told you about Beauty and her calf Beau yet. They've been here for almost two weeks now. I promise I'll tell you about them in the next couple of days!

When I went outside to do chores, Beauty mooed at me from the back door of the barn, so I thought I should take advantage of the fact that she was already at the door and let her in as soon as I had hay and water in all of the stalls. It took me awhile because I couldn't lift the five-gallon buckets, so had to use the two-gallon. She was standing a little too close to the door for me to open it enough for her to walk right in, so I took a couple of steps out of the door and pulled on her halter to get her to walk around the door and come inside. It was the first time I'd ever tried that. We've always hooked a lead rope to her halter before, but I'd forgotten to grab one and was budgeting my steps. She actually cooperated quite nicely and was heading into the barn. I had not thought to close the door to the goat stall, so of course, that's where she went. Part of me wanted to just leave her in there, but the thought of a goat laying in a cow pie changed my mind. Once again, I pulled on her halter and she followed me into the aisle and then into her stall. I closed the door and breathed a sigh of relief.

Beau, however, was a different story. He was running back and forth through the barn. At only four weeks, he is a sweet little thing, but he is rapidly approaching the size of a Great Dane. We've started putting him in a separate stall overnight so that we can milk Beauty in the morning. Porter the English shepherd helps me move the goats into and out of the barn, and he knew I was trying to get Beau to go towards his stall. He was trying to help me by nipping at (but never actually biting) Beau's hind legs. Beau seemed to know that Porter wasn't going to actually bite him, and was completely ignoring him! It was actually rather humorous seeing Porter's reaction. He would nip at Beau's heels, and then he would look at me with what I swear was a confused look on his face! Porter seemed to be saying to me, I'm telling him to move, but he won't move! Why won't he move? Beau's back reaches to the middle of my thighs, so I got behind him and started to push my thighs against his back end. If he went to turn one way or the other, I'd just push on his ribs with my hand (doing the odd semi-squatting, hinged hip bending) to make him go straight. Finally we made our way to his stall, and after staring at it for a few seconds -- just long enough to make me worry -- he ran inside.

And then there were the goats, which actually went extremely well, thanks to Porter's help. Even though he and I have taken only one herding class -- not a series of classes, but one, three-hour intro class -- we've learned to muddle through and work together on moving the goats from the barn to the pasture in the morning and back into the barn at night. Since we use rotational grazing, the pasture does not always abut the barn, so there is an almost infinite number of challenges that could occur daily. However, I also think that the goats have been trained as much as the dog.

If a movie were ever made about Porter, he would be voiced by Eddie Murphy. His personality is so much like a lot of the Eddie Murphy characters who think that all of the women love them and that they are oh-so-tough with their adversaries. And he's a little too quick to declare success and start to celebrate. Moving the goats into the barn was flawless, but then Porter came running back out, jumping jubilantly into the air, as I slowly hobbled towards the barn so that I could close the stall door. I could see that some of the goats were coming back out of their stall and into the main part of the barn. I yelled, "No! Porter, go get the goats!" As soon as I screamed the words, the goats all turned on their heels and headed back into their stall. Then Porter turned away from me and ran to the door of their stall, tail wagging wildly, looking up at me and saying in that Eddie Murphy voice, "Hey! What you worried about? I got it under control! See!"

I closed the stall door as Porter again began jumping into the air declaring success at once again putting the goats in their place. As I continued my labored breathing and walking slowly towards the house, he would run ahead, then turn and run back to ask me what's taking so long. But we eventually made it back to the house, and I was very happy to call it a day.

Many thanks to PR intern Brooke Poling who took the pig pictures when she was here on Sunday.


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