In the rigid, unforgiving field of pig breeding, Omega was our Wilbur. Crushed at birth, this rare breed Guinea Hog was less than a runt – she was a cripple who never should have lived past day one.
Amazingly, she lived 18 very full months.
“Life would have been a lot simpler if I hadn’t saved her,” Erin lamented as this miracle pig grew weaker and weaker from extended labor. Simpler, yes, but not as meaningful.
Like E.B. White’s willful lead character, Erin saw in this tiny black piglet something worth saving. Others did, too. Unlike Alpha, her perfect sister, Omega drew attention and concern from everyone who visited the farm, including students from the Deaf and Blind schools. Volunteers of all ages gave her therapeutic hip massages; she even appeared on local television. You might say she was the farm’s cause célèbre, a living statement against the unnatural standards we place on the factory-raised animals we consume.
Indeed, Omega’s very breed grew nearly extinct because it no longer fit our skewed image of animal as a business machine – no room here, thanks, for foraging, slow-growing, outdoor animals.
Or fat. Once prized for their lard, Guinea Hogs fell out of favor in the age of margarine and Crisco. That and the fact they didn’t have high enough output – litters averaging only six instead of the standard 10.
Omega’s litter numbered eight. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would all be stillborn. That crushed pelvis was just too narrow to pass them easily. Of course, this pig was never supposed to get pregnant in the first place. Just getting to the trough was an accomplishment, much less “standing” for a boar.
But Omega was not your average pig. As our herd grew larger, she faced brutal competition for food, shade and water as this summer’s heat beat down on the baked pasture. Mornings and evenings Omega was literally left in the dust as the hungry herd charged from its wallow. Slowly but surely, Omega arrived, too, dragging her backside and fighting for her place at the trough. We vowed to keep her alive as long as her quality of life seemed good. No shrinking violet, Omega barked and got her needs met.
As the drought progressed, our pigs ate less grass and more grain. They grew fatter than normal. Omega, too. Last month we noticed she had trouble getting out of the wallow. “Doesn’t it figure that Omega, not Alpha would get pregnant first,” said Erin.
We built her a separate pen to make life easier for her and on Monday morning, I found her in labor, with a pair of legs dangling out of her backside. With the help of small hands reaching inside (Avery’s and Ethan’s, as well as Farmer Mary), we delivered all but two of her stillborn babes. Our midwife friend Jamie, who helped with past deliveries, confirmed that Omega’s labor had stopped. Infection would set in and we would likely lose the mother, too.
Hard to imagine but here we were, almost two years later, faced with the same decision. That’s when Erin questioned what would have happened if she hadn’t gotten up at 4 in the morning and found that screaming baby trapped beneath her 200-pound mother.
Not saving Omega would have saved us from so many things: time and money, grief and hardship, and this, too: all those friends of the farm who found a role here caring for our special needs pig. They also saw something of themselves in this survivor. After all, don’t all of us share at times a sense of being crushed by someone or something? Of having to drag ourselves through the dirt? Of being left in the dust?
Harvesting Omega was as hard as it comes. Even in this final act she brought friends to the farm, this time to experience their first pig processing. And she has finally made it to the head of the line; she will be our first taste of this breed that we hope to proliferate and sell for meat and lard.
Our real-life version of Charlotte’s Web may lack magic and a happy ending, yet Omega’s gift is a lasting one: against all odds she not only survived, but thrived. She inspired us to do the same.
Maybe it was all that love and therapy. And the chance to live. Surely, this was some pig.