It’s never a good sign when you spot a 500-pound pig randomly strolling past your living room window.
Other livestock producers, you know what I mean. And the rest of you probably have a pretty good idea. At any rate, that was the beginning of a beautiful Sunday afternoon last winter going downhill for me.
I was on the phone with my parents, having our lovely weekly chat, when some movement outside the picture window caught the corner of my eye.
“Dad, sorry – I’ll call back when I can,” I interrupted him mid-sentence. “Pig on the run!”
Well, maybe “run” wasn’t exactly the right word. The pig on the loose was Fancy, who entered the Fee Farms retirement program four years ago. Now 8, she would be considered elderly, if not ancient, in the porcine world. Her run is more like a brisk hobble.
Never heard of a retired pig before? Let’s just say they’re one of the more unique features of our farm. And to be clear, we’re an actual farm where show pigs are raised, not a livestock sanctuary.
But yours truly happens to get uncommonly attached to anything with paws or hooves, so my husband and I struck up an agreement: I can’t keep every pig when their productive days are over, but I’ll always have one designated retiree.
He or she will be lavished with extra scratches behind the ears, a ridiculously poofy bed of straw, and daily treats that most definitely are not on a show pig diet.
Before Fancy, the recipient was “Double Digits,” a 1,000-pound boar who lived to be 10 and would politely nibble miniature donuts from my fingertips. (With me safely outside his pen, mind you. Even boars who think they’re big puppies can be accidentally dangerous.)
When I saw that Fancy had decided to take a field trip from her deluxe accommodations, I knew she wasn’t going far in a hurry. On the other hand, remember how icy it was last winter? To my horror, I saw her slip and nearly fall as I rushed to bundle up and usher her back to safety.
That’s how we lost Double Digits, after all: He’d fallen and broken one of his shoulders. We’d had to call the vet to end his suffering. If a smaller pig has an injury like that, there are options for moving it, helping it. Not the case with one of my gentle giants.
So, as I threw on my coat and boots and shot out the door, I was having awful flashbacks of saying goodbye to Double Digits. Not thinking about how I was going to be as graceful as Fancy on glare ice.
Make that less graceful.
It was one of those falls when you have 10 seconds of warning. Ten seconds that seem to pass in slow motion while you’re technically still upright but know you won’t be for long. Both feet flew out from under me, and I landed with a thud, mostly on my right hip and shoulder.
“Oh, please don’t step on me,” I begged Fancy, as she glanced over at me with apparent concern, then went back to casually breaking apart a flowerpot.
I might’ve stayed sprawled out on the ice for a while longer, except that I was keenly aware of how her own feet were still skidding on it. I limped into the garage – also Eric’s man cave/office – where he was working on his computer.
“Oh hey,” he said before looking up. Then, puzzled, “Why are you walking like that?”
Doubled over, my hurt arm dangling, I probably looked like I was doing an impression of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“Fancy … on ice. … Hurry!” was all that I could choke out in response.
Eric hesitated, not sure whether to tend to me – whatever had befallen me – or our elderly sow. With my good arm, I emphatically but silently made chopping motions toward the garage door, as though he were a plane and I was air traffic control.
Now, months later, I can tell you that Fancy is fine and all but one of my bruises eventually disappeared. I sometimes wondered whether that lingering one was some sort of tattoo marking me as a die-hard animal lover.
She still manages to break out of her retirement quarters from time to time, but putting her away is generally as simple as putting my hand in my pocket (where she knows that cookies for pigs reside) and calling for her to follow me.
If only it would be that easy for me to live down the whole episode.
“So, both feet just flew right out from under you?” Eric occasionally marvels, now that he knows I’m OK. It’s not uncommon for us to reminisce about farm injuries like they’re war stories and tease each other a little. “Isn’t it kind of ironic that you fell trying to save Fancy from falling?”
Of course, at that point in the recounting, my eyes usually narrow a little and he changes the subject.
At least one of us knows when he's on thin ice.