Hard to say goodbye
August 22, 2012
The rain spatters my windows as the tears spatter my cheeks. This wonderful journey has come to an end. It was not something I was expecting, nor something I was ready for. Unfortunately, death is a part of life. But this one was one of my hardest goodbyes.
On Saturday, July 21, I lost the sow that started it all for me. She had turned six in the beginning of March, which is pretty old for a sow. This was her seventh litter. The stress of the farrowing, her old age and the heat was more than her body could take, and just one day after farrowing, she was ushered into pig heaven.
I've dealt with death many times in my life, and it never gets easier. Each one hurts just as much as the last, and each tear that is shed represents the heartbreak that I have felt.
For me, this sow was something very special. She wasn't just a random pig. She inspired me.
I believe that without this sow, I would not be where I am today. I would not have the livestock business that I have. I would never have gotten into raising pigs, and likely wouldn't have gotten into raising the goats either.
My success my first year of showing helped develop my love for the show ring, and my passion for breeding high quality animals for others to show and have success with. If I had not done as well as I had with her, I likely wouldn't have developed that passion.
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I'm not even sure I would have had the passion for agriculture that I have without this sow. When I graduated from high school I thought I wanted to go into business. I ended up picking up the agricultural business degree because I wanted to use it with my livestock. The same goes for my animal science degree.
I cannot say that I absolutely would not be where I am today if it wasn't for her. But I do know this much: she made a significant impact on my life.
This sow defied many odds, and taught me to never give up. I remember her second litter when she had problems and I had to fight to keep her alive, and then just three months later my barn caught on fire due to an electrical failure, and I almost lost her again. Even though she aborted the litter she was carrying, she made it through. I still have a sow from her next litter she had that spring. It seemed like every issue that we faced, she helped me get through it as much as I helped her.
Losing a key part of your life can be devastating. At times, all of the struggles I have faced with these pigs make me wonder if it's worth it. I do know that if I was just raising them for meat, it wouldn't be. However, when I go to county fair and I see the students who have bought animals from me compete, that's when I can see the value in what I am doing.
Having livestock teaches kids responsibility, compassion and dedication. It also teaches them about the value of hard work, and how if you work hard, you will be rewarded. It may not always be with ribbons, but in the life lessons that you learn.
These values help students throughout their careers, and I know that I learned many great lessons raising my livestock. Even though it hurts to have Shanae gone, I know that she helped teach many students, including myself, valuable life lessons. I owe her a lot, and she is an animal that I will never forget.
I hope that the piglets I have out of her last litter can succeed at the National Western Stock Show. It would be the crown of everything she has given me, and give a few more students the chance to succeed with their projects.
Thankfully, my month of July was not all bad. My Hampshire sow, Lindsay, farrowed a large, healthy litter. Her piglets are growing well, and she was able to take over nursing Shanae's litter, with a little help from the goat's milk.
In the beginning of July, I attended the American Dairy Goat Association National Show, which was held in Loveland, Colo. I took two of my does, my recorded grade Cleopatra, and my purebred LaMancha, Texas Tornado.
The national show was by far the biggest show that I have ever attended. There were roughly 2,500 goats in attendance, and a wide range of breeders from across the country.
I have not been showing goats for that long, and am still learning the tricks of the trade. Being at a show this size allowed me to network with other producers, and watch how they show and how they prepare.
It is always an eye opening experience to be at a show of this magnitude. The first class that I competed in, I showed a young Nubian doeling for a friend of mine. There were nearly 50 goats in the class, and even though this doe was young and this was her first show, she was amazing. In fact, she was an angel, which is her name. She placed 17th, which in a show that large, is a feat in itself.
The next goat I showed was my very own Cleo, and she ended up 19th. I then showed my LaMancha, and she was in another large class. Unfortunately, she did not make the cut into the top 20, but she has a lot of promise. She is only a yearling, and I feel she will get much better with time.
One thing that I did learn at this show was just how much my goats love animal crackers. The Wyoming association had a table with treats on it, and I thought I would give the crackers a try. Now, all of my goats love treat time, and it puts a smile on my face to see them so excited over a little snack.
One part of the show, and in fact this is true at all goat shows that I attend, that makes me incredibly happy is the number of juniors who participate. It's so wonderful to see them competing against older, more experienced showmen, and still doing well. You can just feel the passion and the drive they have, and that is something that I hope they never lose.
This last month has been tough for me, but each time I face a struggle, I try to find something that I can take from it. Once I moved through the initial grief stage, I realized that losing my sow has helped me gain some perspective on my life.
I would be lying if I said the problems I've had this year didn't make me want to give up. They did. But at the end of the day, I have to think about what my sow would have done, and I believe that she wouldn't want me to give up.
All of us, at times, take for granted what we have. Chores are not always fun, but I have the opportunity to do them and to care for other living beings.
Every day you will face challenges that test your determination and your passion. However, it is how you handle these challenges that defines you as a person. I am incredibly grateful that I get the chance to work with animals every day, and for the joy that they bring me. I'm grateful that I get to do what I love, when so many people out there can't say the same thing.
I'm also grateful for the people in my life, because without their support, I'm not sure how I would get through this. Remember to be grateful for what you have, because you never know when it will be gone. ❖