An idyllic summer afternoon. Clear blue skies, comfortable temperatures, settling back into the routine of life on the farm. And here I am reveling in the day, just a laid back guy whiling away an hour or two picking maggots out of the hide of our 400 pound bristly, black, tusked boar. Standing in shin deep mud that threatens to suck my boots off, I am slowly going over Vernon’s hide with a bucket of soapy water, a brush, and, mostly by hand, picking maggots out of the innumerable cracks and creases of his hide, and squishing or drowning the gross little creatures.
It’s not quite “le déjeuner sur l’herbe,” but it will have to serve as my bucolic reverie.
How this situation came to pass is a somewhat sad tale. Over a year ago we sold a young uncastrated boar for breeding purposes to a woman who had earlier purchased a couple of Ossabaw sows. Establishing another herd of Ossabaws is something we encourage. She left a $50 deposit, and said she would come for him. And she never did.
Months went by, and the little boar grew, but at first he seemed to know his place in the pecking order. Vernon, the goofy beloved boar whom we bought some five or six years ago from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the women who run the show at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, just outside of D.C., was definitely the senior, privileged boar on the premises. Until, that is, in the last couple of months this vigorous, considerably younger boar grew to rival Vernon in size and to assert himself.
In the last few weeks, the occasional nips and tussles and growls of the past graduated to a few full fledged battles with loud roars of pain. And it turned out that our unnamed younger boar did some serious damage to Vernon, tearing up his sides so that they were dripping blood. The blood attracted flies, the flies laid eggs, and in a matter of days poor Vernon was quite ill, without his usual voracious appetite, listlessly lying in the pen, where we had isolated him with his devoted buddy, Eyre, our fattest sow. It was clear he was suffering from an infection, and there was no question that despite Kyle and Peter having sprayed him with wound care spray earlier in the week his wounds were infested, crawling with maggots. Flies buzzed around him.
Elaine, our intrepid vet, came Saturday and examined him. She gave Vernon a penicillin shot and instructed us to do what we could to clean the maggots off and out of his wounds. She said she loved doing stuff like that, and wished she could stay and do it, but that she had a dog emergency to attend to.
I took Elaine’s comment about loving to take maggots off her patient as a joke, but knew her instruction to get in there and clean him off was dead serious. That afternoon, Kyle and I climbed into the pen with some trepidation. Vernon is about as long as I am tall, and at least twice as thick around (though lately I seem to be working on catching up). With his weight, tusks, and full set of teeth, he could easily rip me to shreds, if provoked. Having an equally large fat sow in the pen with protective instincts toward him seemed to make the task potentially even more dangerous. To top it off, the shin deep mud that resulted from last week’s heavy rains made it impossible to move quickly out of danger, should the need arise. Half the time, my foot came out of the boot when I tried to lift my leg. My anxiety quotient was therefore pretty high. It was alleviated only somewhat by knowing that Kyle, who was engaged with securing the fences against any further marauding by the other boar while I tended to Vernon, was there to give me a hand and pull me from the mud if necessary on short notice.
Luckily, Vernon was feeling so poorly that while he growled when I sudsed him down, he barely lifted his head. He whimpered at first when I started picking and brushing off the maggots that were clumped in great writhing colonies all up and down his back and sides, but after a bit, I think he realized that the process was relieving a great deal of discomfort. I heard groans, but they seemed more the groans of someone undergoing deep tissue massage. He cooperated. He even turned so I could get to new areas. When I discovered and removed huge quantities of maggots behind his ears and jowls, he seemed to be sighing contentedly.
It suddenly dawned on me what Elaine meant about enjoying the process. It had some of the quality of weeding the garden (which I had planned to spend the afternoon doing), and some of the quality of the sort of communion with another being you get from giving a massage. After a couple of hours, Vernon looked a lot better, and he gave me hope that he would survive, which had definitely been in doubt earlier in the day.
Sunday Elaine returned to administer another shot, proclaimed him improving, and instructed us to keep on removing the maggot infestation daily. I spent another satisfying hour that afternoon with a very sweet and cooperative pig. I could see this becoming a routine. Sunday evening, Vernon got up and ate greens.
It is, unfortunately, not going to be a clear run back to Vernon’s usually hearty state of health. As he felt better during the week, I got reports that he was becoming much more resistant to the grooming. Midweek his eyes closed up, which made him even more unpredictable. In order to get opthalmic cream into his eyes, Elaine had to sedate him. Peter reports that, while he is by no means out of the woods yet, he has gotten more vigorous and has come back to life a bit more every day. I am hopeful that our beloved Vernon will be with us for a good while longer.
Still to be determined is how we will resolve the two-boar situation which threatens chaos if they are let loose together. If anyone wants to buy a young and vigorous Ossabaw boar, please let us know.
For me, this experience has been another boundary crossed. I am a queasy sort when it comes to blood, bodily fluids, and such things (I could never have become a doctor), yet I found myself taking satisfaction in a task that I once would have considered utterly disgusting. Kyle jokingly reminded me of the incongruity between this down and dirty pastime, and the image my legal clients must have of me. I smiled at the contrast between the previous day, reading about the Luxembourg Code of Civil Procedure at my desk, and my present activity, picking maggots out of a boar. Which, I wondered, was the more absurd way to spend my time? And now I think back to the night in 1978 I first met Peter. He asked me what I did. As I was then fresh out of law school working at a corporate law firm and still young enough to be idealistic, I described myself as “a pig lawyer.” The expression is coming back to haunt me.
And here’s what we have to eat:
NEW THIS WEEK
Basil, $.75 a bunch
Broccoli, $3/ lb
Cucumbers, 50 cents a piece for the larger ones, or for two smaller ones
Zucchini, possilby, $1 each
Sugar snaps are done and the first wave of haricots verts and romanos sold out, but more beans are on the way.
Our newest beef is getting picked up this week, $180 for a 20 lb. sample pack.
Fava beans, $4/lb — we sold over 50 lbs last week, but still have a few spare pounds left, first come first served
Scallions: Nice bulbous ones, 6 for $1
Beautiful lettuces: Frisée, Forellenschluss (German red flecked romaine), Buttercrunch, Lolla Rossa red, or regular romaine, $3/bag, one type or mixed
A few small cauliflower: $1 each, and a few larger ones, $2 each
Detroit red beets, $3/lb
Green garlic $8/lb
Swiss Chard, tender and young, $2/bag
Herbs: mint, chives, parsley, thyme $.75 a bunch
Lamb’s quarters $2/bag
Red or white currants: $7/pint
Wild black cap berries: $6/lb
And piglets! Raise your own pork. Historically important, tasty as all get out, Ossabaw pigs, Our oldest litter is definitely ready to venture out into the world, the second group is pretty much ready, the third will be soon. $100 per piglet
Want to plant your own? Rose de berne and a few black krim tomato plants, plenty of ping tung, diamond and rosa bianca eggplants, $2 each, leeks, $1/dozen, swiss chard, $1 cell, lovely mounding greek basil for the windowsill or herb garden, $1 a plant or, if you want it in a clay pot, $4.