Hooked by a Tusk
It took me some time to decide to share this story. I had some chatter in my head as to what kind of responses it may elicit. Was it because I am a female farmer or because I promote our organic and animal welfare practices; I’m not sure. These voices fired up as soon as this scenario played out on a day in late October. During this time, Eric was gone for weeks at a time in trainings. I had taken on the full time farming position with routine care and feeding the animals. My mom, who always goes with mom instinct, insisted that I call her when I go out to feed and when I came back in. I found this irritating and unnecessary; I can do this and I’m fine, were my thoughts. In my mind she didn’t ask Eric to call her every time he went out to feed, but in all fairness I am typically home when he is out with the animals. Truth is - what happened to me on this day could have happened to him, too.
I started my day like any other. Eliza and I woke, took care of the poultry, then came in for a bite to eat and coffee. Well, like any other day, I had no coffee so I threw Liza in the truck and zipped over to mom’s. Soon, I was standing in the kitchen with my hands wrapped around my cup discussing the day’s schedule with my mom and sister. It was Thursday. I had to hurry and get the pigs taken care of so I could get to town at a reasonable time to help with the co-op. We were having a string of cow escapes during the time at another farm we manage and needed everyone (me, mom, and April) to be ready to help out where we could. I asked Eliza to stay at Nana and Poppy’s (my dad is gone but their farm will forever be Nana and Poppy’s to her). I jumped back in the truck and ran back to our farm. While filling the water tank, I messed around in the garden pulling tomato stakes and tomato vines; I even made an IGTV video that morning. Once the tank was filled and buckets loaded; I headed to the pig pens, woodlots and pastures.
So far everything was routine. Maybe I wasn’t as present as I should have been. Maybe I was thinking about my day and this project and that project but I was present enough to recognize Fil, our 600+ lb. boar and his out of character behavior. I had the audacity to say to him, “What’s up Fil, you’re not yourself.” That was seconds before he hunched his back, shimmied his feet, lowered his head and made his move toward me. When I realized what was happening I turned to get out; he was faster. He hooked me with his very well developed tusk in the back of my leg and with a simple flip of his head, sent me sailing over the hog paneling and out of the pen we feed in. For perspective, I am not a small person. I push 6 feet tall and have meat on my bones. It was nothing but the tusk in my leg and his quick nod that made me airborne. I was shocked, stunned and PISSED. I grabbed the back of my leg feeling the mush and a hole that my finger slid into. Saying out loud to nobody that could hear me, “Shit, shit, SHIT, STUPID F*ing SHIT, STUPID ASS SHIT!!” As I was holding the back of my leg I hobbled to get back to the truck, scared out of my mind with horror stories of bleeding out in the pig pen.
So, I had some things going for me: A) I AM pushing 6 feet tall, my leg took the hook half way between the crease of my knee and the crease of my butt so my groin and back of the knee were missed. B) I DO have meat on my bones with a nice healthy fat cap on my thighs. You know what fat does? It saves lives. Doctors and nurses said so.
Driving the old truck bouncing back to the house, I was trying to figure out what the hell happened, severity, and how was I going to get help. I had a series of irrational thoughts and shame. I didn’t want anyone to know. The chatter began: “Who does she think she is? That’s what she gets and deserves. She thinks she’s a farmer.” And, the list went on… I figured I had just proven all those nasty uglies right with my farming accident. It was a trigger that released a floodgate of talk that I had held onto and integrated. We passionately believe in our practices, but going against ‘the grain’ is hard.
I made it back to the house, crying in disbelief and so pissed. I wasn’t gushing or losing blood like it was being pumped out so I figured I was going to be okay. But, I became concerned with the possibility of damage to muscle tissue and nerves. I tied the wound off with a sock and held my hands over it for pressure. It hurt.
My first call was not my mom. I called my sister, no answer. I called my brother, no answer. Shit, I had to call my mom. I did contemplate driving myself, but had the good sense not to. Poor mom, she handles these situations like a champ. My niece answered and I said in a calm voice, “Ella go get Nana and make it quick.” Ella intuitively knew and ran through the house yelling for Nana, saying something is bad wrong with Auntie. My mom knew, too. She got on the phone, returned the calm and asked if she needed to call an ambulance or was she driving me to the hospital.
The ER visit was a trip. We went to STL where every single intern trotted into my room to see the “wild boar attack.” My surgeon couldn’t grasp what kind of animal I was talking about. Had this been a house pet? WTF?!?! He wanted to see pictures. All was well though, they cleaned it and luckily my composition had spared me. The first stitch was laid down right on top of my muscle. I was feeling sad and grateful all at the same time. I knew the fate that awaited Fil, he was an incredible animal that lived a very long and happy life. We still do not know what happened that day. I messaged Chuck and Janie, the previous Nutty Pig farmers, and had them confirm what I already knew; they never had any problems with him. They did ask if we would keep him long enough for them to come say their good byes and pay respect to the magnificent creature. Of course.
After the wound was cleaned and stitched, my attention shifted to the healing process. I was prescribed two types of antibiotics and rightfully so. This wasn’t like the time I had a tooth pulled and convinced the dentist garlic was just as effective as his prescribed antibiotic (my mouth healed beautifully btw). Nope, I was committed to 6 pills a day and I took them - this was a dirty wound. My wound healed quickly with no complications. I attribute an unremarkable, clean heal to the way we raise our pigs with a philosophy of organic fields and sustainable practices.
I was keenly aware that my body would respond in accordance to what I had been eating. In our case, we serve pork and all other animals we raise on our table daily. What does that mean? In the case of another pig farmer, Russ Kremer, who had a brush with one of his boars, it meant he was unknowingly antibiotic resistant. Russ’s body also responded in accordance to what he had been eating; however, his pork was raised using concentrated industrial methods. He developed an infection from a mutated form of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The lists of medications he was not responding to was long; he nearly lost his life. Antibiotics and medications were routinely dispensed in Kremer’s operation. Antibiotics were given at a low dose to increase growth rates and to ward off low grade infections. This doesn’t include the dosages that were administered for the other ailments that are prevalent when animals are concentrated. He is quoted, “When your best resource people tell you this is what you need to increase efficiency, you adapt.” As a farmer in general, trust and responsibility is great. Farmers trust the people researching and guiding them to use best practices and the consumer trusts the farmer. It is a tremendous responsibility to produce and then distribute a product into our food system as Russ says, “I’ve truly figured it out after contracting the bacteria. I realized I was producing drug resistant bacteria and putting it into our food system.”
I’ve read these articles and have been inspired to produce “clean” meats for our food system from the ground up because it’s what we want to be eating. It’s one thing to read about it and it’s another to experience it. To share Russ’s sentiment, “The importance of a safe food system hit home.” It’s been our desire from the beginning to foster a model of whole health and well being for the entire food chain. Our land and the land we manage is USDA certified organic through Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association. Caring for the land, animals and soil is integral to our farm working as a healthy organism. And as far as the chatter, it’s quiet for now and I am still here all healed up and contributing to a safer food system.