Had an eventful couple of days last weekend. At about five o’clock on Saturday afternoon, James and I headed down to the end of the garden to feed the pigs and were immediately alarmed at the bedraggled appearance of the friendliest one, which also happens to have a large number of freckly markings, so is easily picked out. His coat was out of condition, he had mucus around his snout and a small boil had suddenly grown on his neck – but the most alarming aspect of his behaviour was that he simply stood his front trotters in the drinker with part of his mouth under the water while the other two gobbled down their tea. He wouldn’t even eat an apple and instead retreated to sleep in the ark.
Just that morning he’d looked in the pink of health – just hours later and he seemed to be at death’s door. After making a fuss of him, we headed back indoors to consult our Haynes manual, in which I couldn’t find a likely sounding condition, so I sent out an SOS Tweet to ask for help and called our very friendly breeders, Dave and Linda, to ask if they’d ever come across something similar themselves. Sadly, they hadn’t, but were just as concerned as we were. Then, I embarked on the very foolish activity of Googling the poorly pig’s symptoms – a mistake I won’t be repeating, as most convincing diagnosis appeared to be anthrax. Anthrax! This made for an extremely tense evening as I was not only fearful for the life of our Oxford Sandy & Black but also our own. Long, hot showers to try and rid ourselves of any bacteria didn’t do anything to ease the mind, of course, and we went to bed that night feeling very anxious indeed.
In the morning, Linda rang to check in on the patient and I asked for their vet’s number, aware that a Sunday call out would be hideously expensive but by this stage, as he was just the same, we were worried that the little guy might not make it till Monday. I rang Rachel Helm of Hammond Vets, recommended as an expert with pigs in particular, and she said she’d be over as soon as possible – I was delighted! And all the way from Hertford (the best part of an hour to us). Shortly after, I spoke to Robert at Buttle Farm in Wiltshire, who had responded to my Tweet and reassured me that pigs can recover just as quickly as they deteriorate and advised to ask the vet for antibiotics that we can keep on standby in our fridge for any instances in the future (this was a great tip as Rachel has sent us a sachet by post, which should last us for ever, apparently).
We headed down to the run with Rachel when she arrived at around 10am and found the pig in his ark sleeping. We winkled him out of the straw so she could observe him and she saw that he was looking decidedly ropey. He had all the signs of having a cold, she said, and then the penny dropped: we’d had thunderstorms directly overhead on both Friday and Saturday morning – heavy rain, fork lightning, claps of thunder – the works. Rachel’s suspicions that he’d likely got caught out and became wet and cold were confirmed when she took his temperature, after a chase around the run (he suddenly became very lively when she brought the thermometer out). A couple of jabs later and Rachel was confident that he’d make a full recovery. “I know this sounds funny, but is there anywhere in the house you can keep him?” she said. Our place is a semi-renovated rather messy affair, but even we weren’t ready to let a pig into it! Then we had a flash of inspiration: the old piggery near the house! We’ve never dreamed of keeping animals in it before due to the concrete floor and lack of a proper run, but the structure (which was built with the council smallholding back in 1914) was ideal as a porcine sanatorium as it also contains our dog kennel. Bingo.
We filled it with straw, rigged up a warming lamp under which the patient could sleep and furnished it with a feeder and drinker. All we needed to do now was get the surprisingly stubborn creature from the pig run to the house. After a few futile attempts with some wooden boards, James decided to pick him up and carry him like a dog and, despite a few grunts and some twitchy trotters, the pig obliged and settled into his new home beautifully.
I’m happy to say that James escorted him down the garden to rejoin his mates after putting some weight back on and showing all the signs of a healthy happy pig. This time, he ran down the garden, either side of the pieces of wood James used to funnel him that way. The trio were reunited without a scrap of difficulty and are, as I type, rootling about in the undergrowth together. Phew-y.