Maybe it's still cold outside and maybe there's even still snow on the ground, but some things are springing to life. The pigs and lambs 4-H'ers show this summer, and the chickens they exhibit as well, are being born right now, if they haven't been born already.
Naturally, being the animal lover I am, I've found my way into the middle of several 'births' in the animal world already this year. First, my kids incubated 27 eggs. Thanks to the Poultry Farm at Purdue for starting them. We finished them in an incubator the local Extension ag educator, Dave Smith, was kind enough to let me use.
My daughter Ashley picked them up one Friday, about 16 days into their incubation. She wrapped them in a blanket, put them in a Styrofoam cooler, wrapped it in two bedspreads, positioned a light over them, and threw on two stuffed animals on top, just for good measure. We picked them up that evening, brought them home, my youngest daughter Kayla guarding them all the way, and got them in the incubator.
They hatched last week. In fact, they started pecking their way out a day early. Some 21 hatched like clock work. Six eggs just sat there, and sat there, and sat there. Even Horton the elephant sitting on them wouldn't have helped. I finally cracked one open. The little chick didn't absorb his sac. He was fully developed. Something went wrong around day 19 Smith suspects. That's after we brought them home. I noted the incubator at 102 degrees just once, readjusted it and it never varied from 100 again.
Once may have been all it took, Smith says. What's amazed me this winter so far is the fine line between life and death when animals are born, or hatched, as the case may be. I've seen it helping a neighbor, Kevin Thompson, Morgantown, too.
Watching sows farrow, most pigs are born fighting. Then this one guy comes out, a bit limp. I grab him, shake him, rub him. He gasps a couple times. He's going to make it! Then nothing. His eyes that opened for a moment close. He's gone. Oh, so close? Maybe he would have been the grand champion.
OK, maybe not. But it would have been fun to find out. The next day, though, I notice a pig in a litter of nine born a couple days earlier. He's laying there limp, got scours something frightful, sides sunk in, breathing heavily,. His littermates look fine. I'm not one for ending a pig's life early just because I think he may not make it. For those who think that way, he was certainly a candidate.
The next day I walk in and count her pigs, expecting to just find 8 walking around. No, there's nine! And to this day, I'm not sure which one was at death's doorstep. He's not now. Maybe he'll be the champion.
Or maybe not. Either way, the lesson is the same. Life is fragile, and should be appreciated, whether it's in animals or people. The line between life and death at the most critical moments in life can be mighty slim. Any farmer who's raised livestock knows it's true.
See you next time.
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