In our Farm Confessional column, we hear from the workers and other folks involved in animal or agricultural production. Do you have a story to tell? Anonymity is okay and guaranteed. Contact us at [email protected]
For Pig Week, we heard from Sabrina Estabrook-Russett, a veterinary student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Originally from Vermont, Estabrook-Russett has gotten lots of ah, hands-on experience in Scotland, with sheep, chickens, cows and, of course, pigs. Here is her story.
A few months ago I spent one of those beautiful Scottish summer mornings watching a 450 kilogram pig ejaculate into a coffee Thermos that was being held at an appropriate ‘catch-all’ angle by a bearded Slovenian man. Wait. Let me clarify.
I was on a placement for a pig husbandry experience. Which should make this story a little more clear, albeit not any less strange.
This didn’t start out as a particularly memorable occasion. I’ve been on the ‘pitching’ end of artificial insemination a few times before, but this was admittedly my first experience as a ‘catcher.’ Or pseudo-catcher. Or, I guess most accurately, a Peeping Tom catcher. Because I didn’t actually do any catching whatsoever.
‘When boar young, semen sweet,’ the Slovenian said. ‘When boar old, semen bitter. We taste.’
I just stood aghast at a reasonable distance so that I could see all the action, but hopefully not end up with boar semen in my hair (which would probably be exactly like that time I got horse semen in my hair — which is to say, really, no big deal).
None of the ejaculating took me by surprise, but what happened after the release was uncharted territory. Emerging victorious with the cheesecloth-lined Thermos, the Slovenian brought it to me, proud of his harvest, bursting at the seams to tell me all about it. So I looked down to see a post-ejaculatory product, the consistency of a gelatinous glue, that cements the semen into the sow. It solidifies.
I was not as enthralled as the Slovenian, but this was one of those instances in life when you pretend to be happy for your friend just because he is so happy with himself. I layered on a heavy facade of delight and exhilaration.
After this we had to test the quality of the semen. The Slovenian explained everything.
“We test by ALL the senses: see, touch, smell, taste. You want taste?”
“Um … no thank you?”
“When boar young, semen sweet. When boar old, semen bitter. We taste.”
Then Lady Gaga came on the radio in the barn and I stood there with suspicious squinty eyes wondering how likely it was that the whole entire universe was messing with me. I am typically pretty good at knowing when I am the butt of the joke, but I couldn’t read the Slovenian at all. In the end, we did not taste.
Going into this gig I think vet students all assume that a fair amount of semen goes with the territory. This is not a statement that many professionals get to make; we are of an elite creed. Vet kids, as a general rule, are unfazed by the wide array of horrendous bodily fluids we encounter on a near-daily basis. The realm of what we find disgusting is routinely stretched wider; each new abscess or laceration or rectal exam reaches that curious point where it changes from loathsome to commonplace.
The mucous and saliva and semen are just part of life now. Moreover, these encounters often seem to lodge themselves into our new identities; they are rites of passage. I imagine that in 10 years we will still be swapping stories about that time we contracted Crypto or Ringworm. So I understand; I knew what I was getting into.
I will happily guard your precious high-quality semen from unscrupulous thieves. I will store your liquid nitrogen tank in a cool, clean, dry, dust-free, well-ventilated area of my surgery. I will hold the freezing straws in my armpit so as to warm them to an appropriate bodily temperature, and I will smear a drop onto a glass slide to check to see that you’ve ordered healthy sperm. But I will not, ever, under any circumstances, taste.