As the farmer it is my job to do what is best for my animals. I had a gilt who was going to farrow soon and most people put them on lock down and make them farrow in crates.
Yet I wanted it to be natural, and with what seemed like encouragement from many other alternative farmers I let her farrow in the woods and “never have had a problem!”, although my gut said, “Don’t! Lock her in the barn and keep and eye on her” She left…and did not come back.
I felt horrible. Guilty. Like I failed both her and me. Embarrassed at my failure with so many other people wanting to point and say, “I told you so! you should have crated her!” How stupid was I to let her follow her nature? What if she died from a complication?
No…the walk would have put the piglets in place. She’d be more likely to have a breech in a crate…but what about the piglets? was she scared? Did she kill them? Did she run find a food source and run away for good? I couldn’t sleep at night, I didn’t want to socialize or talk to anyone.
—-I looked every night and every morning for her, but had to rush off to work and in the evenings I came home in the dark. Still, with a headlamp I wandered through the woods with a bucket of feed trying to find her. Finally on Friday I found what looked like a pig trail, I walked it for a bit but had to run off to work. On Saturday morning I took the logging road up the hill to try and meet with the trail-head…only at the trail-head I found my pig. Had I walked 20 more yards Friday I would have found her.
She greeted me and showed me to her nest. She looked skinny, confused, dazed and looked like she was running low on milk. No water for 5 days, though she was subsisting on worms and roots. Her nest was tall and narrow made out of ferns. Hiding in the nest were two little piglets, running behind logs, under sumac keeping an eye on me. They were healthy, though a little skinny. I could see they had been chewing on each others tails: stress. Around her nest hung the smell of death and 3 little corpses all of differing stages of decay. One died early, the other two were stepped on. I believe they were piled on top of each other because it was so cold out, and when she would stand up one would tumble down under her feet, but I don’t know. She had started nibbling on the freshest corpse but stopped. She didn’t like the taste of pork, I guess. That one looked like it had only recently died, maybe that morning.
I tried to get her to come down with the feed bucket and hoped the piglets would follow. No go. So I gave her a little food while I went down to get help. The plan was one person would lead her away with food, then I nab the piglets when shes far enough away…except she stopped 50 feet from the nest and ran back before I even grabbed them.
Messing with a sows babies is dangerous. DANGEROUS. They can get protective and kill you. BAD IDEA….but she didn’t seem to be aggressive. A little protective, but she knows me and was feeling helpless. Starving, thirsty, exhausted, 3 dead piglets…at this point she needed me. I took the risk. I stuck the two living ones in the bucket and started walking.
Except, Dots kinda dumb. She didn’t know where they were and had a hard time grasping the concept of them being in the bucket. She didn’t follow for long before running back to the dead ones. Eventually between a bucket of squeaking piglets and a bucket of feed we were able to lure her away. That first 50 feet she hard a hard time leaving. the next 200 yards was a little easier but we still had to bribe her with the two buckets…then we hit the logging road and she suddenly perked up. She started stepping more lightly, happy behind me…..then she started thinking. I could hear her talking turn from happy, to worried, to slightly aggressive as she starting thinking about me with her piglets. SRSLY, PERSON WITH THE FEED COME OVER AND DISTRACT HER. It worked, a little food and she was happily distracted again. As we came down the hill Rosie spied her daughter and came running. RUNNING to say “Hello!” They talked face to face, then rubbed against each other talking with excitement. The other to pigs joined in on the conversation over the fence. Happiness abounded!
We continued to lead her to the barn, though at one point Rosie came up and insisted on looking in the bucket full of squeaks. Her grandchildren! A happy occasion. Pigs are very smart socially, and thats where we get to thinking there smart on other ways. Not so. We got halfway to the barn when Dot suddenly realized she lost her babies and started running back. Luckily she was stopped by my mother with the bucket of feed and led back to the barn. I locked her in there like I had thought to do the night she ran off with food, water, and her babies.
The two little piglets left are spunky little things days old and already rooting around. They are named “Digger” and “Ditch.”
A boy and girl. The boy is wide and thick framed, growing especially fast since he gets all the teats he can reach. The girl isn’t quite fast enough and he sometimes steals milk from “her” 2 teats. She’s pretty feisty and when he tries to wrestle she doesn’t give up. I was worried they weren’t getting enough milk the first day, but they didn’t want none of that cow milk…luckily mom started producing right away.
Two weeks later they are happy and healthy, twice the size of when I first found them. Pregnancy has done Dot well: she is happier and calmer than she was when younger. Today I introduced the piglets to the rest of the pigs and am hoping to breed Dot back as soon as possible. I’m thinking with only 2 piglets she should start cycling again soon.
I didn’t update this blog for a while since I was embarassed. Embarassed that I lost so many, embarrassed that along with Rosies failing to farrow, I’ve wasted money and time on the pigs with nothing more to show than two piglets. I had hoped Dot would have more piglets and make up for Rosie, but now I just have to be happy than I got two piglets out of a gilt at an age when they are usually just getting bred. I mean, 9 months old and farrowing unassisted with two piglets to show for isn’t bad. Supposin’ this is a long enough post. Thanks for stickin’ around!