Patience needs to be the name of the first piglet born of our recently acquired herd of Large Black Hogs. Because I tell you, we are needing every ounce of the stuff we can muster! Cora, the sow we were told was due to farrow first, should have had her litter by now even if we take the latest possible date she could have conceived. The gestation period for sows is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, but it’s not always completely obvious if a mating has been successful. Since the hogs’ arrival here, we’ve witnessed any number of unsuccessful couplings. Phillip is a big lad and if he isn’t lined up exactly right, or if the process begins while the hogs are pointing uphill, or if his chosen partner is a little off balance, things go wrong pretty fast. He gets rattled, embarrassed and frustrated and loses his temper. The sows sit down in protest. He squeals and grabs mouthfuls of hay, which he then throws around like a teenager having a tantrum. Of course, the hay toss might be some kind of courtship ritual, but the girls seem completely unimpressed by his antics…
All of which is to say, it is possible that Cora is not actually pregnant. Which would be terribly disappointing. The next most likely candidate is Beth – who frolicked with Phil on Valentine’s Day. We are coming up to the end of what would be her 21 day heat cycle, if she didn’t conceive. If she starts making eyes at Phil this week, we might just start crying, though if she shows no interest in her amorous companion, we’ll hold our breaths and hope for the best. Farming and optimism – uneasy bedfellows.
It seems there are no easy ways to tell if a sow is pregnant. Ultrasounds are tricky – not always terribly accurate, require the sow to stand still, and locally, the only vet doing ultrasound preg checks needs the mother-to-be to come into the office as the ultrasound machine is not portable. Not very likely. It’s not like we can throw all 500 pounds of Cora in the back of the station wagon and pop into the office for a nice little visit. There is no reliable blood test (? how can this be?) and besides, though I can see we might be able to stick a needle in a sow’s ear once to draw blood, they are too smart to let us sneak up a second time. A head swing would send everyone flying and a good chomp could easily amputate a finger. Or an arm, really.
Hogs have been called ‘horizontal humans’ because their physiology is, in many ways, so similar to ours. If we can use swine insulin for diabetics and heart valves for human implants, then why not try using a home pregnancy test to see if the girls are pregnant?
Despite my best google efforts, I can’t find any reliable, scientific reference to using home preg tests on sows, though several other people seem to be asking the same question. Except in China, that is. There, a manufacturer sells ‘sow pregnancy tests’ for hog producers to maximize their efficiency. Clicking on the product image reveals an item that looks suspiciously like one of the human pregnancy test kits I just ordered in bulk from a medical supplier here in Canada. There’s no way testing the sows was going to be in any way economical by purchasing said kits one at a time from the drugstore. The savings by buying in bulk were astonishing – 12.99 on sale for the store brand – or 25 for 9.99 in bulk online.
Of course, having a stockpile of pregnancy tests in no way means we will instantly have our ‘is she or isn’t she’ questions answered. I spent altogether too long yesterday strolling around nonchalantly within arm’s reach of Cora’s nether regions holding an empty cup. Despite mustering my diminishing supply of patience, I finally had to give up, long before my cup came close to running over.
Stay tuned. We have not reached the end of this chapter in our lives as hog breeders. Would be hog breeders.