Category Archives: Pigs

Z is for Catching Some Z’s

When I started this A to Z challenge I had no idea so many of the posts would wind up with a swinish theme…
It only seems fitting I conclude with a photo of one of the new arrivals having a snooze. I am also looking forward to catching up on my sleep, enjoying my very own bed where I can stretch out in luxurious comfort…

20140502-225827.jpg

W is for Why is Nature so Weird?

Able assistants ME and LS at the Harrowing Farrowing. Talk about stepping up to the plate! These two were GREAT!

Able assistants ME and LS at the Harrowing Farrowing. Talk about stepping up to the plate! These two were GREAT!

We arrived down at the barn early the morning after Olivia delivered (and rejected) her 11 piglets. Overnight, one of them had wandered into the safety pen but didn’t get out of the way fast enough and was squashed. The others, though, were under the heat lamp. Olivia was completely uninterested in lying down and letting anyone have a drink. By this time, the colostrum clock was ticking – if newborns don’t get that first milk produced by the sow, they miss out on all sorts of antibodies that help keep them healthy until their own immune systems have time to kick into gear.

Milking a fidgety sow is no picnic. As ME stoked, massaged, and cajoled the sow, I did my best to milk a bit from each teat into a small container. Each time I had accumulated about 3ml, I’d draw it up in a syringe, catch a piglet, and convince the screaming, snapping, squirming little creature that I wasn’t trying to kill it. Usually when a few drops touched the piglet’s tongue it would realize what was going on and have a total attitude change. Of course, the attitude change was short-lived because 3ml doesn’t last a hungry piglet long at all.

After I’d hand fed a couple of piglets (starting with the smallest, weaker ones and working my way up to the hefty brutes), I would join in the massaging, cajoling, cooing, and pleading to try to get Olivia to lie down and do the job of feeding the babies herself. Though she was quite happy to talk to us (and be massaged), every time a piglet came close (either wandered in to the safety pen or was placed there when she happened to lie down for a moment) she would charge, pounce, and toss. Piglet screams are heart-breaking to hear.

I milked a bit more, hand fed another two or three and tried to figure out what the next plan might be. It’s not uncommon to use a sedative like Stresnil to stop sows from savaging their piglets. This, though, would have required a trip to the vet as I didn’t have any on hand, so I turned to my phone and consulted google. Of the many suggestions offered (some useful, some downright rude), one comment made some sense.”Give her a pint of stout.” This was from an old pig farmer who had probably helped more sows farrow than I will ever have the chance to do. A quick search online and it seemed that giving her a bit of beer might actually help stimulate milk production and that the amount that would be transferred to the piglets would not be harmful.

At this point, I was looking at losing a whole litter of piglets if I didn’t take drastic action, so I hiked up the hill and grabbed some Corona. I mixed two bottles with Olivia’s breakfast chow (which she slurped down quite happily) and waited and watched. While we waited for the beer to have some effect, I milked some more and continued to feed the remaining piglets a few droplets of the precious colostrum. After a bit, Olivia sighed and settled into her hay nest. We massaged and she exposed her teats. I brought her a piglet and she leaped to her feet, spun around, and threw it aside. We waited 15 minutes and tried again. Same result. I gave her another beer and more kibble and we repeated this whole routine, cringing at the squeals of hungry piglets being soundly rejected by their mother. At this point I was thinking maybe I had completely miscalculated. Perhaps this was going to be a sow who would become violent after drinking. Maybe Olivia was going to be the exception to the happy sow rule.

Olivia is a large pig, outweighing me by several times over. I eyed her, looked at her hungry piglets, and cracked open another Corona. She happily guzzled it down along with a bit more feed, we waited 15 minutes and repeated the massage routine. Now onto us, Olivia braced herself against the safety pen wall, determined to stay on her feet no matter what. In what was likely the only mildly humourous moment during this entire ordeal, after four beers, a lot of breakfast, and two humans massaging her tummy, she could not resist and sort of eased herself down the wall, rolled on her side, and sighed.

When in doubt, a pint of stout... or, a bottle of Corona.

When in doubt, a pint of stout… or, a bottle of Corona.

Tentatively, I brought her a piglet. It latched on and started to suckle. Olivia shifted a bit to get more comfortable. Before she changed her mind, I grabbed another piglet, and then another. We now had three nursing and she was finally starting to behave like a proper mother. I added more piglets until, hallelujah, they were all nursing, and making that very particular happy piglet snurgle snuffle noise that is oh so much better than than the screaming in terror squeals we had been hearing up until this point.

At long last, Olivia agrees to feed her hungry children...

At long last, Olivia agrees to feed her hungry children…

Now 48 hours after farrowing, we have 8 survivors – one more was squashed on the second overnight and a third was smaller and weaker and couldn’t compete with the other, hefty siblings. I suspect it might have survived if Olivia had been more cooperative early on. Unless something strange happens (I shouldn’t tempt fate by even speculating what might go wrong at this point), the rest of the little porkers should do just fine.

With their bellies full and now quite familiar with the route between Mama and heat lamp, the piglets are catching up on their sleep.

With their bellies full and now quite familiar with the route between Mama and heat lamp, the piglets are catching up on their sleep.

Can you hear their cute little snores?

Can you hear their cute little snores?

After all this trauma, I was left wondering what purpose this aggressive/rejecting behaviour could possibly serve in the wild? Had these piglets been born out in the bush somewhere, none would have survived. Does anyone have any idea why this happens? Olivia is now behaving like the perfect mother – nursing regularly, being very careful when she lies down to give them a chance to get out of the way, watchful when humans are around (though, not being overly aggressive at all with us, which is a good thing). I can understand her temporarily losing her mind during the birthing process (been there, done that), but this extended period of wanting nothing to do with the piglets is really strange. Several people have suggested that perhaps this is why the Large Black Hogs are an endangered hog breed, but it turns out this can happen with other breeds as well. Can anyone out there shed some light on this peculiar problem? (And, for background, this is Olivia’s second litter.)

V is for Victoria-Vancouver-Victoria and a Victory over Violence

On Sunday I had a quick business meeting over in Vancouver. Saturday night I slept in the truck once again, still on piglet watch with Olivia. Sunday morning down on the farm started a bit earlier than usual because of my ferry departure, but was otherwise completely normal. No piglets. No nesting. Full teats, but she’s had those for a while now. So off I went thinking I was in for another night in the truck after I returned.

I took the 9am ferry over to the mainland and was just about to drive off the boat when a text came in from LS, who is visiting from Berlin and holding the fort while I was away. Olivia, according to LS, was behaving strangely. He sent a couple of photos of her pen. She had been busy in the couple of hours since I left the farm. She had stripped leaves from the bushes in her run and scattered them around in her bed inside the safety pen. She dragged in mouthfuls of sticks and twigs and added them. She rooted around and fluffed up the hay from underneath the fresh debris and mixed it all together. Olivia was nesting!!

photo (20)

 

LS summoned T (soon-to-be-SIL), who has been present for a couple of prior farrowings… There followed the most stressful series of texts as I headed into my meeting, made a presentation, and politely declined a lunch invitation (“Sorry! Must race back to the ferry – Olivia is in labour!!)

I made it back to the terminal in time to catch the 1pm boat, flew into the house at 3:10, pulled off my meeting clothes, pulled on my grubbies and rubber boots and raced down the hill. The guys had done a fabulous job of setting everything up – the heat lamp was positioned over two nursery boxes (used to contain the piglets as they awaited the arrival of their siblings), fresh towels were at the ready, Olivia was in her safety pen, the wet leaves and sticks had been removed and replaced with clean, dry hay (which she had been reorganizing all day).

The first piglet arrived at 4:01. Olivia lost her mind, leaped to her feet, spun around, and tried to kill it. This pattern was repeated every 15 minutes or so for the next couple of hours, but because of the new safety pen, each piglet was plucked out of the pen before Olivia could do any damage to either the piglets of to any of us [thanks to earlier helpers MC and SP, who built the pen after long discussions about crazy sows. Now that we know it works, I’ll post a how-to article soon with more details of what we came up with as a solution to porcine matricide.] By 6:30 pm we had 11 healthy piglets – 6m and 5f. We were feeling pretty smug at this point and settled in to await the expulsion of the placenta, knowing from experience that she would have no interest in nursing the piglets until that was done. It took some time and some massaging of her teats to stimulate contractions, but in due course it arrived just fine.

By now it was after 9pm and we began the process of trying to introduce the piglets for nursing. At which point we were thwarted by Olivia’s ridiculous (and terrifying) insistence on pouncing on any piglet that wandered anywhere near her. She ate a meal, we let her outside to stretch her legs and relieve herself – she paced and turned and nested and lay down and got up and steadfastly refused to have anything to do with nursing. Her attacks were slightly less vicious, though – she was tossing piglets aside but not savaging them any more – only two had superficial bite wounds and those were from earlier in the evening.

The piglets were all in good shape and warm under the heat lamp, so at about midnight we decided to stop stressing everyone and get a few hours sleep. In the past, we’ve had some luck with sows figuring things out without anyone being around. The piglets had already figured out how to escape from the safety pen (by slipping under the lower rail) so we left them to it and headed for the house…

Which is where I will leave this post because if I had a terrible night, tossing and turning and fretting and wondering what I would find in the morning (piles of crumpled bodies? a contented sow suckling her young?) then it seems only right you should suffer the uncertainty along with me for a short time… Fear not, as soon as there’s another break around here I’ll finish the story…

Image

T is for Teeny, Tiny Tractor

It may be modest in size, but our little lawn tractor has been chugging around the farmlet for years. Here, ME is hauling a load of soiled hay from the goat pen down to the new potato beds.

T, is also for Truck… Yesterday, I was speaking at a school in Shawnigan Lake and one of the teachers mentioned she had been reading the blog. Not having read any more about the piglet watch, she assumed the piglets had arrived and I was once again sleeping in the house. Alas, no. As in, no piglets. Yes, to still sleeping in the truck and getting up to check on Olivia every couple of hours. T, needless to say, is also for Tired.

L is for Late Nights in the Hog Pen

After weeks of waiting, we are back on piglet watch, this time in the newly designed and constructed hog hut. We’ve had terrible troubles with our sows panicking during farrowing and then lashing out at what they perceive to be the cause of their pain – their new piglets. When Olivia had her last litter and I tried to intervene and get the piglets out of the way until she could finish delivering everyone, she came after me. Let me tell you it is no fun to be tossed in the air by an angry sow, flung aside like I was of no heavier than a scrap of cloth.

After that rather scary incident, I was very leery about getting between Pearl and her piglets and thought I’d be very discrete, staying way out of the way while she delivered her little ones. That was a mistake. Well, perhaps not a mistake when it came to protecting myself, but a mistake in terms of saving the piglets.

We had been busy preparing a safety pen for everyone and were about a day away from completion when Pearl went into labour a tad ahead of schedule. So, I had to improvise with a couple of pallets and a gap between the pallets and the hog shelter wall. By the time I had maneuvered this makeshift safety pen into position, Pearl had dispatched three or four piglets. She continued to deliver and after I had the protection of the pallets, I was able to pull four more to safety. We dried them off, put them under a heat lamp, and waited until she had delivered the afterbirth before warily putting the surviving piglets back in with her. Even though we had a creep set up and an area with a heat lamp in the hog shelter (for the piglets to stay out of the way), she still managed to squash two more during that first night! So, after all was said and done we wound up with two piglets out of a litter of eight.

A day later, we also had a lovely new safety pen built inside an old horse trailer and positioned in Olivia’s pen. Olivia has been eating and sleeping in there for several weeks now (with the back door open so she was free to come and go) and late this afternoon when she was producing milk, I locked her inside. She is quite comfortable in her ‘den’ but this new, smaller area with its low walls allows me to safely work around her. I can reach in to assist and remove piglets as they are born. They will stay close by under a heat lamp, but out of the way so the risk of squashing is minimized.

It usually takes mom and babies about 72 hours to learn to talk to each other. Mom has a special grunt that means ‘get out of my way while I lie down!’ and another that means, ‘I’m lying down now – come and eat!’ As soon as they have this all sorted out, I’ll open up the back door of the safety pen and they can all come and go as they please, but meanwhile, everyone should be reasonably safe.

Had I known how stressful this whole farrowing process was going to be before we started down the rare hog breeding path, I’m not sure I would have started on the journey! But now that we are on the road, I have to admit there are few things cuter than new piglets. Not that any appeared last night. I slept down in the truck and checked on Olivia every couple of hours, but she slept through all my nighttime visits.

I started writing this post last night thinking I would finish it in the wee hours of the morning when I could post photos of the new arrivals. Hah! Unless Olivia gets in gear today and delivers everyone during the daylight hours, it looks like another night wishing the truck was just a couple of inches wider so I could stretch out properly.

Image

Meanwhile, I will enjoy these little cutie pies, who hatched yesterday. Can we all say ‘awwwwwwwww!’

C is for Cute! Piglets!!

I meant to tack this onto the end of yesterday’s post – B is for Baby Pigs, but they fit just fine here, too… These two boys were farrowed March 17… There were originally eight little oinkers, but it turns out Pearl has matricidal tendencies and, unfortunately, went into labour the day before the new farrowing pen was ready.

Olivia is getting close to her due date and will get to take advantage of the new facilities. We all hope this results in a more successful outcome… Perhaps by the letter ‘F’ (Fun Fruitful Farrowing Fiesta) I will have a more detailed report about how the farrowing pen works out (and, a bit of video with more than two piglets in it).

When a Field Becomes a Bog and Eats a Big Truck

We have had a lot of rain here recently. The ground is saturated and at our place, winter springs have appeared in places where we’ve never seen them before. Being on a hill, most of our water runs off and causes standing water problems elsewhere. Over at Maypenny Farm (the destination for the young hogs), the field where we were to drop off the hog shelter looked deceptively field-like but, in fact, was more like a deep bog disguised with a top crust of soil and grass.

The field didn't look so very wet...

The field didn’t look so very wet…

It didn’t take long for things to get sticky… one minute we were inching along…

And the next minute, we were stuck fast!

Sinking fast!

Sinking fast!

We tried backing out… moving forward and over to the right where the ground looked a bit firmer, but no luck. Even in low gear and four wheel drive, there was just a lot of tire spinning and no movement in any direction except deeper.

MC - Considering the options. Going back to Germany was looking pretty good at this point...

MC – Considering the options. Going back to Germany was looking pretty good at this point…

It was pretty obvious we weren’t going to be able to haul the trailer anywhere – the tongue was buried in the mud – so we jacked it up and took it off, thinking that if we could get  the truck out we might be able to drag the trailer backwards from behind…

IMG_8609

I called home to see if someone could bring us a couple of sandwiches… They arrived half an hour later just as we were getting the horse trailer pried off the truck hitch.

We scrounged around and found a heap of old bricks, some scrap wood, and piles of brush. We made a crude ‘road’ in front and managed to squirm forward about ten feet before sinking even deeper into even wetter territory.

At this point, the residents of Maypenny had come out to see what was going on and we were a couple of hours into our ordeal… More backing and forthing and digging and hauling of rocks to try to create a more stable ‘road’ for the truck to get a grip on… the end result of which was sinking deeper into the muddy water.

It is at this point in any bog meets truck ordeal that one calls in the friendly neighbour with a tractor.

IMG_8600

Because the access to the field was sort of narrow and huge boulders were strategically strewn around to create an obstacle course, our initial thought of trying to pivot the trailer around before pulling it out of the way was thwarted.

IMG_8603The drama intensified as ominous clouds rolled in. Pulling the trailer back by hooking it to the tractor bucket didn’t work too well… so we turned the tractor around, jacked up the front of the trailer a little higher, and wedged a spare tire under the tongue.

IMG_8609This provided a bit of bounce and protection to the trailer jack as we hauled the trailer backwards, dragging it to safety…

IMG_8615

Note that four hours or so after arriving in the field, the hog hut is still sitting in the horse trailer!! So much for being ahead of schedule…

With the trailer out of the way, we still had to haul the truck out. Chains, ropes, etc. were stretched from tractor to bumper, more rocks, brush, bricks, boards, etc. were strategically place and slowly but surely, the tractor pulled the truck to high ground.

IMG_8621

IMG_8624

IMG_8628

IMG_8630

As you might expect, the truck was completely coated in mud… Unfortunately, because we had the windows open for screaming at each other purposes, the inside of the truck looked just about as bad as the outside!

With truck and trailer on solid ground once again, we re-hitched and tootled down the road to the house end of the property and then stopped traffic while we backed into the driveway and up to the lawn. MC and I crawled into the trailer and shoved the hut out (this part was much easier than we had anticipated) and with all the extra bodies that had shown up for this mud-wrestling spectacle, we slid the hog hut over the lawn and into the new field.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

All that remained to do was to go back to our place and pick up the hogs. If, however, you have ever tried to move a pack of teenaged hogs, you will know this is no quick and easy job. By this point, our daylight had pretty well faded away, so we had to postpone the fence-erection/hog retrieval part of the operation for another day. I’ll spare you the details of all that (suffice it to say that MC and AB were HEROES and somehow we got the job done!!)

IMG_8856[1]

Happy hoglets in their new field. They are clearing it out and rototilling this area so Maypenny Farm can expand their market garden growing area.