Tag Archives: farrowing

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┬áI 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!!

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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…

A Watched Sow Never Farrows

It seems I am spending a lot of time these days staring at sow udders (yes, swelling – larger each day), squeezing sow teats (Pearl has been secreting milk for a week now, Cora not yet) and examining bedding for signs of excessive fluffing. Waiting for piglets to arrive is nerve-wracking! It’s good to be on hand at farrowing time to minimize squishing of newborns, but those sows don’t always provide details of their planned delivery times!

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