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Heavy Hearts and Orphaned Piglets


This week was a bad week beginning with Sunday. Of course, if you are a blog follower, you know we spent Sunday riding five hours in a car with three little pigs. However, on a more serious note, we came home to our big, red beauty, Scarlet the Hereford Hog, nesting as far from the barn as possible, across the creek, and in the first stage of labor.

Scarlet has always been healthy, happy, mild tempered, had easy deliveries, and a wonderful mom. We have never worried about her or her little ones. Eric has worked for the past year or so to get all the girls’ weights down so that they have an easier time with pregnancy and delivery. A yearly vet check declared the girls to be in perfect health. Seemingly, all was right with the world and the porcine princesses.

Fast forward Sunday, Scarlet was having a difficult time with her labor. Ideally, piglets are born every fifteen to thirty minutes. The first piglet came out perfectly. She was in the correct position and all was well. That is where the “went well” part ended. Piglet number two did not come on his own. The Bibbed Wonder and his trusty side kick, The Bean had to go in and help pull the baby out. That is the pattern that would be followed for each of the thirteen babies born. Scarlet was not able to push a single one out on her own. This was concerning but not out of the ordinary for our girls. Both Scarlet’s mom and sister are considered lazy pushers and all births have to have assistance.

A bit more concerning was Scarlet was in labor all night. My poor bibbed wearing buddy was up all night after driving across state for nine hours, being up at four o’clock to milk, and completing all necessary barn chores. I jokingly told him there was no rest for the wicked but he failed to see my humor. I do feel bad for him when things fall apart. He works very hard to insure all our animals have the best care, comfort, and good health. However, we are having a terrible run of luck with our pigs and deliveries this year.

The delivery was nearing its end when the unthinkable happened. Just like Shawnee, our white pig that we lost in the Spring, Scarlet began to close up too soon with one live little piglet stuck in the birth canal. Eric and Jordan worked diligently to help it but they were unable to get the poor little thing out. At this point, Scarlet was exhausted, Eric and Jordan were exhausted and it was time to allow nature to take its course. It’s always difficult to give up, especially when a small life is involved. However, there is only so much that can be done.

Eric was worried because Scarlet and the babies were outside but again, there is only so much to be done. Scarlet was exhausted and unable to walk to the barn even if Eric could get her up. We left her and the babies in the nest she had created by the creek and hoped for the best. Everyone came in for a much-needed rest. After just a few hours sleep, Eric and Jordan were back out with Scarlet trying to coax her to go to the barn. All the coaxing was to no avail. She simply refused to leave her nest or attempt to cross the creek bed. She appeared to be doing well, the piglets were doing well and Eric made the tough decision to allow her to remain outside for the night with her little ones.

After a good night’s sleep, Eric was up and out with Scarlet again. This morning, she was ready to go to the barn. She happily followed Eric, talking to her little ones the entire time. They made it safely to their clean, dry stall where she ate a breakfast of warm milk and mash, she drank her fill and carefully laid down to rest and nurse her litter. Eric checked her temperature before leaving her and she was perfect. Again, the feeling of all is right with the world settled upon us. Eric took a well-deserved nap, got cleaned up and went out to check on Scarlet again. All appeared to be fine, her little ones were active, fat, and happy. She was resting comfortably and had been up to eat and drink again.

However, when Eric checked her a few hours later, he said she didn’t look good in her eyes and that he was concerned. Animals are a lot like children, you know them and care for them for so long; you just know when something is off. Eric got her up, took her out to urinate, and pour cool water over her to try to cool her down. She was panting, and there was a large bubble of mucus coming from her back side. Eric assumed this was just her beginning to expel the remaining piglet and the remnants of after birth. However, there was a foul odor coming from her and her temperature was up just a bit. Nothing too concerning, but somewhat worrisome. She went back into her stall, Eric turned the fan on her, and she was resting again.

He came to the house to tell me his concerns and returned to her ten minutes later. In that ten minutes her fever spiked from 103 to 107, she began to convulse and inadvertently killed three of her piglets. Eric got the remaining babies out of harms way, gave Scarlett another shot of antibiotics and tried to cool her down with water. She was shivering, but got to her feet, repositioned herself, her temperature went back down to 103 and she seemed to breath more comfortably. Eric turned his back, checked on the little ones and when he turned back around because he heard her make a strange noise, she was dead.

My Bibbed Wonder came to the house and just looked shell shocked. He could not believe she had passed away so quickly. It was less than half an hour from the time her fever spiked to her passing. She had been healthy, in good spirits, and doing well. We were all dumbfounded and sad. Scarlet was born here. She was a beautiful pig, with a sweet personality, and a real asset to our farm family. It was heartbreaking that she left behind a litter of now eight babies.

We had no time to mourn our loss. We had to remove her from her stall and bury her. This was no small task considering she weighed close to six hundred pounds. We had to clean out and disinfect the stall in case there were some sort of pathogens that could make the babies sick. Most importantly, we had to introduce the babies to goat’s milk to insure their survival. Fortunately, all eight babies took to bowl feeding immediately. Their little bellies are fat and they are resting comfortably. Thus far, they have made it through the first night without their mama and are doing well. We are now on their feeding schedule which is every hour on the hour for the next two weeks. Once they begin eating feed, their feeding schedule will become more manageable but until then we are taking shifts for feeding and rest.

This is definitely not the outcome we anticipated but as with everything, we just have to roll with it. If you are so inclined, please send some good energy our way for the health and safety of the little ones. Eric is going to call our vet today to discuss possible causes of death. This is very much like the passing of Shawnee and Eric is afraid there is something we are doing wrong or a disease we are missing. I will be sure to keep you informed if anything new develops.

As always dear reader, stay safe, stay smart, roll with what is sent your way, and keep washing your hands.

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