This past Wednesday our Scarlett, the two-year-old Hereford sow was showing signs that she was ready to deliver piglets. A full three weeks ahead of when we thought she was due. Apparently, she had associated with Boris before we thought she did. Wednesday morning, she went off on her own away from the rest of our sows, and started to push some leaves and dirt to make her nest in the woods. Eric prepared the stall and moved her in with the help of marshmallows. With cooler evenings and the constant chance of rain it makes it less stressful for the little ones to be born inside. She settled down and was very content in her stall, and started pushing the pine shavings to make a nest in the barn. Scarlett’s first litter had nine piglets and she was a fantastic mother. She had no problems with the delivery or being careful moving around her stall without harming the little ones. This time she was huge. She looked like a barrel with her baby pouch. When her milk started to come on, she reminded us of a dairy cow.
Thursday afternoon she was showing signs that labor had started. Judging by her size and the previous litter we were expecting at least the same size litter as her first. But as she pushed and worked nothing was coming out. There is always a timing issue when it comes to the delivery of pigs. If you are having problems and wait to long, the sow will wear out and stop pushing. If you rush, and try to help too soon it seems like the sow becomes a lazy pusher from then on. We gave her a bit more time and decided that we better check and see what was happening. Eric went in and found a large piglet coming out backwards. The direction of the piglets coming out isn’t terribly important. The easiest is snout first, in the diving position. But pigs are more than capable of delivering little ones that are in reverse. The size of the first one was the issue. Scarlett was in trouble. The little darling that delivered nine without an issue now had giant piglets that needed help coming out. My first thought was, if they are all that big, we are in trouble.
After getting the first boy dried off, belly button sprayed, and nursing we waited 20 minutes for the contractions to start again. There is a spot in front of a sow’s ham that you can feel a bump whenever there is another piglet ready to deliver. There was no bump. We waited another 10 minutes and we could feel the bump, Eric went fishing again. Piglet number two was slightly smaller and female. But she too was bigger than usual and difficult to deliver. As soon as she was out and dried off, she was lively and ready to eat.
Surely now with two piglets nursing Scarlett would have a rush of hormones to help with the labor. If she was going to have another large litter the remaining piglets would have to be much smaller. Another 30 minutes had passed and she had a baby lump like she was ready to go again. Again, she was pushing and getting nowhere. And once again, Eric had to fish. This piglet was the same as the last two, a large piglet headed down the one-way street in reverse. The piglet finally came out with some pushing and pulling. A second large female. As soon as she was dried, she was chattering for milk. For having a tough delivery both Scarlett and her three little ones seemed no worse for the wear.
The litter of three nursed for half an hour. There was not a sign of another piglet ready to be delivered. We waited another 10 minutes. Still there was no bump, no pushing, it seemed as if she was done. But there is only one way to be sure. Again, with the shoulder length glove, Eric went fishing. She was done. After another 45 minutes, Scarlett cleaned up and was singing to her litter of three. All three, the two little girls and the little boy were moving well and had figured out the basics of being a freshly born pig. Go to mom when you are hungry. Get under the heat lamp to get warm. Most importantly when mom makes a sound that is different than the time to eat sound get out of her way, she is getting up.
As much as we were planning on a big litter, given the fact the baby pouch was huge, she delivered nine her first litter, and the timing for Easter hams would be perfect. It could have been worse. It can always be worse. All three of the piglets are off to a great start. Scarlett is in good health and producing more than enough milk. She is still a fantastic mother and has not squished any of her piglets. This litter was small because of our mistake. We should have had Boris away from her longer than we did. She became pregnant a cycle before she should have, and wasn’t completely ready to be bred.
Farming like life has been an adventure that never stops teaching. No matter how much you plan, prepare, and think everything is going to go according to plan, there will always be surprises and changes to the plan. All we can do is roll with it and learn not to make the same mistakes again. Now Boris is away from the sows until we are one hundred percent sure he is needed. He is rather content to be away from the drama of the sows and hanging out with his new friends, the goats. The younger goats enjoy his company. Especially when he is sleeping, they see how many can stand on him before he wakes up. He gets to make his rounds through the pasture and not have to share the acorns or hickory nuts. In another six weeks he can return to the sows and do what he was meant to do.