(Written by Sara Weik. Farmer Sara is essentially the "Momma Pig" of Yker Acres. Sara is a nature lover, enjoys riding her fat bike, loves being a pig farmer, is constantly barefoot, and finds gardening very relaxing.)
Momma pigs are my favorite. Over the years we have had many litters of piglets on the farm. I remember our first litter, the infamous Daisy and Petunia. They were a Red Wattle cross and best friends. (Later they had many litters together) It was a cold day in January and we had been impatiently waiting for one of them to go into labor. No such luck...it seems like we waited for weeks, when I think it was only 4 or 5 days. Matt called me at work and told me I had to come home NOW! Luckily, I had great employers that let me take an extended lunch and I cruised home. (Mind you I was in “office attire” which consisted of a skirt and clogs) I quickly ran into the barn and Petunia had 3 piglets already. Matt was quickly trying to move them into the farrowing pen. He had them stuffed into his jacket and was directing me to grab a heat lamp and an extension cord. While I got that hooked up Matt was drying off and keeping the little piglets warm. Petunia was pretty confused as to why we were moving the piglets and didn't follow us at first. Once she figured out we were trying to get her settled in she came right in and started building her nest. Her buddy Daisy was settling in, too. They were snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug on one of the coldest days in January. I came back into work with a BIG smile on my face! We just had our first litter on the farm and Petunia went form “Gilt” status to “Sow” status. (Once a gilt has a litter she is officially called a sow). Daisy had her piglets the next day. We were such rookies!
We have learned so much since then. We no longer plan to have piglets for the month of January, it is just too darn cold. We also keep better records on when they were bred. Of course, since we breed the old fashioned way and do not artificially inseminate it is a general time period and sometimes the breeding takes place the next cycle. Needless to say, our boars are very happy and have plenty of fun!
We are also better at recognizing the early labor signs. The more we get to know the sow and how she farrows (birthing) the easier it is to predict events. Each sow has a personality and each sow farrows a little different. Gilts (first time Mommas) can be unpredictable, but we have learned to roll with the punches. We rarely have to interfere. When we do we need to be diligent, careful, and quick.
Pigs laboring and birthing is raw, hard work, and incredibly beautiful. They go through the process with grace, confidence, and strength. They are these HUGE animals that have these little, itty-bitty piglets hanging out around them. They are truly gentle giants.
Then you have sows like Blueberry. She is a Mangalitsa and they are notorious for their babies being covered in hair (and stripes, so cute!). The piglets can withstand colder temps without added heat. Also, the sows bellies are covered in hair so the piglets can snuggle right up next to Momma and stay toasty warm. Blueberry had her first litter overnight without us knowing. We got to wake up to these feisty piglets already running around and keeping close to mom. Blueberry didn't want us to get close to her babies and that was okay with us. It was her 2nd litter, but first litter with us and she didn't know us very well. We were able to get close when her piglets were about 2 weeks old. Blueberry is one of our more experienced sows and now we can get close to her babies with no problems. She has not needed any assistance to date.
We try and keep sows in groups. The sows farrow very well together and will often share mothering duties like feeding and keeping watch for any danger. Nothing is cuter than seeing a bunch of sows laying in a circle with all their babies piled in the middle for protection. It truly takes a village to raise piglets!
If we can't do a group, we at least pair them up with a buddy. There are some constants like Old Timer and Rivera, Velma and Tulip, Lollipop and Jellybean, Sage and Turnip, Rhea and Juno...I could go on and on!
Some may know this, some may not...I did birthwork for many years as a Doula to lots and lots of (human) Mommas. I retired last year and I miss it so, but being a Doula to pigs is filling a part of my life that I am good at, helping Mommas of all kinds!