Most people know that spring is the time for babies, especially on the farm. However, our sows have 2 litters of piglets each year so we do have babies in the fall as well. I'm happy to report that Charlotte gave birth to 8 piglets on Saturday and all are doing well. Our other sow, Fern, is due a few weeks from now. This is Char's 5th litter and will be for her sister Fern as well.
Char went into labor early Saturday morning, and Dan gave me updates throughout the morning and early afternoon as I was waiting on the stand. We were both very happy she chose that day, because Dan had been planning a hiking and camping trip with his brother and was leaving late Saturday. Having livestock, especially the varied assortment we have here at the farm, means it's next to impossible to get away for more than a few hours. I had assured Dan that I would be fine, that I can handle anything that needs done here while he took some time away with his brother. Everything was going well in the hog house and there were 6 piglets born by the time they left. I checked on her again at chore time and was excited to count 8. Pigs are known for taking care of themselves during delivery, they don't need assistance with the regularity that cows or sheep will, so I made sure she had plenty of fresh water and left her in peace. Yesterday morning I fed her, but she wasn't her usual hungry self, being pretty much exhausted from labor. By evening, she had eaten a little during the day but didn't greet me during evening chores. Char also seemed to be breathing a bit heavy. Now, it reached a high of 89 degrees during the day and was a bit humid, so I was really hoping that she was just hot and still tired. But a nagging little worry in the back of my head said what if something was wrong and she was still in labor? After all, she has had 10 or 11 piglets in a litter the past couple of times. Dan wasn't here to take a look and tell me not to worry, and although I have neighbors that would gladly lend a hand if I needed something, they don't raise pigs. The closest vet is 20 miles away (one way) and farm calls aren't cheap, so I would hate to make that call unless I knew for sure something was wrong. And everything has gone fine with the pigs the past 10 litters. So just to be on the safe side, I called Dan's dad who has seen more baby pigs born than I can imagine. He said it did indeed sound like she was just hot and tired and gave me some advice about what to feed her for an energy boost and how to keep her cool since she's penned up with the babies away from the mud wallow. I was so grateful just to hear that I was worrying too much, and that I could go catch some of the Steelers game with my sister without worrying about abandoning a farm animal in need of attention. This morning Char was up and waiting for breakfast and all 8 piglets were doing well too. She was excited to see some rather large zucchini included in her meal! I was so relieved.
Changes in routines always seem to cause trouble...for some reason just switching who is in charge of feeding which creatures means you'll probably find something on the wrong side of the fence, a broken gate, or something like that. It's so hard to prepare for every contingency, which is why farmers don't take vacations often. Even if you can find someone willing to try and tackle the feeding chores, you worry about things like "what if the 800-lb boar hog gets loose?" or "did I tell them how to get Dixie (a 1-ton draft horse) unstuck if she walks through the fence again?" Many of these animals, like the breeding stock or the horses, are here for years. Each have their own quirks and personalities and we get to know them much as a pet owner does. Respecting their temperaments allows us to give them the best care in the most humane way possible, even if it means doing things a little different for one animal vs another, even of the same breed. Like a pet owner, we want them to get the same loving care if we get the chance to go away. But unlike a pet, these animals are also our livelihood. If something goes wrong and we lose an entire litter of piglets, that's lost income when we wean them, as we often sell some weanling piglets, or possibly a sausage shortage next spring at our farm stand. It's even a little intimidating for me, because even though I know my animals and they know me, I'm still new to most of the livestock we raise, having only had contact with these species of animals for the past 3 years or so. If something seems off or out of the ordinary, I rely heavily on Dan's judgement because he has a lifetime of experience behind it. And I'm so lucky to have a good relationship with his parents, who are just a phone call away if I need a second opinion in the meantime. I'm hoping that the rest of the week will be uneventful and filled with tomato picking, salsa making, digging the first onions of the season and cleaning up the barn. While I can, if necessary, screw a gate back together or fix wire fence, I'm really hoping to not need those skills while I'm in charge this week!