Count if you like, but I promise there are 13. The 13th is under the pile, trying to stay warm.
In early August Wright took a well-deserved vacation. I filled in while he was gone. One particularly tiring day Lando, our Large Black boar, released himself on his own recognizance. I discovered him sauntering down the road as I was heading home. Too worn out to chase him back to his pen, but still alert enough to notice where his attention was focused, I made a fateful decision.
He was pacing up and down the road along a particular fence. On the other side of said fence were two very attractive sows, at least one of whom appeared receptive to his grunts. He was so intent and I was so tired that I simply opened the gate and let him in with the ladies.
One marriage was consummated within four nanoseconds. I’m sure the other took place later that night.
The rule of thumb on pig gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. Or just four months.
One sow didn’t get that memo and farrowed (gave birth) a good two weeks early, well before we were ready with our deeply bedded farrowing huts and electric fences and all that lofty stuff good farmers do. The piglets, however, were not fazed. Though their mother had them against a fence above a steep ravine, she lost not one of her ten babies and they are all now very strong, impervious to the chilly nights.
But we had two pregnant sows, right?
Actually we have three sows. But one of them wasn’t here that day Lando escaped. She wasn’t here as in she was actually on another farm ten minutes away and a quarter mile from the closest boar. Now, however, she’s here, at The Top, with her two sisters.
When sow #1 farrowed, the remaining two sows started “bagging up”. Around here this is a sure sign that a pig will farrow within two weeks. But by then it was Thanksgiving week and every plan gets set down for a day or two around a holiday. As a matter of fact, they got set down for three because we had to go down to Alabama to look at a bull. Before you know it, it’s the the day after Thanksgiving (there’s no Black Friday on farms) and I walked down into the field behind my house to check on the pigs.
It sounds strange, but sometimes you can feel when animals aren’t in the field where they’re supposed to be. Maybe I can hear it, or not hear them, but the pigs were gone. I figured they’d knocked down a weak gate behind my house and found that to be the case as I hiked along the fence line.
I stood at the broken gate and began calling. Across the holler in the leaf-less woods I spied movement, then heard a snort, then more, and slowly all of the pigs came up the hill. After they walked back in the pasture I heard something else. It was porcine, but very high-pitched and faint. It sounded like the sow that had just walked past with piglets might have left one down in the holler. I had to investigate.
As I walked down, I recognized the cry as not one from a two week old piglet, but from a newborn. Sure enough, at the very bottom of the holler I found a very new piglet. As the hill ahead of me was very steep, I figured I’d head up above where I found this piglet and see if he’d tumbled out of a nest. I hadn’t walked ten feet before I heard another, fainter squeek and looked down to find another newborn piglet.
I picked both up and headed uphill. Another 100 feet up the hill I found another pig, then another, then two more. By this time I could see their nest ahead of me, but no momma in sight. This, friends, was a true farm catastrophe. Babies rolling down a hill from a nest made by an absent mother without sense enough to build a nest that will hold her piglets.
To make matters worse, after I placed the piglets back in the nest and located their momma, she wanted nothing to do with returning to her charges. Thankfully, Wright pulled up about this time and happened to have some pig food in his truck. With it we coaxed momma back to the nest where she ate and drank and, to our great delight, laid down with her little ones. But we weren’t done.
I knew that if we didn’t do something, those piglets would tumble right back down the hill and die. So Wright and I hustled back to the barn, grabbed a huge hunk of hay off a round bale, ran back to the nest and built a ‘hay berm’ on the downhill side of the nest to contain all piglets involved. We then went and fixed the broken gate that had originally allowed the pigs to escape.
Saturday found me cutting wood and away from the piglets, but, when I went back Sunday morning I was glad to see all babies still in the nest. Mom had wandered off again, but I could see her and knew she was just out rooting for a snack.
Still, the saga continued, because just then, not 125 feet down the hill, in the woods, I saw the third sow – the one that wasn’t supposed to farrow anytime soon – one of the pigs I’d put back into the field on Friday. What was she doing? Finishing a nest!
While this nest was an Embassy Suites compared to the Motel 6 I was standing next to, it was still on the side of a steep hill. And this sow now looked full to bursting! I couldn’t leave.
Even heady farmers know they can’t carry a sow where they need her to go and pigs don’t herd well – ever. Thankfully I happened to have a ziploc bag of turkey bones and innards in my truck. That’s how farmers roll, afterall.
And herein was my success. A pig cannot be wrestled, because it has no handles. It cannot be herded because it’s too smart. It cannot be cornered because it’s too suspicious. But a pig can be lured! Praise God for giving pigs the weakness of their appetites! I am not exaggerating when I say that sow followed me a full quarter mile up the ridge and into a stall in the barn. The picture above are her 13 piglets born the next day.