Early Sunday morning, we got up to discover that one of our female hogs farrowed (gave birth) during the night, and is now the proud mom of three adorable piglets. So now seems the perfect time for a piglet-photo-shoot and accompanying blog post!
For pigs, the first few days of life are those most fraught with danger. They are tiny and clumsy, constantly in danger of being stepped on.
What's more, their immune systems are weak, and in cold weather the placental fluids on them can pose a real freezing hazard without human help.
Sheep and goats will immediately clean the afterbirth off their babies, but hog moms generally put in very little effort by mammalian standards. They basically grunt, roll over to expose their teats for nursing (possibly crushing an unfortunate piglet), and let the babies sort the rest out themselves.
But cut sows some slack: with as many as twenty piglets in a litter, it's hard to keep the kids from running... wait for it... hog wild. It is also during the first few days that piglets get their starter-kit immune system, delivered from mom via a special type of milk known as colostrum.
If they can stay healthy, endure the cold, keep out of mom's way, and fight off siblings competing for milk, by the time piglets are 48 hours old they have generally secured themselves a solid start on life.
|Rightly proud of herself|
Fortunately, the weather has been warm, and the new piglets are spry. Only a day after being born, they were already following mom out into the pasture and poking around.
Pigs are omnivores: for them, “Is that a food?” is life's Big Question. A sort of rough-and-tumble curiosity is one of their most endearing (and human) traits.
These new piglets are pure-bred Tamworth hogs, whose parents were recently brought onto Whitmore farm as part of a new program to create Tamworth / Old Spot crosses. We hope this cross will combine the easygoing nature of the Old Spots with the lean meat of the Tamworths.
|A well-deserved nap|
These piglets will spend the first two months or so of life alternately exploring, nursing, and sleeping. After that, we will separate them from their mom to wean them, and they'll join one of the two large groups of young pigs, who were farrowed in late March.
These two groups of young pigs are the “gang of eight,” which we're retaining to be the next generation of Whitmore moms, and the “feeder pigs,” which, well, you can guess the rest.
In selecting which pigs to keep for breeding, we look primarily at their size and number of teats. The number of nipples varies from pig to pig, and with litters so large additional feeding capacity is an important trait for a mom-to-be.
However, be they for the butcher or for us, young pigs' lives are very similar to those of newborn piglets. Pigs aren't much fazed by being sent off to school, and once they get to know all the other kids they continue a life of play and naps, enlivened by their twice-daily feeding frenzy.
They also thoroughly enjoy escaping the mid-day heat by taking a long dip in one of their wallows, which we occasionally top up with nice cold water from nearby spigots.
But time flies, and before you know it, they're all grown up. The gilts start cycling (a “gilt” is a female pig who has not yet become a mother) and the boars start frothing at the mouth and following them around. (Sound familiar?) We'll add a likely boar to a group of ladies, and let nature do her thing. We do try to give them a little bit of a “birds and the bees” talk on the way, but it's not clear how much of an impact it has.
In any case, pigs are very social animals: they know the members of their social circle and take some time to warm up to newcomers. Which is a nice way of saying that the boar generally spends a couple days getting bullied.
But in short order, everyone settles down and romances blossom. I'll leave out the details, because Joe describes pig sex accurately enough: “It's not particularly pleasant in any sense of the word.” But it does make more cute piglets!