Saving a Piglet

On Saturday I wrote about Bianca's farrowing and the fact that one of the piglets didn't survive. I learned from the piglet's death that piglets are extremely fragile when first born, highly susceptible to cold, and if not immediately cared for will most likely expire through no fault of their own. 

I wrote Saturday's post in a kind of stream of consciousness. It helped a lot to get it out on paper and force me to think about it. Immediately after I published the post I went back out to check on Bianca, who was still laboring and was expected to birth another 4-5 piglets over the course of the next hour or so. I wanted to bring more hay and food for her, and to check on the rest of the piglets to see if any of them needed help. 

Eileen had yet to see the piglets, so we jumped on the ATV and headed out to their paddock. First thing we saw upon arriving was a lone piglet covered in afterbirth under a tree. Bianca was with the rest of the litter in her nest. Five piglets were with Bianca. We knew that little piglet under the tree didn't stand a chance on its own and it was already on the brink of death, most likely unable to survive if we simply placed it back in the nest, as I had done with the last one.

So we took her inside and gave our best shot at nursing her back to health.

Here is what I learned:


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Ossabaw Piglets

It's spring on the farm and we've got babies poppin' out everywhere. Today Bianca farrowed her litter of piglets. Of course, she chose a day where the high temp has been 50 degrees and it's been pouring rain. She looked ready yesterday, so I figured today or tomorrow would be the day. I've been bringing the gilts (female pigs that have not yet farrowed) a bale of hay everyday so they could build their nests and stay dry in all this rain and unseasonably cold weather. They eat a lot of the hay, so it's important to keep them well-stocked.

Piglets nursing

Around 9:30am I went out to feed everyone. Rain gear in full effect, hood covering everything except my nose and eyes. I lumbered up to their paddock in the forest, Bianca and Petunia running around like usual, grunting voraciously as they awaited their whey, eggs and hog feed bonanza. Bianca looked about the same as the day before. Her belly hung a little lower, but really how much lower could it get? Her teats almost touched the ground.

Bianca the day before farrowing

I emptied the rain water out of the feed dishes and Petunia nibbled on my jacket sleeve. Hog feed first, then the whey, then the eggs. I think that's the best sequence. I glanced up at their A-frame to be sure it looked dry and full of hay and what...? Three piglets! Oh sh*t! It's pouring rain, nearly freezing with the wind chill, and here's three baby piglets. Bianca is out eating, the piglets are running around and appear to be a little cold. One is clearly fresh out of the womb, still covered in after-birth. Bianca wants nothing to do with them, she's entirely focused on eating, which will take about 30 minutes. 

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Rotationally Grazing Pigs

You've probably noticed that we're big fans of rotational grazing. The goats, the cows, and now the pigs are all rotated around our property inside their own electric fences. While gaining in popularity, this method of livestock management is very uncommon. Yet it makes a lot of sense, if you have the time and resources to make it happen. 

Rotational grazing ensures that the animals are not living and eating amongst their own excrement. It also ensures they have fresh grass to eat everyday. In addition, the land benefits by getting some rest in between grazing periods. The farm (and the farmer) benefits by having healthier and happier animals. It's an all around winner, but it takes the time and motivation to make it happen.

Rotationally Grazing Pigs on Pasture

Rotationally grazing the pigs makes a lot of sense. Those little rooters will get their snouts running and completely destroy perfectly good pasture in no time flat. They have to be moved frequently and the land needs a long time to rest and recover.

Currently, our two gilts are rotating through new pasture every 2-3 days. They are allocated a small parcel of pasture that is dense with unwanted forages (i.e. broomesedge and other less-nutritious 'weeds'). As you can see in the pictures, they literally eat everything in sight. People seem to be surprised that a pig would clean it up that well.

First, the pigs start with the roots. They slowly unearth the entire plant and then proceed to munch down the roots. Next come the stems and leaves. After a couple days the paddock will turn into a mud puddle, especially if we get a little (or a lot) of rain.

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