|Very Pregnant Chilly|
Finally, two weeks ago, she started giving milk. That initiated the Farmer Birth Watch Sequence, with piglet checks approximately every four hours. With the more experienced sows, we are a little more lax; they know what they are doing, and our involvement would likely just bother them. Our checks with them are briefer and more infrequent. With a new mom, though, we want to be a bit more present.
At 2:30, in the wee hours of last Monday morning, per the Check Schedule, I stumbled into the barn to find her with 8 squirming piglets, struggling a little to move the next along. As soon as it was delivered, I discovered why -- a stillborn. I'm not sure what a live piglet does that makes it easier to deliver, but whatever it is, it helps. The ladies get stuck up on stillborns sometimes; this isn't bad for the sow, necessarily, but can block up the rest of the line and create complications. I removed the stillborn and checked the eight; Chilly got up to rearrange herself and promptly stepped on a piglet, activating the loud angry squeal that signifies piglet distress.
|Piglets in formation|
Missy, for example, doesn't really respond to piglet squeals; she just keeps bustling around being her usual confrontational, oafish self. With her last litter, this resulted in some piglets with really nasty cuts that needed sewn up. Little Red, besides being gentler and slower, is more responsive; one squeal and she is investigating.
As soon as the piglet squealed, Chilly freaked out. She sidestepped quickly away from the piglets, stepping on another and initiating another squeal sequence. She froze for a minute, barking and grunting at full blast, and looking like she was about to start dashing around the pen in terror. This was a distinct possibility. I think there must be some hormone shift after all the piglets are born that soothes the sow for several days (the blissed out calm they convey despite the antics of their needy, noisy, hungry brood is truly amazing), but while they are still in the midst of birthing they can get agitated, violent, and aggressive. This is why some pig operations use a "farrowing crate" for the sows, so she can't freak out and stomp (or worse) her young. We, however, just have to trust the mother's instincts and attempt to breed for good mothering.
|This is basically what piglets do if the sow gets up during the first couple days...stand up, mill around in agitation, try to get to the center of the hoard, eventually lay in a pile.|
When I went back down in about an hour, she had had two more piglets. She hadn't moved a muscle. In fact, she barely moved in the first twenty-four hours, so scared was she of prompting another squeal. Most sows get up after they are done birthing to eat the afterbirth and drink some water, but Chilly stayed put through the night and most of the next day.
|For scale. Imagine having ten babies, each one the size of one of your fingers. They also nurse very violently and have tiny, pointed teeth. The horror.|
Likewise, she is an incredible mother. I was nervous about her -- her mom, Spot, is not our best mother. Spot is not very communicative to her piglets, which means they wander into corners more often to get chilled (in fact, Chilly was our very first chilled-to-near-death pig, revived in a pot of warm water in the kitchen sink last winter -- hence her name); Spot is also a little bumbling and her farrowing stall is always an absolute mess. Chilly has proved to be very communicative, gentle, and a good housekeeper -- wet things all in one corner, no big hills or valleys in the hay, no rooting through her nest and flipping up large chunks of hay.
|This is Chilly as a piglet, post resuscitation.|