Cows in fog
11 months. 11 months of hope and expectation. And of course financial investment. 11 months comes down to so much loss.
When Matt & Madeline went out for chores this morning, the 3rd gilt was laboring. There was one dead piglet in the corner, and the gilt was passing the placenta. Matt wondered why she’d be cleaning already when she’d only had one pig. Turns out she had 10 pigs and was laying on every last one of them.
Once he got her up there turned out to be 3 survivors. He stuck them under the heat lamp with the other litter and then had to get to work. He stuck his head back in the house, told me what happened, told me to go out and put up a heat lamp…or not, whatever I wanted to do. He was clearly exasperated.
I’m really nervous when it comes to sows with new litters. They can be very protective, and suprisingly fast and nimble when they want to be. I think I was warned too many times as a kid not to go near the sows.
But I pulled on the coveralls, gritted my teeth, and headed out. Find some twine string, climb up the fence, stand on top of it, shimmy across it and string the heat lamp up from the rafters. Grasp the pigs around the throat, cutting off their windpipe so that they can’t squeal and get mama wound up. Stick them under the heat lamp and pile straw up around them.
The mama had absolutely no interest in her babies.
Madeline was out there with me. We watched helplessly for a few minutes, then she said to me, “Come on, Mom. Let’s go in the house and let nature take its course.” We were both in tears.
I went back out a couple of hours later. They seemed warm enough under the heat lamp, and one was actively looking to nurse. The sow was lying there taking a nap, and just a few of her rear tits were exposed. I grabbed the piglet and stuck it on there. It seemed to be finding something to eat so I grabbed the other two and stuck them on there as well. She let them nurse for maybe five minutes and then got up and walked away. I grabbed them again and got them back under the heat lamp.
Another check at noon, and they looked pretty spunky. But a check at 2:30 brought tears again. One of them had been stepped on and had a huge, gaping open wound in its side.
After work Matt and Madeline and I watched, still feeling helpless, as the remaining two piglets tried to get their mama to let them nurse. After a while we just had to leave, it was getting too painful to watch. And of course we’re wondering what we’ll find in the morning.
As crappy as our outbuildings are, I know these pigs would have been fine if the gilt had mothered them. We bought these gilts because the breeder was highly recommended by Niman Ranch. I guess the lesson learned here is, don’t buy gilts from a confinement operation for a non-confinement setup.
The question now is, now what? Buy different breeding stock($), put up a better building($$), or get out of pigs altogether?