Tragic tale o' the day

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?

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12 Responses to Tragic tale o' the day

  1. Haymaker says:

    What a terrible, heartbreaking story. I’m so sorry to hear it. The only thing I know about raising hogs is what I read on the web. [grain of salt] I surmise the gilts just had zero maternal instincts. SugarMtn farrows under plastic tarps in the middle of Vermont winters. I wouldn’t think that it’s the buildings$$ or the weather. I don’t know how you go about finding gilts with non-confinment genetics, but it would seem to be the place to (re)start. Don’t give up on hogs; you already have the infrastructure for them. Layering another crop (piglets) on the same infrastructure adds to your returns (net your time and other inputs of course.)

  2. Susie says:

    I am so sorry about your pigs. What a loss — both for the investment, and the sheer emotional heartbreak of it.

  3. First of all I want to tell you how sorry I am for you losses. I know how you feel, as I raised pifs for years.I am assuming this is her first litter, and if so maybe the next one will go better. I know, who wants to go through all that “hoping things will go better”, but it my be worth it.For now, and I know it may be too late at this point, I would take the last two out of her pen and either bottle feed them or only allow them with her to eat every couple of hours… while you are right there and can scoop them back up if she is about to injure them. I have done both methods with success in the past, but it takes a lot of time, energy, and patients.Good Luck, and if you have any other questions please ask, I will try to help.

  4. Peter comly says:

    It sure is a good thing that farming is a form of addiction or nobody would be doing it. Everyone knows it’s not good for them but they just can’t stop. When things go perfectly you can break even, and when they don’t you loose your shirt. Well, maybe it’s not as bad as all of that, what with all the great lifestyle aspects and all, as well as the growing demand for our kinds of products. Anyway, sorry to hear about your pig disaster, hopefully things will turn around and make you remember why you are in this business.I was thinking the same thing that haymaker said about Walter Jefferies success farrowing basically outside, in winter, in Vermont. It sure seems like if an animal is geared toward survival they will thrive despite less than ideal conditions. And actually I would say that it seems like what Walter has is ideal conditions for the pigs he has. I remember hearing Joel Salatin say something about the high death rate his son had when he first started raising rabbits on pasture. After he started to breed survivors with survivors then he began to get the genetics he needed to thrive in his operation. When in doubt blame genetics. Thats what I do. It sure makes me feel less guilty.

  5. Mama Koch says:

    I always thought swine was an intelligent breed until we raised some…guess it’s like humans–there’s smart ones and some that aren’t quite there yet.I’ve lived your story. Bought a High-Dollar guilt and she delivered too early. She tried to eat me when I tried to save her piglets. Needless to say, we did’t keep her.Our rule of thumb is, if the animal isn’t productive it doesn’t stay on our farm. Hard lesson but we have to have the income too. My advice: If you take any remaining living pigs away from her, she could be re-bred soon. If you really like her, you might give her ONE more chance. She might surprise you. We’ve had heifers that finally got the theory of being mamas and turned into nice stocker cattle.I agree with Peter…farming is addictive. It’s not just in our blood…it’s under our fingernails!

  6. Sorry to hear about your trouble. Perhaps you could talk to Walter Jeffries at Suger Mtn Farms. seems to be fairly successful at his breeding.Also, if you check out the local chow section of my blog (wordpress one not blogspot one) you could call the Rehberg’s that I’ve listed as another local supplier of pork. They raise heritage hogs so maybe they can either give you some advice about this or possibly sell you some piglets that aren’t CAFO based for you to breed in the future. Might be worth a shot.I wish I could offer some advice but I’ve never been involved with any animals birth, other than my two kids I guess.

  7. Lynne says:

    Oh I am so sorry… that sounds like one of the most heartwrenching ways to spend a day that I can possibly imagine. You must be beyond exhausted.No words of advise — suburban girl (with a strong farm girl wannabe side) here — but just wanted to send along my support and good wishes. I’m sending a little prayer up to all those baby piglets in Heaven.

  8. karl says:

    my deepest sympathies, what a sad story. i have no advice, i just wish the sadness away. k-)

  9. Juli says:

    Bad news alright. Hope there’s good news to come.

  10. Zanne says:

    That’s very disheartening news. I’m very sorry you are having to face this disappointment. I agree with others about talking to some people and seeing what you can figure out. Since you’ve already made the investment it would probably be worth a shot to give her a second chance. The larger operations can weather these things much easier. You guys work so hard, outside the farm and on the farm. Just wanted you to know that some notices. Lots of people are rooting for you. Take a deep breath and figure out where you go from here.

  11. Robbyn says:

    Yikes!Very sorry to hear about the pigs. I’m looking back over past posts and am smiling over the calves. Joys mixed in with the heartbreaks…Hang in there! I’ve not raised either, but it looks like your other commentors are a great resource.

  12. I'm late commenting and I hope you've figured this out by now since so much time has passed…We have occasionally had a sow that had no interest in her piglets. We move the piglets to another sow if there is no hope and then the offending non-mother dries up and heads to market. Sows without good maternal instincts taste fine.Over time you select the best of the best and eat the rest. The result is improving herd genetics.

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