Tony called it. "Is there a moon coming up?" he wondered aloud. For two weeks we'd been watching our expectant mama pig's teats filling in preparation for farrowing. (That's pig farmer lingo for giving birth.) Tony thought she'd farrow around a full moon, as our goats tend to kid on the moon. Sure enough, on the eve of the full moon, our gilt became a sow. That morning I observed her return to her hut to lay down after a quick breakfast. She would normally spend more time out in the paddock browsing, rooting and napping in the open. I took note of her uncharacteristic behavior and made a point to look in a few hours later.
Upon my return I found nine teeny, tiny, wiggly piggies. They were sleek, shiny, and black with big heads and skinny bodies, and they tumbled over one another searching for teats. When they found a place to nurse they latched on in earnest and even seemed to fall asleep with their mouths attached to the teat! I had learned that piglets have "needle teeth" - very sharp little daggers that can pierce a human finger. After watching the piglets latch on the first day, it occurred to me that those sharp little teeth help the newborn piglets hang on to the sow's teats as she heaves, grunts, and shifts her weight around. By comparison, we humans have it easy with toothless young, but we are also not blessed with tough pig hide.
All the piglets were very small - I'd heard their size compared to a can of soda - but one was noticeably smaller than most, and this runt could not seem to find a place to nurse. It wandered around blindly, even meandering outside just hours after being born. I debated scooping it up and caring for it in our house, but decided to let nature take its course. That course lead to the runt being dead by the following morning, and while it is a sorry thing to see, it is a part of life and of farming or homesteading. We've had sufficient practice dealing with the failure of the unfit to survive, so we focus our energy and excitement on the blessing of the eight remaining piglets.
The piglets nursed almost non-stop for the first couple of days. I was so worried about the sow crushing them I stayed on watch after feeding her, cringing as she returned to the hut, stepping around in the hay then lowering her considerable girth in what looked like a completely careless flop. She must be more careful than she looks, because none of the piglets have been flattened. She spent her first two days as a sow in repose letting the piglets suckle. When I quietly approached to take a peek, she rhythmically grunted as she breathed, her fat side rising and falling, and the piglets squirmed around and nursed away. Now, on day four, she is up and active more frequently, gathering the fuel she needs to feed the hungry litter. I rigged up a heat lamp on the high side of the hut ceiling to give the piglets an area to gather and get warm while the sow is out and about and they've found that warm spot. At this point, they cluster there after nursing even when the sow is sleeping in the hut. I'm hoping this technique will help to prevent the piglets from being crushed and maybe it has. I imagine that the very warm weather is also helping to prevent the piglets from wiggling in too close to the sow's heft.
We will sell some of the piglets to folks who want to try raising a small, slow-growing, heritage pig for meat and lard. The rest will go in our freezer after growing for a year. There is no capitulating on this matter; right from the get-go we know we're not keeping any as pets. We have kids - hell, we have hobbies - we don't need to fall in love with adorable little piglets and find ourselves naming them or keeping them as 200-pound dependents. If you want to join us in celebrating both the incredible cuteness of brand-new pigs and also the exciting prospect of good, honest eating in the future, I offer you a few piglet pics taken in paddock this afternoon.