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Sassy Has a Litter of Piglets

Sassy, one of our Kune Kune (sounds like koony koony) sows, had her first litter of piglets yesterday. It's a few weeks earlier than expected and was a little touch and go in the beginning.

Aidan discovered the first two when he went to the barn to get the last of the day’s eggs. Sassy was up eating hay and completely ignoring the shivering babies huddled against the wall. When he put them near her, she ran away, seemingly scared of them.

So Aidan brought them to the garage. While they warmed up near our wood stove, he and Bill got the heat lamp going in the piglet creep area and moved Sassy in the pen next to it. The new mama seemed oblivious and continued to eat and act as if she was done delivering babies. It was decided to leave her be for a bit. Maybe she just needed a little time to get used to this new experience.

Aidan and I checked on the piglets. They were doing okay and had stopped shivering. That was good as piglets are born with hardly any body fat or hair so hypothermia is a real threat. We left them snuggling in an old bath towel in their

little brown cardboard box next to the warmth emanating from the wood stove. .

It was during this time that I got busy researching bottle feeding piglets . . . just in case.

We’ve never had to do it before and were apprehensive about it. Other farmers have told us that piglets are hard to foster and, unfortunately, everything I found confirmed our worries.

With an air of dread for what could lay ahead, we went back to the barn to assess Sassy’s behavior.

Would Sassy have settled down and seem willing to nurse her babies?

If not, would she let us milk some colostrum (the first milk a mother produces which is full of antibodies and other nutrients) out of her swollen udders into the little plastic cup we had with us? I'd read from several anecdotal accounts and agricultural extension papers that piglets, unlike humans and many other animals, do not receive any antibodies through their mother's placenta prior to being born. They get them from her colostrum during their first hours of suckling. If they miss that colostrum, they are very vulnerable to disease and infection.

(Milking a pig was another first none of us were excited about attempting!)

But within moments of entering the barn, we witnessed the birth of piglets numbers three and four one right after another!

We watched silently as they quickly took their first breaths and scrambled around until they found their way up closer to Sassy's head. She sniffed them, started to “chuff” (grunt rhythmically) and rolled more on to her side and presented her teats to them.

It was the sign we were waiting for - her maternal instincts had kicked in!

I ran to the house, tucked the first two babies - now warm, squirmy, and hungry - into my coveralls, and carefully delivered them to her side. Their instincts were also strong so they also knew just what to do and quickly latched on

next to the new siblings to drink.

We high-fived each other relieved tonight was not going to be a night of firsts for us but also knowing that the piglets' chances of survival had just increased exponentially.

Marlee joined us, and we stayed in the hay manger next to Sassy and family for several more hours and EIGHT more piggys! We laughed softly to each other about at how quickly everything had changed.

Just a few hours earlier, we'd thought there'd be only two piglets, and that Sassy was rejecting them. We thought we were going to have to try to hold down a very big and strong pig to convince her to give up some of her valuable colostrum. And we thought we were going to be feeding tiny pigs fifteen times a day. Now here she was, with a total of twelve little black and white "mini me's" and, acting like a pro -- still chuffing reassuringly, holding still while nursing, and slowly and methodically getting up and down when shifting positions or getting a drink of water so as not to

crush the little ones -- just like an experienced mama pig.

Finally around ten o'clock she really seemed to be done birthing.

We all felt exhausted from the unexpected excitement of the evening so, after checking to make sure the heat lamp was properly secured, we left the little family to get some rest. As we walked up to the house, we decided who would be getting up during the night to check on them.

I drew the 2 am shift, and when my alarm went off, I wondered why in the world I'd offered??? It was warm in my bed next to Bill, and I had no desire to go out in the cold wintery night. But when I got to the barn bundled in my layers, I knew why. It was so I could see Sassy in all her maternal glory with her babies all snuggled up next to her safe, warm, and content as could be. They hadn't worried. They hadn't faced anything with dread. They did what came naturally to them and so did Sassy. They just needed a little help because of the cold time of year and the newness of the event. Given that, they figured the rest out themselves.

Who doesn't sometimes?


Update - Three days later - One of the last piglets to be born didn't end up making it. It was smaller and weaker. And even though Aidan gave it extra care, bringing it up the house several times to warm up and holding the stronger ones back so it could suckle longer, it died last night. It's sad. And also just what is. Another part of farming and life.

The good news is that Sassy continues to be doing a great job of caring for the remaining eleven. Here's a video (you might want to turn the volume down as both the rooster crowing and turkey gobbling in the background are loud) I took just this morning of the cuties.

Click the link to watch. At the end, you can watch a second one also. It's at a weird angle but shows some of the piglets leaving Mom's side to go sleep in the creep under the heat lamp.


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