Spring Farm Babies: Precocious Pasture Piglets

Stripes, solids, and cow-spotted, oh my!

Spring is commonly viewed as a time of renewal and new beginnings, and while it’s not technically here yet, it certainly feels springlike: birds are singing, grass is growing, trees are budding, and babies are being born. You caught that – born, not hatched? We’re pleased to welcome our first litter of pasture piglets!

As with most “firsts”, the first litter of piglets was a learning opportunity. Ideally, we’d have seen when the sow conceived, and would have known – pretty much to the day – when to expect her to farrow. Of course, that didn’t happen, and while she began to show in a very noticeable way a few weeks ago, some of the signs that are typically indicators of impending birth weren’t as obvious as I’d hoped; for example, development of a “milk line”, where the teats are filling with milk. While I did notice that her teats seemed larger, she didn’t really “bag up”, making estimating her due date difficult.

So, basically, we were pretty sure she was pregnant and that she was probably within a couple of weeks of farrowing. I had been researching porcine pregnancy and birth online already, but with the suspected time approaching, preparing her farrowing area became much more pressing. Mama was definitely looking barrel-shaped and I thought I’d even felt a little moisture from her teats, suggesting that farrowing was imminent. We discussed the build-out and decided to tackle the construction of a “safe creep” for the piglets the next day.

The following morning, I went out to feed the pigs (as usual) and my jaw dropped: Mama was standing in her stall, eagerly awaiting breakfast, and babies were standing around her feet! Not at all what I was expecting to see. (Mr. fMf said I hit a shrill note when I yelled for him to come help, but I think anyone would under the cirumstances.) I think it really took a moment to process what I was seeing, and I was anxious that the babies might accidentally be stepped on – I’d read about piglets unintentionally being crushed by sows, and it was very fresh in my mind.

Once the shock wore off a bit, I realized that Mama had managed to keep the babies warm on a fairly cold night, and that all 7 littles and Mama were doing well. Mama clearly had fed the babies, so they received colostrum, which is vitally important for the development of their immune systems. Morning plans for the build-out quickly went into high gear, as we built out the safe creep for the babies, installed a heat lamp (with multiple redundancies to prevent it from falling and igniting the bedding material below), and put up materials to block drafts in the barn. Keeping the family safe and comfortable was our first priority, and our own breakfast was pushed out to the afternoon – a few hunger pangs couldn’t spoil the joy of our first pig litter.

The “safe creep” allows the babies to have a place away from Mama, with extra heat

It’s been a little over a week now since the big event, and the babies have really grown. The one we originally thought might be the runt is as big and strong as the others, and the piglets have begun tasting Mama’s solid food as well as the hay in the stall. They’re full of youthful energy, jumping and frolicking, much like spring lambs. While I was anxious about their survival initially, Mama has been doing a great job nursing them (often) and snuggling with them – for the first few nights, we locked them in their safe creep to prevent accidental crushing by Mama as she laid down, but they’re big enough now that they got out of their creep on their own, bypassing our simple security measures (just some welded wire fencing to keep them in – they pushed the clips off and escaped) and sleeping with Mama at night.

Their personalities are manifesting, too: some are curious and friendly, others are calm and watchful. One really likes a good scratching on its side, another likes to suckle fingers. They push their soft noses on things, exploring their world, and they potty in the same spot that Mama does – so smart, already trained!

I could spend the day watching “piglet tv”, but alas, I have other tasks to complete, so I have to tear myself away, knowing that they’ll just spend most of their day alternating napping in the thick bedding and bugging Mama for a milk meal.

The bottom line? Having piglets born here has been a great adventure so far, and I can’t wait to see them on pasture when the grass has begun growing again in earnest. Stay tuned for updates on the piglets and more about farm goings-on!