Let’s talk about pigs. This will be happening a lot, pigs are our bread and butter! There will be many Many MANY (anybody seen the movie “Home”?) posts about them.
Boar: Uncastrated male pig.
Sow: Female pig who HAS had babies.
Gilt: Female pig who HAS NOT had babies.
Barrow: Male pig who has been castrated.
Farrow/Farrowing: Giving birth.
This is Skrilla. She is a 2.5 year old Hampshire sow we got from a friend about six months ago. She has been living on our ranch for about a year. This is a picture of her 3 days before she farrowed. This is a good time to point out what you don’t want in a breeder. She is far too thin for a sow who is days away from farrowing. This has nothing to do with the amount of food she’s getting, it’s just the way she is built. Things like that are genetic.
We saved one of her piglets from the last litter for meat and she, like her mother, is also too thin. Look at her back leg above. That black splotch is a ham. That’s about 1/3 smaller than what a ham should be. Considering she’s pregnant, she should be very fat. Uncomfortably fat. She should be fat to the point where we are offering her snacks and a chair to ease her discomfort.
We knew when we took/bought her that she was not prime breeding material. We gave her a chance because her first litter, last year, fathered by my younger boar Rusty, was a good size. She also was a wonderful mother. She had six babies, made a great nest and kept them all alive.
Pigs are very predictable when it comes to giving birth. Their gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days (give or take a day) from conception to birth. We let our pigs free breed. I have two 20×50 breeding pens that each have a boar full time. We let the sows in, they get bred, and we then put them in farrowing pens about a month before their estimated time of birth. This gives them time to build nests, relax, not have to fight for food, and basically just lounge around as they prepare for babies. Less stress means healthier babies and mamas.
The above picture is the breeding pen Skrilla was in for the last three months. Her “husband” as my niece calls him is the black pig on the far left. We named him Notorious P.I.G and he is a 4 year old pure Berkshire boar. The blue barrel on the left is a waterer. This is the best way we have found for giving the pigs clean water. We have a well and no hose bibs, so we can’t just hook up a pig waterer to an exterior hose bib.
So, we placed Skrilla into a farrowing pen (ours are very large 16×16), gave her straw and extra food. Lots of shade and water, with other pigs close by for company. She was living high on the hog! lol, sorry I couldn’t help it!
Yesterday, we got a call from my sister in law:
“Skrilla is having babies, ”
Yes, awesome this is great, I thought.
“…but she is eating them! ”
This does happen sometimes – rarely in sows – although this is the second time this has happened to us in a year. Both of them were pigs I didn’t really like, but took them because of the cheap price.
There are a couple factors that lead to cannibalism. The main trigger would be stress, but it could be malnutrition, or she might simply be a bad mother. At this point, our farm is small enough that we can’t afford to keep sows who aren’t earning their feed.
We have made no definite decisions about her future yet, but it’s likely she will be turned into sausage. My hope is that I can trade her with a friend. I know another pig farmer in the area who is planning on butchering one of her sows. She has too many sows and needs the meat, but there is nothing wrong with the sow. My plan is to foist off my bad mom and then my friend won’t have to get rid of a perfectly good breeder – it’s a win win!
There is a lesson in this. I never liked how this sow looked. She had bad form to start with, which means she is passing along those bad genes to her babies. We want to be known for the quality of our stock. Skrilla is contradictory to that plan.I think in the long run we are better off without her. So, although it is so disappointing to lose those piglets and it’s a giant hassle to have to deal with it all, this is how farm life goes. Sometimes we have bad days.
* Zach and I went out to see Skrilla for ourselves. She didn’t actually eat all her babies. She apparently had six, again, and ate the two that were stillborn. This is not as big of a deal, it’s instinctual for them to get rid of things that will attract predators and scavengers. It is still not something we will encourage. Skrilla will still be leaving us, but not ’til after she has weaned the four she has left. Want to see a picture? Be prepared to saw aw…..
Your porcine education will continue, stay tuned…