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Ossabaw Piglets

It's spring on the farm and we've got babies poppin' out everywhere. Today Bianca farrowed her litter of piglets. Of course, she chose a day where the high temp has been 50 degrees and it's been pouring rain. She looked ready yesterday, so I figured today or tomorrow would be the day. I've been bringing the gilts (female pigs that have not yet farrowed) a bale of hay everyday so they could build their nests and stay dry in all this rain and unseasonably cold weather. They eat a lot of the hay, so it's important to keep them well-stocked.

Piglets nursing

Around 9:30am I went out to feed everyone. Rain gear in full effect, hood covering everything except my nose and eyes. I lumbered up to their paddock in the forest, Bianca and Petunia running around like usual, grunting voraciously as they awaited their whey, eggs and hog feed bonanza. Bianca looked about the same as the day before. Her belly hung a little lower, but really how much lower could it get? Her teats almost touched the ground.

Bianca the day before farrowing

I emptied the rain water out of the feed dishes and Petunia nibbled on my jacket sleeve. Hog feed first, then the whey, then the eggs. I think that's the best sequence. I glanced up at their A-frame to be sure it looked dry and full of hay and what...? Three piglets! Oh sh*t! It's pouring rain, nearly freezing with the wind chill, and here's three baby piglets. Bianca is out eating, the piglets are running around and appear to be a little cold. One is clearly fresh out of the womb, still covered in after-birth. Bianca wants nothing to do with them, she's entirely focused on eating, which will take about 30 minutes. 

So I dry off the newborn and wrap her in some dry hay inside the corner of the A-frame next to her two siblings. The other two are perfectly dry and alread acting like pigs. Grunting, rooting around, chewing on each other. So cute. One of them starts licking the afterbirth off the newborn.

Ossabaw pigs aren't like our dairy goats. These are Ossabaw Island Hogs, a very rare, heritage breed that is not entirely accepting of humans or any other animal. You can't rub an Ossabaw's belly, they aren't fat and lazy, they will bite your leg off if you let them. So I left and figured Bianca would take care of raising her litter.

In the back of my mind I worried about the little newborn. About 30-45 min later I went back with more hay to make sure everyone was happy and dry. Bianca was still out eating and rummaging through the hay. Her piglets were inside the A-frame staying dry. But I only saw two. I looked around and the third, the newborn, was in a nearby pool of water. It wasn't a large puddle, just a small bit of water. But it was cold water and this newborn had clearly not nursed. She still had her full umbilical attached and was not in good shape. As I picked her up she opened her mouth slowly, closed her eyes and extended her legs. In my mind she had just taken her last breath. I didn't know what to do, so I breathed into her mouth to try to resuscitate her. She started breathing again. I wrapped her in a dish towel that I keep in the ATV and put her in a warm tuft of hay inside the A-frame. I sat and watched her for 10 minutes and she kept breathing. I put my hands on her to keep her warm. I didn't know if she would recover, so I decided to go inside, get a warm blanket and bring her in to help nurse her back to health. Her chances of survival seemed slim otherwise. 

Bianca birthing

A few minutes later I was back at the A-frame with a couple dish towels and warm pad inside a tupperware for her to snuggle into. As I pulled her out of the hay tuft I could tell she wasn't the same. In that short amount of time she had stopped breathing. This time I couldn't resuscitate her. Bianca was back inside the A-frame, continuing to labor. I watched as she gave birth to two more piglets. I brought her another load of hay and watched as all four piglets nursed. I haven't been back outside yet, but I'll check on her every hour or two. I really wish we hadn't lost that little piglet, but that's how it happened and that's farming. A year ago this would have been a lot more traumatic. Today it's a sad day, but we know we gave Bianca everything we could and it didn't work out for one of them. We hope the other four survive and grow to be incredibly healthy members of our farm. But you never know, and in the back of your mind you can't help but think the chances of that happening are slim. Nature can be cruel, and as far as these pigs go they live about the most natural life you can imagine.

We raise our pigs in the woods. Yes, it's on a farm, and we feed them and provide them shelter and protection, but we try to raise them as close as possible to the way nature intended. They do not live indoors. They do not spend their lives on concrete. There are no rings in their noses. We don't pump them full of antibiotics just to keep them alive. Our pigs are healthy and happy living their lives the way pigs should. And when they have babies we don't lock them up in a crate. So these things happen. In nature there is death. A lot of it. On our farm there is less and we've been blessed with very few losses. Still, I wish we could've saved that little piglet.

I know we haven't posted in a long time, so y'all are due for a farm update. We've had an incredibly busy month and we'll update you soon. All is well and there's an inordinate amount of exciting stuff going on (which is why we've been so darn busy!). 

James

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