In my many years of raising livestock, I have had the opportunity to witness hundreds of animals breathe new life. Each time I deliver a baby, I marvel at the miracle that has taken place and am grateful for the opportunity to share time in this animal’s life.
This summer has been no different. Near the end of July, my sow Peyton was due to farrow. She farrowed right on time, and I was there with her every step of the way.
I can usually tell when a sow is getting close, and the more sows I have farrowed, the better I have become at predicting when she will start. It’s never an exact science, so I always make sure to check on the sow often, usually every three to four hours, once she has milk. Sows are not like many other animals in that they can milk several days or weeks ahead of time. My sows usually have milk just 24-36 hours before parturition.
Once Peyton hit that stage, I was diligent in checking in, and that means getting up several times throughout the night. On the Friday night the day before she was due, she just started to get milk, but seemed pretty content and spent most of the evening sleeping.
The next morning, however, was a completely different story. Peyton transitioned into what I refer to as hulk mode, which means her goal is to destroy everything she can. This is common with sows, and they can be very destructive. She’s uncomfortable, and makes it known.
I continued to check her throughout the day, and by midday, she had completely torn down the piglet area I had created and was doing her best to chew through her water bucket.
I farrow in open stalls, and when sows get closer, they begin to nest. Finally that evening, Peyton started nesting, so I knew we were getting really close. Her ligaments near her tail head were also completely loose, so I grabbed a book, some coffee and a chair, and began the waiting game.
About 10 p.m. that night, her water finally broke after some milk contractions. After about an hour, I delivered her first baby, an all-black boar pig. Peyton is a crossbred exotic, and the boar was a purebred Berkshire, so I was not entirely sure what to expect from this litter. Her last litter she had 10 boar pigs, so this time I was keeping my fingers crossed for some gilts, but first and foremost for healthy babies.
The next two hours flew by, and Peyton delivered another baby almost exactly every 15 minutes, with a few in shorter intervals. I didn’t have to pull a single pig, and only one was stillborn, which can happen in large litters. In total, she ended up with 11 live piglets, with six gilts and five boars. It was one of the easiest and most enjoyable litters I have ever delivered.
I don’t know if it made a difference or not this year, but one thing I did different was to feed the sow goats milk going into farrowing, to help increase the calcium in her system, which aids in farrowing ease. It seems to work, so it’s something that I will be using again in the future.
I spent the wee hours of the morning making sure the babies were nursing, the sow passed the placenta, and eventually that she got up and drank some water. I set the area for the piglets back up, and because I farrow in open stalls, penned the babies up in their warm area for a few hours.
I do this because it allows the sow to rest, and makes sure that the babies stay warm. I let them out every hour or so for the first 12 hours, and then every two to three hours after that. There were two runts in the litter, and I did not want them to get laid on.
After a few days, the piglets were turned in to be with the sow full time. They were big enough to get around, and old enough to regulate their body temperature, which is very important. However, the two runts were still getting kicked off the teats from the bigger pigs, so we decided to pull them from the sow and raise them on goat’s milk.
So far they are all doing well, and I look forward to selling some of these pigs for National Western Stock Show. The others we will keep to feed out, so we can provide meat to our family as well as a few others.
This next month will be busy with the start of breeding season for the Boer. I have all of the breedings planned, and will be utilizing three bucks this year.
At the beginning of September I will also be participating in linear appraisal, which is done through the American Dairy Goat Association. Through the program, the goats in my herd will be evaluated, and it will allow me to see what my herd’s strengths are, as well as where we need to improve. I am very much looking forward to this information.
The last dairy show of the year will also be in September, and then the show season will be over. It’s been a great summer, but I am looking forward to fall and all of the fun things to come! ❖