Robyn Scherer: From the Edge of the Ring 7-2-12
July will be a busy month for me around the farm. I will be attending the American Dairy Goat Association National Show, I will be breeding my Boer goats and I will be farrowing out three sows for National Western Stock Show pigs.
The ADGA National show is a really big deal, and even though I’m not convinced that I have an animal that can win, the opportunity to show at such a prestigious event is more than I can pass up.
I have only been raising dairy goats for three years, and this will be my first national show. I will be showing my recorded grade Alpine named Cleopatra, who was one of the first dairy goats that was born on my place.
I will also be showing a yearling milking LaMancha named Texas Tornado who I purchased from Rancho-Snowfall dairy goats this spring. When I first brought her home I wasn’t sure I wanted to take her, but since she’s the only one I have milking right now, I figured, “Why not?”
Prepping these does takes time, and starts months in advance. Both does will need to be clipped and cleaned, and their hooves trimmed. I milk Tornado every day to make sure she’s producing adequate milk and to keep her udder even.
I’ve been working on keeping weight on the does, and feeding them high quality grain so they are in the best health they can be. They have been wormed and vaccinated, and are ready to go.
I have a tackle box of sorts that goes with me to every show, and so I must make sure everything that I need is in that box. I also must take all of my milking supplies, as I will need to milk Tornado every day when she is at the show as well.
I will take the does down to the show in Loveland, Colo., on July 7, and get them checked in and settled. Cleopatra will show on the immediate Monday evening, and Tornado will show on Friday morning. During the two shows I will get to meet dairy goat producers from across the country, and watch the other exhibitors show their animals.
On the Boer goat side, July is breeding month. I will try to have my does bred between the middle of July through the end of July and early part of August. Goats have a five-month gestation period, so these kids would all be due in December and early January, which is where I want them to be for the fall fairs.
I currently use live cover, so I will be leasing a buck to use on my does. I will be breeding six Boer does, which is more than I have ever had. I will also have six other dairy goats that I will be breeding, so I will have a lot of babies late this year and next spring. I couldn’t be more excited.
As soon as I am finished with the ADGA national show, it will be time to farrow pigs. I will have three sows farrowing, including two Exotics and one Hampshire. My foundation sow, that I showed when I was in high school, is one of those sows farrowing, and I’m excited to see what I can get out of her.
She turned six in March, and for a farrowing sow that is getting old in age. I hope to get a healthy litter this summer, and then one more litter next spring. She will likely be retired after that, depending on her condition and what her spring litter looks like. No matter what, she will be given next summer off.
Even after she retires, she will stay with me. Most people wouldn’t get attached to a 600-pound pig, but she is my special girl, and will always have a special place in my heart.
The pigs are due on July 17 and 18, and so they will move into farrowing crates on the 14th as soon as I get the does home from the National Show. I realize some people do not like farrowing crates, but I have seen how helpful they can be.
Full-grown sows are big, and not very graceful. Farrowing crates protect the piglets, as well as the handlers. Even though I love my big sow, I also respect her power, and know how painful it is to get bit. The sows will only be in the crates for about three weeks, and are let out every day to walk around and stretch their legs.
I have farrowed both in crates and in open pens, and the stress of farrowing in a crate is much lower. I can also control the air temperature, and keep the sows cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Sows do not like 100-degree days, and since they can’t sweat, they can quickly overheat. Keeping them indoors in a controlled environment allows me to provide zone heating for the piglets, while keeping the sows comfortable.
The safety of the personnel involved is also very important to me, because I have several college students who usually assist with farrowing to learn the process. I want them to feel safe and to be in an environment where they can learn, not in one where they are fearful of being hurt.
Prepping the sows to farrow is pretty easy. I usually give fiber in the days leading up to the farrowing date to prevent constipation, as well as calcium to help the sows have more energy during farrowing.
The hardest part of farrowing pigs is being patient, and waiting for the sows to be ready to give birth. Once they are, I will spend the next six to eight hours drying babies and helping them nurse, and assisting the sow if necessary.
Baby piglets are one of the cutest farm animal babies, and their vigor for life from the second they are born makes them fun to farrow. For those who have never farrowed pigs, it’s not like watching a cow.
A pig usually has around 10 babies, but I’ve had as many as 14. The process takes much longer than those who have singles or twins, and once they are all born, there are babies everywhere. They spend their entire day eating, sleeping and playing, and seem to grow before your very eyes.
The month of July will be very busy, but this the part of the business I enjoy. I will also be attending country fairs at the end of July and all through August, and get to watch the students who purchased animals from me showcase their projects.
I can’t imagine a better way to spend the rest of my summer.
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