So no sooner had I my new lens in my sticky grasp when my entire camera went kaput. Gone. Utterly dead. It has now been sent away for repair (hopefully) but sadly my favourite season of the year will be pretty much over by the time I have a decent camera again. All that to say that the pictures might be a bit sub-par for the next little while!
Luckily piglets are cute no matter what you use to take the photo, cute, wriggly and….well cute if you must know.
The night they were born is one I’ll never forget, no matter how many more farrowings there are on this farm. Our lovely Lady B let us sit next to her the whole time, rubbing her tummy and comforting her. Her body knew what to do but, like any new Mama, she was a little wild eyed, looking to us for reassurance. “Is this normal?” she seemed to say, “It’s okay, ” I’d say, “You’re doing brilliantly, clever girl.” In the dark of a summer night we sat next to her in the straw and watched her birth tiny little black piglets into the world.
As they emerged we helped rub them down, getting the birth sac away from their mouths, moving them towards her teats. She developed a wonderful ‘udder’ during her pregnancy with plenty of teats for those insistent little mouths. Despite her inexperience she nursed them carefully and they thrived on her milk, tucked away from the world in their own little private nest.
We only ran into trouble once, after piglet number 6. I’d taken a break (it was 1.30am) and gone inside to check on the boys, but it was really an opportunity to read up a little on how long each farrowing should take. Stephen and I quickly concluded that something was up, she’d been trying to pop out a piglet for nearly and hour but while the others had come easily, this one just wanting making it’s appearance.
In the week she was due I’d read everything I could get my hands on about pig birthing; videos had been watched, the internet searched, books pored over. I knew that we may need to ‘go in’ but that it is best not to if possible. It seemed like we had no choice so I scrubbed up, carbolic soap and a scrubbing brush turning my hands pink and hot.
As soon as I came back into the shed I could see the fear in my lovely pig’s eyes, she knew things weren’t right as much as we did. I spoke to her reassuringly and Stephen stroked her belly soothingly but there was really only one thing to do. Drawing on all my James Herriot watching as a child I went in and felt around for the piglet. It is an extraordinary thing to feel a creature prior to birth, his little teeth letting me know I’d found his mouth. I swept my hand around him to release him and thankfully that was enough, into the world he came with a big rush.
After a while it seemed she was done, she was up and about and, having birthed 7 piglets, it seemed her work was over for the night. We headed back to the house, knowing dawn was only a couple of hours away. We were exhausted but thrilled, the first breeding on our farm had resulted in a wonderful litter of 7 pigs!
Imagine our surprise when, 3 hours later, Stephen went out to check on the new family only to discover 11 piglets! Our clever lady had gone on to birth 4 more piglets without any help from fussy farmers at all. We were thrilled.
Over the last month we’ve watched them grow, watched them emerge at 3 weeks out into the world, snuffling the earth as they were born to do. We’ve gone from fussing over the new Mama, checking on her every hour, letting her out for regular breaks and food, to finding new homes for the piglets who were starting to eat us out of house and home! In the space of a month and a half we’ve gone from maternity ward to flying the nest, such is the way with pigs.
The experience has been a wonderful one, the planning of new life on the farm and then seeing it all come good. The new piglets have new homes and we are already thinking ahead to breeding the wonderful Lady B again, but this time with our own farm boar, Arthur. As we move more and more towards livestock independence on the farm I can’t help but feel more secure, knowing our future is a little bit more in our own hands. And when a future contains piglets, it’s a future worth having.