Don’t mess with a mama’s instinct

Gabby had her first litter of GOS piglets and it was an adventure.  We patiently watched as she showed the signs of pre-farrowing.  We didn’t have an exact due date on her but we had a rough idea.  Once milk was literally dripping out of her teats we knew she was close to delivery.  It happened that our toddler niece was staying the night with us on this particular night and our poodle had an eye emergency that needed vet attention.  Thankfully, grandma was able to step in to help monitor Gabby.  She called me whilst I was picking up my niece to give me updates, such as “she is gushing fluid!”  I wasn’t sure I would make it home in time, but I had plenty of time before she gave birth (another two hours). Once hubby was home from taking the poodle to the vet, the three adults took turns watching mama pig labor and watching children.

The first piglet came out hind feet first.  The feet stayed in the birth canal a few minutes so I finally helped pull him out.  He was larger than the piglets Maggie produced last week.

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I picked him up, cleared his airway, then set him in the heat lamp area away from mama.  About ten minutes later I looked down at the piglet who seemed to be struggling to breathe.  His little tongue was hanging out.  I reached in and picked up the little guy.  Suddenly, 400 pound Gabby hopped up and turned towards me.  As she barked, I saw her coming at me and I knew it wasn’t going to end well.  Unfortunately, I was cornered and just didn’t have time to move.  In an instant, she bit my leg.  I gently tossed the piglet back on the ground.  She released her bite and I was able to step over into the heat lamp area.  Here is how the convo went with my hubby:

“Did she get ya?”, hubby casually asks.

“Yep”, as I am wondering if my leg is still intact.

“Well, get outta there”, hubby instructs.

“I can’t right now”, as I am wondering if my leg is still intact.

Hubby looks at my jeans and says “You are ok”.

“Nope, I am not ok”, as I am wondering if my leg is still intact.

A minute later, Gabby had moved away and I was able to hobble out of the pen.  I don’t know if you have been bit by a large animal before, so I will try to describe it. It was a combination of bone crushing/skin tearing that just wasn’t pleasant.  I sat down and slowly rolled up my pant leg to see the damage.

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It was then I decided it was my turn to watch the children.   At least they don’t bite me (usually).

Shortly after the bite, another piglet was born, without assistance.  An hour later, hubby called to say an hour had passed with no more births.  “You have to check her”, which he already knew.  Sometimes you just need validation before reaching into your livestock.  Twenty minutes later or so my mom called up to say they had both been pulling on piggy number three with no success.  “This pig is really stuck”.  Hubby got on the phone and said “Rach you have to come down here”, which is funny, because I have no more pig pulling experience than him.  I think he believes my human medical experience qualifies me as the “go to gal when your pig is stuck”.  I covered my wound, put on my big girl panties, and said a prayer on the way down to the barn.  If a piglet gets stuck, the piggy dies, mama dies, and any other piggies still in there die too.  This is serious and I don’t mind asking God for help in a situation such as this.  In my head, I’m thinking we can call the vet, but she doesn’t always respond immediately.  Even if she does, it would probably take her an hour to get to our farm.  I’ve got to try.

I reach Gabby, who is working hard.  I tell her they don’t call it labor for nothing and by the way, please don’t bite me again.  Kinda hard to run away from a pig when you are elbow deep inside of said pig.  I reached in and sure enough, there is a pig stuck in the canal, probably a good 16 inches inside mama.  I couldn’t get my hand over his head.  There just wasn’t enough room.  So I grabbed a hold of his lower jaw and teeth and pulled.  And pulled.  And prayed.  And pulled.  I pulled so hard that his teeth sliced into my thumb and first finger.  I used all my might and pulled.  Finally, I felt him budge.  I continued pulling a little further and  advanced him to about 12 inches from freedom.  At this point, I am drenched in sweat and covered in pig fluids.  Maybe she can push him the rest of the way, I reasoned.  So I took a short break.  Hubby then reached in and pulled.  I got behind him and pulled on his arm to add extra torque.  Now at this point, piggy’s head was within an inch or two of the world and I wanted the satisfaction of bringing him all the way out.  I worked on him for a few more pushes and out he came.  He was alive to boot.  Praise the Lord!

Not the stuck piggy, but you get the idea.

Not the stuck piggy, but you get the idea.

Grandma worked on clearing stuck piggy’s airway.  She is becoming a pro at that.  Placenta popped out of mama pig.  Really?  Just three pigs?  Yet, mama was still acting like she was in labor.  I reached in, all the way up to my elbow in pig uterus, reaching around, when I felt a set of hind legs.  I figured this piggy would be dead.  The placenta is out, after all.  I pulled but the legs were slippery and my arm was tired.  Hubby went in and retrieved piggy #4, who was still alive!

It isn’t uncommon for a first time mama to have a small litter.  The problem with small litters is the babies have plenty of room to grow.  These pigs are nearly the size of the 12 day old piglets in the neighboring pen.  I’m glad we were able to intervene.

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The next day, Gabby looked very swollen in her hind region, so we had the vet come out to check her.  The vet says she tore a little inside and is bruised, but should heal up fine.  Since we had to pull pigs, it is recommended we give penicillin.  I was hoping the vet would do it as my bite was still aching, but she didn’t volunteer.  Thankfully, we had 4H at our house the day after farrowing and two guys helped hubby push Gabby into a corner with a panel so I could reach in and give her the penicillin injection into her neck.  We tried giving the shot without the panel but Gabby wasn’t having it.  I can’t say I blame her.

So, what did we learn from this experience?

  1. Mama instinct isn’t something to be overlooked.  Gabby was sweet and kind until a baby was on the ground.  She can’t help that she wanted to protect her baby.  It was my fault I picked up her baby in the same pen as her. Also, we need an easier exit from this farrowing pen.
  2. Teamwork is necessary.  It is nice to have two people with mama pig while in labor.  And you need another person to tend to any small children.  We also needed help to give Gabby that necessary shot of antibiotics.  We couldn’t have done it without the extra manpower.  Thanks to all our friends willing to get in a pen with a crazy mama pig.
  3. Food takes a lot of work.  From raising a piglet from birth, to feeding feeders, to caring for new mamas.  Please appreciate that work the next time you enjoy your morning bacon or sausage, ok?  If that means you pay a dollar more a pound for locally raised meat, have comfort in knowing that farmer earned every penny.