I am passionate about (human) child birth. The fact that a body can grow babies is incredible. I am a proponent of letting nature taking it’s course and not intervening unless medically necessary. Ask me one day how I delivered a 9 lb 11 oz baby without drugs. I could talk for hours! Naturally, as time came closer to our gilt Maggie’s due date, I became more excited about the process of piglet birth. I read several articles on the subject so I could be prepared. On her due date, Maggie began panting heavily.
Here is what it looked like:
Sweet! This was listed as a sign of pre-farrowing/pre-labor. All the sources said the panting would last 12-24 hours. Sources also said the pig would be restless, getting up and down, and that she would build a nest. Check, check, check. Maggie was doing all of these things. Wednesday night we took turns going to the barn every 1-2 hours, even in the middle of the night. We did not want to miss the birth of the babies for a few reasons. 1) I am passionate about birth. 2) Sometimes piglets get smashed by mama so they need moved away during the rest of the birthing process 3) Some mama pigs don’t understand what is happening/causing the pain so after delivery they eat the thing(s) that caused the pain. Ain’t nobody want their piglets eaten up by mama.
Another sign of eminent delivery is when mama gets her milk. One chart told me it would be 6-12 hours from milk to babies. So imagine my excitement when about hour 18 I was able to squeeze a drop of milk from Maggie. She continued to pant, move, and nest. At 24 hours of her behavior, I started to worry. The charts all say labor lasts 12-24 hours. What if a piglet is stuck? What if mama dies? My crunchy, granola self said “don’t panic” but it is difficult to not worry. At the 24 hour mark we contacted the vet to get her advice. She said it was time to give an internal exam. It was a given that I would do this task since I am a medical provider. I mean, it must just be like checking a human, right?
I gloved up, lubed up, and reached inside Maggie. Poor girl. I could feel the head and snout of a piglet, which was moving, but it felt like there was a membrane between my hand and the piglet. I was unable to open my hand enough to grab the piglet because the contractions prevented it. I felt like I was feeling the cervix between me and piggie. This led to an internet search on “how many cm does a pig’s cervix dilate?”. No clear answer on that one, folks! At this point, I call my trusty “phone a farm friend” Winnie. She calls her pig expert and they let me know mama needs more time. She isn’t ready. Leave her alone. We continued to check mama every 1-2 hours (all through the night). We were afraid to leave her so we celebrated our 9 year wedding anniversary in our barn, eating sandwiches. I guarantee you if you told me on my wedding day I’d be sticking my hand inside a pig’s birth canal, I would have said you needed a mental evaluation. Turns out I’m the one in need of evaluation.
Thursday was more of the same, except her breathing had slowed down (another imminent sign of delivery). Still nothing came. We contacted the vet again, who showed up Thursday around 4 pm. She checked Maggie and said she wasn’t dilated at all. What? Two days and no dilation? At this point, I turn to my side and Winnie and her daughter Bailey are standing next to me. Bailey has raised countless pigs for 4H and has worked for a show pig farmer. They knew I was anxious and have no clue so they kindly stopped by. Thanks, girls! As we are chatting, the vet walked into Maggie’s pen with a shot of oxytocin. Now listen: I hate intervening in birth, especially using oxytocin. It increases the risk of complications. I stood there mutely as she gave the shot. Part of me wanted to say, “NO!” and another part of me wanted to say “Well, maybe it is time for that”. Before I could really decide it was done.
The vet said it would be another 24-36 hours, but I knew better. We spaced our checking to every 3 hours and actually left our property for a few hours. When I checked at 2 AM, she was laying quietly. I set hubby’s alarm for 4:50 and went back to bed. Around 5 AM, I awoke to my leg being pulled and husband saying “Hurry, hurry! There are four on the ground”. Despite my exhaustion (three nights of not sleeping more than 2 hours at a time), I ran down to the barn. Sure enough, there stood a confused Maggie, with four wiggling/staggering piglets wondering around. We quickly grabbed them and put them under a heat lamp. We had to find a board to prevent them from wandering back to mama. She laid back down and a few minutes later, piglet five popped out. Then every 8 to 30 minutes, came pigs six and seven.
Here is a video of pig five being born:
Here is how newborn piglets move around:
After piglet seven was born, Maggie got up and started looking around. She walked over to the babies and seemed very interested. I wanted those babies to nurse ASAP. Assuming she was finished birthing, we put a baby near her thinking she will lay down and start nursing. Nope. She flung that baby a few feet away with her nose. Hubby reached down to save the baby from the upset mama. As he reached in, he fell head first into the pig pen. I grabbed his leg and pulled him back to safety. I can see the headline now, “Man eaten by pig, leaving behind a wife and two children”. Once I saved his life, I started thinking Maggie would never feed these piglets. The babies will starve! We will have to cull Maggie if she can’t be a good mama.
All the “reliable” sources say to give mama pig a beer after birth to calm her down. Do we have a beer? No. I had already called my mom to alert her to the birth, so we called back and asked her to stop and get beer on the way over. It is about 6 AM at this point. She felt like a real winner buying beer at 6AM. She tried to convince the cashier it was for a pig emergency. I bet he doesn’t hear that every day. While waiting for the beer, we’ve got a pacing mama and 7 hungry piglets. Mama finally laid back down, but not where babies would be able to access her teats. Finally, mom arrives with the beer. I pour some for Maggie, but she isn’t interested. Moments later, another pig pops out along with the placenta. This pig isn’t breathing and is completely limp. It looked to be dead on arrival. I quickly grabbed her and start trying to clear her airway. I start pushing on her chest (chest compressions?) and gently swinging her upside down all while saying “this is what they do on Dr. Pohl”. I thought the girl was dead but she started to gasp, giving us hope. My mom reaches over, takes the pig and starts swinging her upside down in a large arc. She is holding the piglet by its hind legs and swinging up as high as she can go before swinging the other direction. Think pendulum. She does this repeatedly for several minutes, stopping every few swings to check on the piglet. After maybe five minutes, the piglet is breathing. It was amazing! Too bad we didn’t get that on video.
Now we have 8 piglets who still need to eat. Maybe if we put in two at a time, she’ll get confused and let them nurse? (Winnie tip). She stood up and her 400 pound body hovered over these two pound piglets. Their lives flashed before our eyes. She finally settled down in a position to nurse and thankfully didn’t squash anyone. We start grabbing her other babies to move them towards her. When we picked up a piglet to move it, it would squeal. Once mama heard a squeal she would attempt to stand in order to eat the people messing with her babies. Our lives flashed before our eyes and at the same time we are worried she will smash the ones trying to nurse as she attempts to eat us. This was incredibly stressful for all of us. Once all eight were near her, she settled down. We gently guided piglets to nurse. They staggered, pawed, and searched until finally everyone latched on. Phew! I think we should have saved the beer for us. My own childbirth was much less stressful.
One piglet has a shoulder that doesn’t look normal. We sent a picture to the vet, who thought it was “twisted” and says to wait until Wednesday to assess it. I felt around, thinking maybe it was dislocated. After googling pig anatomy and comparing to her other side, I don’t think it is dislocated. It may just be a deformity. It doesn’t seem to cause pain. We will have to wait for the vet to let us know for sure. All our farming friends say all eight won’t survive, that is just how it goes. We will watch closely and try to prevent any loss, but we accept that loss is a part of farming.
That is the story of our first farrowing. We learned a lot (like not trusting textbooks on the timing of the process). Our next gilt is due in a week or so. In the meantime, we will enjoy these precious piglets because in six to eight weeks they will be ready to sell. These GOS pigs will be registered and we expect to sell them to be used for breeders. Our next litter will not be registered and we will sell some of those for breeders and some we will raise for butchering. Oh, the farm life. Life is given (so bacon can be eaten).