MIA = In The Barn

It’s amazing!  I actually found my way back to the computer, it will be a brief visit for now.

I have been in the barn for what seems like days.  As you recall, we are in the middle of our farrowing season.  With sows and gilts having piglets left and right, I feel as though my head is spinning.  Add to that sick kids, not all at once, but one after another, and I look like a zombie with a touch of lunatic!

In a nutshell, this piglet season has not gone as smoothly as we have experienced in the past.  We have been blessed on the Delk Family Farm for years with near text-book deliveries.  This season is turning out to be one full of more things going wrong than right.IMG_3929

The first delivery, Spoinky,  was pretty much as normal as we are used to experiencing.  Things started to go wrong with delivery #2, Norma.

We like to move our girls out of the herd and into the barn, where they have their own private birthing stall.  We have a pair of sisters that were not expected to deliver until May.  (We base our due dates on when we actually see the boar breeding the sows/gilts.)  In this case we have a boar who acted differently than any other boar we have had.  Usually once the girls have been bred the boars will leave them alone.  This guy had done his job, but continued to breed the girls after they were already bred.  This usually isn’t an issue because the girls that are already pregnant don’t tend to tolerate any further breeding and put up an aggressive battle, effectively saying “No” to the boar.

Back to delivery #2,Norm, we came upon this in a sad manner.  While we were removing another sow that had an upcoming due date we discovered one deceased piglet.  We were instantly alarmed thinking we had not moved this girl in time and that she was now in labor.  Wrong!

That was when we realized it was one of the sisters that wasn’t due until May!  We quickly changed our focus to this girl.  We moved her out, we moved her sister out, and moved the original sow we were after.  With these three girls now set up in their own spaces we began to watch for more piglets from Norma.  Sadly there were no more piglets, leading us to believe that the whole litter, however many there were, had been consumed by others in the herd.  Absolute devastation took me over. Looking at Norma with her swollen teats and depressed expression only made it worse.

With no rest for the weary, delivery #3, Emma,  arrived that night.  Emma had better luck, she delivered her litter with only 2 loses.

After a day with no deliveries, Monday brought us delivery #4, Cinnamon.  Cinnamon is our oldest sow and known to be a fiercely protective and successful mother.  This was the one we were counting on to be far less stressful on us.  Boy were we wrong, again!

Cinnamon went into labor, however she would not push along with her contractions and it came to the point that we had to intervene.  It isn’t an easy task having to physically pull a litter from a 600 pound sow.  Thankfully Marcus was able to get the job done, though it took most of the day before we had pulled the whole litter.  Out of 14 piglets, she has 6 survivors.  Three of her piglets were born dead, the rest that died were due to her crushing them.  This sometimes happens with pigs, however this was no accidental crushing.  She was clearly not interested in caring for the piglets.  Left with no other choice, we spent the day with her making sure they got as much colostrum (the first milk) as possible, then we took them away.

With a house full of sick kids and all the litters not going as planned, the last thing I was ready for was bottle feeding 6 piglets!  So we had a plan.  What if Emma was willing to add a couple more piglets to her existing litter?

We put the plan into action, ready to take it slow, one piglet at a time.  Well that plan changed rapidly when I approached Emma with the first of the 6 piglets.  The piglet was loud and upset instantly triggering Emma to go after the person, me, that was making the piglet scream!  We then quickly gave them all to her, from that moment they were all hers.  No one was going to touch her piglets!  So there was one great thing to happen during this whole ordeal!  Crisis averted!IMG_4115

Now we are up to Tuesday morning and another not so pleasant surprise.  Litter #5 had arrived, sort of.  Olivia had indeed had her litter in the night, but when we went out there were only 2 live piglets.  Most of the loss in this litter was no fault of Olivia’s.  The majority of her litter had stopped development at some point late in the pregnancy.  She had 4 piglets born normal, of those 2 we found in a corner away from mom very cold, and did not make it.

So things don’t always go as planned.  Life on the farm is unpredictable and Mother Nature can be cruel.

I wish I could say that the stress of farrowing season is over, but we have 3 more sows to deliver still, Penny, Norie and Primrose.  For the time being we are focused on the cows and the kids as we prepare to embark on a 4 day event away from the farm showing the cattle.


Mud…it sucks!

pig mudToday was one of those extra special days.  You see, it isn’t everyday you get to eat birthday cake.  Since Russell is now 12 years old, we had to celebrate!  After a breakfast of homemade waffles and real maple syrup, we jumped right into presents, cake and ice cream.  Russell spent the majority of the day working on the various Lego sets he received.  I wish I could say that the whole day was fun and games.

There is always work to be done, today was no different.  Our small barn has been in desperate need of repairs and upgrades.  The first project of the day was to replace some of the support beams on one whole side of the barn.  If this didn’t seem like a big enough task, add in the dreary, wet weather.  Not a speck of sunshine in sight all day.

We managed to get two of the four posts replaced.  We figured it would be best to let those set and allow the concrete to firm up before we finish up the wall.

Since the day was still young we figured we should try to accomplish something else.  We only have 10 days before we are into our farrowing season this Spring.  We have 8 sows due between April 11th and May 31st.  It only made sense to begin moving them out of the pasture and into the barn.

Most pigs don’t take to being physically forced to do anything or go anywhere. We have a great system for moving our pigs around the farm.  We have worked with all our pigs since they were piglets.   When we need to relocate a pig or put it on a trailer, we make a “tear drop”.  When you take a single cattle panel and bend it so the ends meet it makes a portable cage.  We then just lift it over the pig we want to move and gently walk her along.

Even with this great technique there are always things that don’t go as planned.  The Spring weather is partly responsible for today’s frustration.  Spoinky and the rest of the herd provided the rest.

So the weather has caused the winter pasture to be extremely muddy, in some areas it comes up over our tall boots.  The depth isn’t even the worst of it.  While we ran around the pasture attempting to weed Spoinky out from the other 8 pigs, we quickly discovered a problem.  The pigs could run, but not us!  The mud had waged a war against us, grabbing tight on our boots and holding us in place.  Each step was a major achievement, especially if we kept our boots on.  It was absolutely exhausting.  At one point I leaned against the fence to catch my breath.  As Marcus continued the quest to single out the one sow we were after I caught myself in a moment of laughter.  Just witnessing his personal battle with the mud tickled my funny bone.  Between his feet being randomly stuck and his body continuing with the momentum of the chase, he was reminiscent of the blow up sock men you see at a second hand car dealership.  After that, all it took was a loss of balance that almost took him down into a bed of mud, I couldn’t help it!  I was rewarded with a genuine look of disgust!

Just as you might have suspected, what goes around comes around.  As I rejoined the chase I was quickly put in my place.  As we cornered Spoinky I suddenly found my feet cemented in place.  When 600 pounds of nervous pig is running at you, you get out of the way.  Or not.  My mind and body were in sprint mode, but my feet did nothing.  Closer and closer she came until she had run me right over!  Yeah, that’s right, flat out on my back in the thick, black pig mud.  There I was covered in mud, a banged up knee and wounded ego as I hear Marcus chuckle while asking if I’m alright.

In the end we got the tear drop around Spoinky and she quietly walked to the barn.  All that hard work paid off.  But it did leave us with a strong opinion on working with livestock in the mud.  It sucks in more ways than one!!