I would just like to stop you right here and say that this might be one of the top 10 most insane things I have ever done. If you’ve been reading this blog for a minute, you know that we bought a farm without ever seeing it, that we’ve traveled the country for two years, that we homeschool. All of which up until recently seemed fairly out there, but this might be one of those top 10 “Do you remember when mom…” moments that our kids tell our grandkids about. Or, maybe they’re just use to the crazy and this whole thing will eventually be buried under a long list of crazy things I have done.
Anyway, we went to a local sale and realized that everything was selling SO high. Like, scary high. The reason that caught me off guard and caused me start frantically looking for animals for our farm is that I could see the inflated sales prices at auctions hitting our grocery stores.
If people were willing to pay those prices at a sale, typically for animals that are there because they no longer wanted (while usually sales are a great place to get starter animals, bottle babies, etc), livestock outside of a sale must be skyrocketing too. Or at least that is what I told myself.
With the auction realization, last years events on my mind, and wanting to avoid empty grocery store shelves by creating a homestead that would allow us to be at least 75% food secure, I decided I need to start taking massive action.
At first I was looking for animals we are familiar with. With a recent hatch failure due to eggs being stuck in the post office over a long weekend and our chickens not laying just yet, we decided to look into other animals. First, goats. We had goats on our previous farm and had raised babies. We were JUST about to get into milking then when we decided to pack up and head across the country. We started looking in the usual places – craigslist, facebook groups etc and with no goats to be found, we went outside of our comfort zone and bought a super pregnant 400 lb hampshire cross gilt. She was delivered to our house in the middle of a snowstorm. We literally had to use our snowblower to cut a path through the foot of snow from the driveway to the barn.
We had never had pigs before other than that one little potbelly I had as a kid, so this was completely new territory for us. We didn’t know what kind of bedding, food or heat they needed and with less than a week before babies were due, we literally spent hours and hours watching Youtube videos and digging through this guide to raising pigs. The book actually ended up being our saving grace – along with the breeder we bought her from and the local vet.
It turns out pigs have a BIG personality. It didn’t take long for us to realize we might have bitten off more than we could chew – mostly because we bought this pig to have babies that the kids could show at 4-H and also for our freezer, but she is just such an amazing pig that we instantly knew we might not be able to go through with it.
A sucker for belly rubs, Piggy Sue became an instant hit in our family. Everyone joined in to give her belly rubs and brush her down. As soon as she seen you going for her belly, she would lay down for belly rubs. It was rather hilarious and allowed us to quickly bond with her before her babies arrived.
Getting Ready for Piglets
Following the recommendations of the breeder, our oldest son quickly built a farrowing corner. The goal of this corner is to give the piglets a place to get out of the way, get heat and not get squished under mama. Bigger operations have a much fancier setup.
Super pregnant and always wanting pets, Piggy Sue quickly became a fun part of our day. But, as the days went on, she quickly passed her Valentine’s Day due date and went an extra three days. Pigs are pregnant for 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, for the most part.
On February 16th we knew we were getting close, so we set up in the barn with our sleeping bags, torpedo heaters, heating blankets and heat lamps. We were suppose to get another 5-8 inches of snow and possible ice that night, so we were trying to prepare in advance in case our power went out.
Birthing Piglets with Kids
It was turning into a whole experience. The boys were up and watching the pig until 1:30 am. When I went out at 3:30 am on the morning of January 17th, there was no sign of piglets, but when I went out at 530 check, four piglets were on the ground. We realized we had a baby stuck at 630 and had to pull one with the help of our pigs breeder on the phone. Two babies came right after.
I thought she was done but she started to strain. I couldn’t feel anything, but I was afraid to reach to far. After about an hour I made the call to get a vet in route. She came and found a huge baby stuck. She ended up having to pull four. Two of which were enormous piglets. For a minute we thought Piggy Sue was bleeding to death. Vet was able to get it stopped.
Elias and Ian were both catching babies and cleaning them off as they were born. Ethan did amazing keeping Eliana in the house while the worst was happening. He’s decided he’s not a “birth” kind of guy and would rather stick with things in shells.
The vet was here for six hours and included the boys in everything she did. She was kind and compassionate and complimented the kids and our pig often. Our breeder was on the phone and texting nonstop and helped me pull a pig over the phone. Their care and loving on her proved valuable today because as painful as it was, she never got aggressive. The vet said with all she had to do to her, a normal pig would have bitten or charged at her at one point. She was her kind and lovable self the whole time and the vet was completely blown away when I was able to get her to lay just by rubbing her belly. I feel like the week we had to get to know her before this birthing day allowed us to be a part of it more than we could have ever imagined.
With this birth, we have all been covered in everything imaginable and experienced things we’ve never experienced before. The kids all did so amazing. Everyone stepped up even though they were seeing hard things for the first time in their lives.
It has been almost a week since the piglets were born and we’re all still completely in awe of the whole situation. They are growing so quickly and mama is doing amazingly well considering how hard her labor ended up being.
We’ve realized that heat is SO important. With several nights dipping down into the negative numbers, we had to work hard to make sure that the piglets would stay warm. Besides keeping them warm and giving them a safe space, really the only other thing to do is make sure that mama is getting the right feed and lots and lots of water (and belly rubs).
The babies below are now a week old and are growing fast! It’s hard to believe that in just two more weeks we will be weaning them. Thankfully the weather has started to turn, the sun is shining, the snow is melting and the piglets will get to play outside soon!
We have not lost any piglets since the birth and now have 10 amazingly healthy babies. We have 8 gilts and 2 boars. We will be choosing the two or three pigs that will go to the fair in the coming weeks. We will also be selecting two gilts to join our farm as mothers to future generations of piglets to be born on our farm.