Last weekend a dear friend and I were texting when she sent me this picture and let me know that her sow was in labor, I was pretty excited too because we were planning on buying a piglet or two to raise ourselves. Also, I have never seen a pig born, watching the circle of life on a farm can be joyous and awe inspiring so that was just what I was hoping for when I asked if I could stop over since I had just put my little ones down to bed.
As I was heading out the door my 10 year old son decided he really wanted to tag along, and hey it isn't every day that you see piglets born so off we went.
When we arrived we were greeted with the sweetest, cutest little piglet I have ever seen. It was strong and healthy and running around the barn, but mama sow didn't look as good. I wasn't as concerned as my friend because I had no idea about pig labor, she let me in on the cause for concern though. Apparently sows give birth rather quickly and most deliver their piglets 15 minutes or so apart with no long pauses like our dog at home. It had been awhile since the piglet was born, over an hour so my friend was beginning to fret.
Let me start by saying when you live on a farm, you don't call the vet for every little thing. Most farmers, homesteaders and country folk who practice animal husbandry do an awful lot of care at home having learned through experience, or from others how to handle most any problem that comes along. Most vaccinate their own animals, help as a midwife when needed to animals in labor, and nurse runts back to health all without a single veterinary visit.
As the sow continued to labor but no more piglets were born an acquaintance from a local pig farm was contacted to provide advice, by now it was getting almost too late to call on friends but a call was chanced.
What is amazing about fellow farmers is that they drop and run more often than not to help one and other. This was no exception. Upon hearing what was going on with the sow, the friendly pig farmer and her son showed up in a record 15 minutes with a barrage of tactics to help the labor progress. I learned more in the hours I was there about how to help a pig labor than I ever cared to know, but I am thankful for the experience, you just don't get that kind of information from books.
What we learned was that there was a piglet stuck in the sow's birth canal. The local pig farmer seemed completely unfazed and let us know that this kind of thing happens pretty often and she and her son have both had plenty of experience helping sows deliver stuck piglets. It got pretty interesting watching the next few moves, I will spare you the details but needless to say I was quite impressed by the abilities of a determined pig farmer and her 12 year old son who were totally fine rolling up their sleeves and getting super personal with a pig.
What did happen was camaraderie was born between neighbors and acquaintances that had the sole purpose of uniting to bring about a positive outcome for a poor laboring sow. Let it never be said that homesteaders who raise animals for food are calloused, we are not. We are affected by pain and suffering just like everyone else.
My son and I stayed around helping as best we could until well into the morning hours. I was keeping tabs on our laboring dog at home as well as helping with the sow and piglet in any way that I could. I learned that we had lost a pup during delivery and my husband was planning on staying right near the dog for the remainder of the night.
My son however was enjoying staying up way too late and hanging out with the other kids in the barn, they eventually made a nest for themselves in the hay as the morning hours wore on.
We eventually did head home with the promise to return immediately if we could be of help in any way, and we meant it.
My friend was worn and sad when she let me know that the vet was en route to the farm to see if there was any hope left. At this point I think we all knew the inevitable, the sow was likely not going to make it, I believe we all still had hope that there might be some piglets before the end.
At home that same morning we were up to 9 pups, sadly 3 didn't make it despite our own best efforts as well. So our number was down to 6 living pups.
I decided to head over to offer my friend some moral support, and also hopeful that I could help if there needed to be more hands to care for any live piglets. Guess what? The pig farmer showed back up too, I think we all felt a need to see the situation to it's end.
It wasn't meant to be for the sow, or her piglets. The vet offered little condolences as he heavily sedated the sow and performed a cesarean section right there on the barn floor. There were 6 piglets still inside the sow, all had passed. We still don't know if the piglet stuck in the birth canal was a giant or not, we never did see it.
According to the vet there was a combination of the sow being too fat (I mean seriously have you ever heard of a pig that was too fat???) and her birth canal being too narrow. The sow had to be put down as well.
The only light in all the sadness was a cute little piglet that my friend initially called lucky. She is very sweet and seems to have earned herself a stay of execution on the homestead, that is saying a LOT. She is currently enjoying life being babied by a slew of doting children where she is being bottle fed and as far as I know, napping like the queen of Sheba on pink pillowcases alongside a cute 4 year old.
Back at home the 6 little German Shorthair pups were doing well as was mama dog. It was a pretty wild 24 hours and I learned a lot.
Like I said, the life of animal husbandry and homesteading can be very sad indeed, but when you do witness the wonders it makes it all worth it, at least most days.