Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life and Death in the Farrowing Stall

Farming is wonderful. The magic and wonder, the true miracle of life, it's a welcome gift in the barn.

Barely awake Midlife Farmwife meets barely awake
newborn Red Wattle piglet

But behind the scenes, the miracles are not so pretty, or as in the case of my own barn looks, average.
As I mentioned in my last post on Tuesday, Miss Debbie, the Matriarch of our Red Wattle herd, was due to farrow soon. We had no idea how soon but we're getting smarter. Instead of putting them in the farrowing pen a few days before the expected date, we now put them in two weeks before.

Good thing. Deb wasn't due until Feb 4, at least by our calculations. Apparently some rolling in the hay occurred BEFORE we witnessed it. Imagine that. And so yesterday morning we were a little (lot) surprised to see Miss Deb had gone ahead and birthed a bunch. 13 to be exact.

Miss Debbie nurses newborns while still
giving birth to more piglets at the
other end. Love those multi-tasking mamas!
Red Wattles are known for their large litters but 13 is large even for them. But of those 13, three were DOA and one of those three was partially mummified. Still in labor when we got to the barn yesterday am, we witnessed one birth of a well formed babe which wasn't breathing on its own. Keith assisted with some mild chest compressions and after seeing a couple of breaths we hung the babe upside down (gently) for improved chest massage and drainage. Interventions worked and new babe was off in search of a nipple

To the right, the beauty of farming, to the left
the reality.
Sadly though, a few hours later Miss Debbie was down to just 7 viable babies. Why ? So many reasons. Possible a crushing incident. Even though her pen is very large with lots of room to move, mama pigs are big and clumsy. In confinement the piglets are pulled away from their mama's and kept in a tiny metal floored area next to her, where they can reach her nipples but nothing else. Their survival rate is higher but often runts survive that end up being put down later anyway, and their short lives are horrible.

We have farrowed outside before in groups but lost piglets when they were stepped on by other adults. Again they had plenty of room to move but chose to stay close to each other thus the reason we have moved on to the separate farrowing pen idea.

Yet, we still lost piglets.

We feel strongly that weak piglets  are not meant to survive even though it may be possible to save them. Genetically, saving the less perfect of the breed will not in the long run SAVE the breed. The solution to preventing extinction is to raise healthy animals with strong genetics.

Rationalizing the loss of some of these piglets? Perhaps. But we have seen other breeders of purebred anythings, keep the offspring just to get the money which comes with "breeding stock." But how ethical is it to save animals whose genetics are weak, only to have them reproduce more weak offspring.?

The amazing fact of hogs: weight at birth
about 1-2 pounds. Weight in 6 months 200 plus.
Can you imagine keeping THAT baby in diapers?!
From birth we want to see strong animals with the iron will of survival. Offering a little help at the time of birth especially to those last piglets who have been in the birth canal longer and maybe aspirated a little amniotic fluid seems reasonable.  Just need a few thumps to get them over the birth hump? Yeah, we can do that.

But when I hear of breeders who go all out to save those very sick, very weak animals for the sole purpose of increasing the farms bottom line...I get angry. Nature never intended for the weaklings to live and reproduce more weaklings, and I firmly agree with Mother Nature on this point.

And to be perfectly clear...this post is about ANIMALS, not human beings.


  1. Thank you.

    Thank you for telling the truth about raising livestock.

    Every one thinks about cute, cuddly animals ... not the mummified births. Not about picking up the pieces of a chicken that has been ripped by a fox. Not about a prize winning heifer that went down -- and will never get up.

    It ain't easy to be a farmer.

    Thanks for educating the masses. You do it well. :)

  2. It's not that I enjoy seeing or hearing about animal suffering, but thank you for sharing the REAL side of farming. It's not all fluffy chicks (or piglets) and apple pies and I think more people need to realize this.

    And although I love animals, I also agree with your ideals regarding NOT raising or interfering with ones that are obviously too weak to survive. Helping along is fine, but to continue the blood line of a weaker animal is truly a disservice to their breed. (Notice I say this as I am nursing a half-breed, dog-mauled rooster to health.)

  3. sweet..... well bittersweet... my first pigs go to slaughter next week..... not quite sure how I feel about it!

  4. I agree with the survival of the fittest. Some people don't realize that animals can be born with birth defects too. The larger the litters as in pigs the more chances that there can be something wrong with some. It's just hard to deal with when they make it into the world and don't have the strength to survive.

    Congratulations on the new pigs.

  5. Loved this post. Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes.

    Life on a farm is both beautiful and tragic, it seems.

    Congrats on your surviving piglets, though!

  6. Congrats on the healthy piglets!

    And I couldn't agree with you more on everything you said. I wish everyone were as smart as you.

  7. As cute as piglets are, it's good to hear the 'other' side of farming. Not everything is romantic, fluffy chickens dotting the fields and clean clothes fluttering on the line. It's so important to keep things real, and for people reading the blog to be able to keep with the realism. I feel sad for the littles that don't make it, but I absolutely agree with survival of the fittest, mother nature has a plan in place!

  8. Survival of the fittest; that's what it's all about!

  9. Very interesting post Donna. Having had one of our does give stillbirth to a single last kidding season, caused us to think through these same things as well. I think for those new to livestock, it's especially difficult to know where to draw the line without feeling guilty for not doing more. Even with pets the measures taken to prolong their lives are sometimes irrational. In the end, we seem to do it to make ourselves feel better, not for the sake of the animal.

    Pigs are on our list! So I'm taking in all these details. I know experience will have a lot to teach us, but the experience of others is invaluable. Thank you for this post!

  10. Miss Effie, thank you.

    Carolyn. I too have nursed the animal that due to no fault of their own was injured. Being bigger and brighter I beleive it is our job to help when suffering is involved. Hope your rooster mends well

    John, good luck with saughter day. Hopefully they will get loose the day before and tear upo your yard making it easier to send them on their way!

    Tombstone. Very well said. Man, do I have some smart blog followers

    Prairie Cat. Ankum

    Briny, awww you're so nice. Want to be my publicity agent? The pay stinks but you get all the bacon you can eat. I would give you soap but you already make the best of the best

    Jenn. ususally here it is "fluffy chickens getting on the clothes line and pooping all over my clean clothes" which is why ROAMNTIC FARM never has our farm on their cover! Good luck with your new farm.

    Cro Yeah baby!!!

    Leigh. Pigs really are wonderful and fantastic to have on the homestead even with the trials they are tops in my livestock world.

  11. What a truly beautiful story. Life, in and of itself, is such a beautiful story... start to finish. While it is tragic that some of the piglets were lost, I too feel like its "natures way".

    I commend you for your strong position on survival of breeds not being based on poor genetics! We need more people like that in this world.