Probably the most risky time in a pig’s life is during the first three days after being born. During those first precarious days, the piglet is a very different animal from the tough and hardy pig that it will soon become.
The ratio of a new born pig to it’s mother is 200:1 and at only a few pounds in weight, the baby piglet is in real danger of being inadvertently crushed by it’s mother. During the first few days, the baby has to learn to find it’s source of milk while at the same time stay out of mother’s way while she lies down or moves around.
65% of pig deaths occur during the first three days following birth and the most common reason is from crushing. To give our piglets a higher chance of survival, we have installed farrowing rails around the edge of the stall. This gives a small corridor into which the small piglets can roll, staying out of harms way. Never the less we inevitably lose piglets.
Our sow farrowed at the beginning of March and has ten healthy piglets all doing well. Unfortunately, an eleventh piglet has not faired so well, being stood on and incurring a badly crushed leg. Small and weak, with very little body fat, a baby piglet is very sensitive to the cold and if unable to move around and stay with the litter will very quickly become chilled.
So our little pig was found injured and very chilled. Her little body was limp and lifeless, so what better remedy than a nice warm oven! She fitted perfectly into a clementine box and was placed in the oven of our wood stove.
With a badly injured leg, she wouldn’t have stood a chance back in with her boisterous siblings and so she happily became our house pig for a week. For some reason she didn’t seem to know how to suck on a bottle – perhaps that was why she was weak and had been left out in the cold? But the survival instinct is very strong and against all odds, she quickly learnt to lap milk out of a bowl, much like a cat and it wasn’t long before we were unable to open the fridge door without her waking for a feed!
Well, as all babies do, she got bigger and stronger and outgrew her box. She still wasn’t strong enough to go back with the others so she then became my greenhouse pig, spending warm days in the greenhouse and cold nights in the kitchen. For a few days I had a gardening buddy!
While I planted seeds, she rooted happily in the warm earth; thank goodness we never put chemicals in our soil!
Yesterday, we decided that she was ready to return to her mother and that we were finished as foster parents. However, her mother thought otherwise. After ten days away, she was not going to accept her back – she smelt different and she sounded different. It took a few hours of coaxing and talking to a nervous sow to convince her that this piglet was one of hers. Eventually she conceded and we left them, hoping for the best.
The happy ending to the story is that when we went to the barn this morning our orphaned piglet has been fully accepted and everyone is happy again.