At first glance it may appear that the farm is in full winter hibernation. The gardens are dormant, the honey bees are silent and the chickens spend their days hiding in the barn. The only outward sign of life, are the hardy squirrels, braving the winter elements to scamper across the snow covered ground in the hope of finding food during the ‘hungry gap’.
But take a look inside the barn and you will find a pen full of activity; you will hear a mother pig, singing lullabys to her nursing piglets.
There really is nothing cuter than baby animals and Berkshire piglets are no exception, with their soft, glossy, black coats that seem far too big and baggy for their skinny bodies.
But even sweeter, is the way in which the mother sings to her babies.
Pigs are extremely sociable animals, playing and living together. They protect each other and constantly communicate with one another using more than twenty variations of oinks, grunts, and squeals for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing hunger.
Now, before you all think that I have gone completely cabin crazy, let me tell you that I don’t claim to speak fluent Porcine, nor do I spend all my spare time in the field talking to my animals but, during the time that I have been raising pigs, I have come to recognize some of their more distinct sounds; from the soft welcoming ‘Hello’ that greets me in the morning to the deep bark that tells me something has made them unhappy.
But at no other time, is it more apparant for the need of communication than when a sow has a litter of newly born piglets. The ratio of weight between mother and baby is enormous. A fully grown female pig weighs approximately 500 lbs while her young will be only 3 – 4 lbs at the most. The average loss of piglets is said to be 10%, with 50% of those losses occurring from being inadvertently laid on by the mother during the first few days of life. So it is vital that mother and babies quickly learn to communicate with each other.
However, the sounds of a happy mother singing to her babies is something that has to be heard to be believed. The new momma will communicate to her babies that she is about to lay down and they quickly learn to stay well back out of her way! Once comfortable, she uses a series of short grunts to call the hungry piglets to her, then as they settle in for a feed her grunts take on a truly rhythmic sound, perfectly synchronized with the sucking of her piglets. Finally, a change in the tone and rhythm of her song, signals that lunch is coming to an end.
Right now we have a sow with a new litter of piglets, a week old. So, while I love the silence that accompanies deep snow, I know that if I grow tired of the quiet solitude, I only have to step inside the barn where there will be an orchestra of pigs singing!