Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Nesting Pigs

You probably have never seen a sow's nest. During early labor a sow spends a great deal of time creating the perfect spot to farrow. Previous falls I've had a litter or two of piglets born on pasture but I carefully protected the sow's nest. Two years ago when Brownie farrowed I remember pounding four posts carefully stretching a tarp over her nest protect it from rain and the hot sun. (newbie)

Colleen's piglets Day 1
This fall my plan was to move my portable pens to the flat part of the pasture to protect the piglets for the first few days. Clodagh was the first to farrow.  She'd been in a pen got out one morning and went to the far corner of the pasture.  When I returned from work she was deep in labor and would not consider moving from the nest she created. So we set the pen up around her carefully protecting her arriving piglets.

Cara and Tawny farrowed as planned in the set up pens. Celine relaxed for a week in her own quiet pen and was let out when we needed to use the pen to catch piglets for castration. The morning after her release Celine did not rejoin the others to eat. A quick hike through the pasture found she had built a nest soft, silty soil in the sheltered, sunny spot.   It was Thursday morning the first day of the annual Tunbridge fair with work and school the fair we had no time assemble a pen around her piglets.

Friday morning Coleen did bring down some grass but I was off to school and then to wait tables so I let her naturally do her thing. Coleen created an incredible nest lined with lots of great grass again on the sheltered hillside away from the wind. Coleen's nest is in the very corner of the pasture so she can see anything approaching. The next day when there was a rain shower in the evening while I was at work I wondered how the litters in the uncovered nests would fair.  The following morning I found Coleen's nest carefully relined with new grass and Celine's piglets clean and dry and her carefully selected spot.

Celine's silty nest with piglets Day 1
This morning when I heard the rain on our roof I wondered how the four day old piglets were doing. When I went to do chores I discovered they were warm toasty and almost completely dry. With this round of fall farrowing I have learned to trust instincts of my sows. Tamworths are a heritage breed making a strong comeback for a reason, they thrive on pasture, are incredible mothers, and produce flavorful meat.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Plenty of Space

I now feel settled into the routines of winter.  School vacation allows for more than completion of each days routine, it allows for reflection.  This year the chore routine is different as our barn is still under repair.  The understory is full of cribbing as the steel lolly columns are replaced with hewn posts.  The craftsmanship of the repair is incredible but one of my favorite features is the functional frost free faucets.

Typically the pigs come back to the barn and barnyard for winter.  Even though the pigs always had access to the outside I discovered the large pen 20'x30' was large enough they did not go outside to go to the bathroom and I had to clean the pen each week.  This winter the gilts are in an area at the base of the pasture in the backyard.  Having the pigs in the backyard is not ideal but was the best option as the paddock has piles of stone from the repairs and I did not want to walk through the snow up the hill into the pasture to feed and water (they will also till and fertilize for a new garden space.)  The five gilts share two moveable huts Mike made from reclaimed fence posts and tin removed from the lower level ceiling.  As with all things made by Mike, I describe what I would like and he improves upon it. 

Our new three month old boar, Corc, and his meat pig brother are in a hog paneled enclosure on the north side of the barn.  We completely cheated when sheltering them and simply set into the large enclosure the large wooden crate we transported them home from New York in.  They have been here since the weekend prior to Thanksgiving and have grown in little chunks.  They burrow into the hay for warmth, leaving the box to eat, drink and poop.  We will electric fence train them in the spring.

The winter routine is different this year with no poop scooping and water that does not freeze in the barn.  Even without the ample space of our barn the animals keep warm and toasty.