Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Mothering ability
Mothering ability in livestock is fascinating to me. All the little things God put in mothers and babies that come together at birth is truly miraculous.
Earlier this week we had a first-time gilt farrow outside. We have a nice farrowing barn, but, much like sorting heavy heifers, estimated due dates aren’t always accurate.
The gilt was moved to a corner of the pen behind a panel, and bedded with straw. She proceeded to lay down with her nose in the corner, and give birth to 10 piglets in about three hours.
During my time spent sitting outside the pen, ensuring each piglet stayed on the same side of the panel as the gilt, I had time to ponder mothering ability in pigs. It’s an enjoyable topic when it is going exceptionally well, as it was that day.
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Much like cattle, there are gilts who get nervous when farrowing, and others who remain calm. Some know just what to do, and others turn dumb. There are proud-as-punch-to-have-babies gilts, eat-your-lunch gilts, what-the-heck-are-these-things gilts along all the additional reactions to motherhood found any livestock species.
A few years back we had our share of gilt farrowing issues. As the resident person with small enough arms and hands to assist them, I began to give the topic of reducing problems in that area much thought. At 2 a.m., no matter how many piglets a gilt has had, there is always one more, and consequently time to ponder life choices leading to that moment.
Being familiar with cattle, I wondered about a variety of things from that perspective. Are there shorter gestation boars? Come to find out, boar stud owners find that question comical, and can’t answer it.
I also discussed several ideas with my husband. I don’t recall the conversations, but, I am guessing he was in total agreement with finding a solution that meant he didn’t have to live with me after pulling pigs all night.
We eventually decided to take more notes in our farrowing book – similar to a calving book – on each litter from birth to weaning. We hammered out criteria we wanted in future sows, and used it to judge each litter. If a litter failed to meet our criteria, or had any other issues we thought might be genetic, we did not give those pigs an individual ear notch.
Six months down the road, no matter how beautiful a gilt was, if she was sporting a smooth ear void of any notches, she was an automatic butcher hog. No if, ands, or buts about it.
Thankfully, it worked! We saw our farrowing issues go to almost zero. When there is an issue today, it typically isn’t serious. We might have to pull a few pigs, occasionally a gilt does not milk like she should, and once in a while one comes along that just isn’t going to make a mother. But, by and large, they now have pigs and raise pigs.
When this week’s gilt was done, she pivoted while laying on her side to give her pigs more room, talking to them the entire time. I happened to walk by later as she got up for the first time, took a big step sideways over the entire litter, then carefully laid back down on the opposite side of her pigs.
As I said, a good mother doing her thing is riveting to witness. Her litter notes will start with praise, and her pigs will sport ear notches.
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