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The Summertime Hustle

pigsIt's hard to keep up with the summertime hustle. I want to soak up every sun ray, every moment that makes summer, summer. This leaves little time for blog writing, Instagram and Facebook because I use my office time for boring things like updating our cash flow statement and tracking expenses. BUT we have had some pretty remarkable things happen here this summer and one that I'd like to take a moment to share.

I write to you about a farming success. 

It feels like it's hard to catch a break as a beginning farmer. Over the last two years we have particularly taken a financial hit while building our breeding stock. It seems we rarely have a smooth farrow (pig birth) or can get a cow bred in a timely fashion. But we have learned from these mistakes and we move on with more knowledge. It's what is developing us into experienced farmers. We're in the prestigious program called the Hard Knocks Agri-Grad-School, and we have many farmer friends that attend.

But as I said, this is a success story. Several months ago when we made the decision to significantly up our pork production we had no choice but to gather mature sows - in the dead of winter - considering breed, bio-security, region and expenses this was no easy task. We picked up a purebred Berkshire from a wonderful farm in Maine, and we still to this day feel so lucky to get one of their sows, as their main focus is in genetics. After months of discussion we decided to bring home a sow that they were willing to give up, she came with baggage, she had a rough first farrow, but it was an unusual situation and the farm thought she most definitely deserved another shot at motherhood. So, with full disclosure from the Maine farm, we took the risk and bought her. Golden Miss (aka Goldie) has, since arriving to our farm, instantaneously become a favorite of ours.keeping a piglet warm in a box

The evening that Goldie farrowed, Lane was heading off the next morning with his brother Matthias for a fly fishing weekend and our sister-in-law Kiersten was going to be staying with me to hold down the fort. Around chore time it became clear that Goldie was about to give birth, so we put our game faces on, but left her alone. A few hours later, as the sun was setting, I checked on her and she had had 2 still borns in one location and a live piglet in a nest she had built. She was standing over the still-borns trying to talk to them, and was disregarding the live piglet. I again left to try to let nature take it's course. Before dark Lane and I walked down to check on the scene together. This time there was an additional piglet in a new location. Goldie wasn't paying any attention to them. So...against all our natural instincts we gathered the piglets and brought the two live ones into our home, as we knew they would not make the night without nursing. We happened to have the right milk replacer on-hand and I got them latched onto the bottle. Before we went to bed I made Lane go out with a headlamp and check for any additional stragglers, and he came back with two more piglets. I bottle fed the four piglets every hour that night. In the morning we made the decision to put them back in with Goldie, as we know that the chances of long-term survival are greatly reduced once removed from their mother, and we had experienced that with a litter 2 years ago. When we went out to the paddock, she had 1 more piglet in her nest that had obviously been nursing, otherwise it would not have been alive. That made me hopeful.

Matthias and Kiersten arrived just after this, and the guys were off to the land of no cell service. The womenfolk were left to call the shots. I watched Goldie all day and didn't see any signs of nursing, but I did see her talk to them and interact with them, so I wasn't ready to pull them away just yet. As my nerves started to get the best of me, I called a local vet who actually encouraged me to go against my instincts and just continue to feed them myself, he also scolded me for farrowing outdoors (major eye rolling on my end) so I knew to take his advice with a grain of salt. BUT, he did give me the useful info that it would not be impossible for piglets to latch onto a sow after being bottle fed, which gave me some confidence in what I was doing.  

piglets nursingAfter we finished the chores we decided to go out, sit, and watch them for a while and potentially give them a bottle if I felt there was no nursing occurring, but I really wanted to wait as long as I could to make that call. Kiersten whipped up one of her famous muddle basil cocktails to calm our nerves and we sat and sipped in silence for about 45 minutes. We watched Goldie tend to her own needs, she ate, she took a long drink, she scratched her booty on a tree for a ridiculous amount of time, she played around in her nest, she (ahem) moved her bowels and then FINALLY went over to the piglets, laid down and they all scurried around her and started to nurse. What a relief! After I confirmed they were all able to latch on we left the paddock to not distract Goldie from her duties. Over rabbit pot pie we discussed the success in great detail, and those nerves turned into true feelings of triumph. I did it, I made the right calls. I pulled those piglets out when they needed me, and then I knew when to bring them back and let nature take it's course. I did that, not the vet, or another farmer, or Lane. I knew how to do that not from a class I took or because someone told me, but because those were my farming instincts that came from a place of experience.  A farmer learns by doing and it feels really good to be in a place where our educated guesses turn into successful decisions.

A big thank you to my sister Kiersten, who leant a big helping hand that weekend and a very open ear. 

 muddy pig in grass 








Meryl Nevins is a farmer at Prospect Farm in Lisbon, NH, a grass-based farmstead raising heritage breed livestock.

This piece was originally posted on Prospect Farm’s blog

Featured image courtesy of John Benford Photography