When I enter a barn that houses an expectant mother due to give birth I always pause at the doorway and listen. I stand for a while, adjusting to and sorting through all the sounds that determine who is where and what is going on over there.
Yesterday morning I stood at the door, just inside, the southerly wind picking up air behind me, the sunrise pinking around the doors and I heard nothing. But it was not an empty nothing it was a nothing full of no Molly sound.
I narrowed my eyes, cocked my head like a sparrow and consciously sorted through the farm sounds, and moving cows, the wind, the bang of a door, the shuffle of early morning hay, the roosters, then I could hear Molly sleeping. Molly is never asleep when I come through the door. She always calls out to me. But she was sleeping soundly.
I put my buckets down, laying the handles to rest silently and on hunting cat feet I slowly, slowly walked to my viewing corner. There was Molly – fast asleep- and over her back I could see the tiniest white piglet head working at breakfast.
I soundlessly backed out of the barn, took my small bucket of feed back to the feed shed, swapped it for a gargantuan bucket of feed and a huge bucket of water, sent all the dogs back into the house and returned to the barn doors to wait and listen again. This time I was listening for an opportune moment to ask Molly if I could come in. I would not interrupt feeding time – I had to wait until there was a break.
Any visits to a new mother are swift and fluid, so there is no panic or fright. So I waited, silent, totally ready to move.
The most important part of my plan yesterday morning was to fill her feed bowl to the brim so she is never hungry and jumpy, this is the rule for the whole time she is feeding her piglets. Molly leaps about when she thinks there is food coming so when she and Poppy have their piglets they are allowed to eat On Demand. I never let that bowl run out. But yesterday morning the bowl was empty because she caught me by surprise with this farrowing. So filling it without her leaping up and standing on a piglet was the risk. So I waited.
After a while the scent of my body drifted down to her and she grunted a soft hullo. Her hullo to me is singular and individual. pigs greet different people with different sounds. Like names. I knew then that she knew I was here and it was OK. After another while I heard her turn over onto her belly, the piglets softly protesting. This was my cue. I walked on tender feet into the barn and by the time I reached her gate she had her head up and was waiting, the babies gathered by the wall. She grunted to me. I put down her heaped bowl and she carefully hauled her tired self up to eat.
I climbed the gate and walking past her, trailing my hand along her side – my hullo – I went in to check the babies. There were nine – they were a few hours old with full bellies and cold cords. I trimmed the cords that were too long, and iodined them then got rid of the afterbirth but basically there was little for me to do. Molly had done it all.
She kept eating and drinking the whole time I worked. She does not mind at all when I am in there. Such a calm girl now.
She had built a nest. Because she had eaten all her bedding earlier, in the night she must have stood her front legs up onto the gate and somehow reached a bale of straw, she had broken the bale, probably by shaking it side to side and pulled a goodly amount of straw into her pen to make her baby bed. She had made her nest by the big back door, way off in the dimness, far from the piglets warm lights and the creep. I don’t know why she did that. Last time she had her babies right under the warm lights. But I had to leave them be. To try to get them into the warm light would be a disaster at this point. It would break their safety thread. The babies drink every 30 minutes of so for the first 24 hours, almost non stop, and they tend to stick close to the birthing area. It smells right and they know their mother will return for them there and they have already learnt the safe spots. Moving them would cause disastrous confusion. They will have to find their heated room when they are more mobile. Their mother is moving very slowly and it was 53F last night. Not too cold. The night they were born it was 34F and they were fine. So I think they will be alright. Thank goodness she waited for the Southerly.
Protection from drafts is the main thing and Molly took care of all that when she was stealing straw. She has stuffed straw into all the cracks – even into cracks that lead nowhere. She was very thorough.
If we lose any it will be in the next 24 hours and it won’t be from cold. This is why I leave her be. Mother knows best. Less intervention by humans at this point is even better. As long as she gets up and down slowly and carefully they will be alright.
There is a short video on instagram of the newborns but it is very dark in there with all the doors closed and only a few interior lights. As usual we will have to wait a few days for a decent shot.
But so far so good. I didn’t have to use my piglet birthing box.
And I didn’t even have to lose any sleep.
I hope you have a lovely day.