We've been watching one of our Mulefoot sows for more than a month, thinking she would deliver any day. And then it got hot. And then it got hotter and the Mulefoot sow grew larger. Yesterday, summer's heat peaked (we hope) with 111 degrees at the farm. The massive Mulefoot sow lumbered back and forth between the mud wallow and what appeared to be the area she picked for her nest. Only this time she dug a shallow trench through the hay and into the soil, ridging up the hay on both sides. This morning I found that Mulefoot sow sleeping peacefully on her side, in the trench with her 9 baby pigs in a peaceful heap on the hay.
This is one of our most experienced sows. She has successfully weaned many litters to date. Most of the time she has chosen to make her nest in one of the farrowing houses and will even carry hay to the house to make it more snug. I think I know why she chose to farrow outdoors last night. I suspect she made the trench nest to help her keep cool by pressing her side to the hay-insulated soil. I also suspect that she knew her little ones might overheat in the hut. I suspect that she held onto those little pigs until last night because she knew the weather would break. The difference between a high temperature of 111 degrees and a mere 95 degrees might not seem like much, but when you weigh less than 3 pounds and live outdoors, it can mean the difference between surviving or dying.
Raising pigs outdoors, on dirt and able to root, is compelling. Observing the miracle of birth and expert motherhood is uplifting. When asked why we raise pigs the old fashioned way, I say because it is beautiful.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.