Something just didn't feel right this past fall. Deer hunting season came and went and I felt a void. Then it dawned on me. We didn’t have any pigs in the barn this winter.
I love pigs. I adore them. I love to feed them. And they love to eat. Jams, jellies, yogurt. Yogurt is their favorite. And breads. And pizza.
Thinking about the void of pigs this fall made me think back to a very special little guy named Weebles. Here is his story:
Several seasons ago, on the opening day of deer season, our young gilt, Polly, was about ready to become a sow. She was in the beginning stages of farrowing, or giving birth.
We had bought Polly at an early age, along with Bacon the boar, and a bred gilt Molly. Turns out Molly never did have a litter, and when we went back to the original owner, he refused to make it right. We had paid a hefty sum for a bred pig and it was not to be. Rustic Russ and I were naive and were easily duped by that pig farmer.
However, Polly more than made up for it in our minds. She was an awesome, terrific pig. And good looking. She was a beautiful solid red, with a long slender frame, but nice hams. Her face was perfect, with a personality to match.
Molly, not so much. In fact, Molly was the most homely pig I had ever seen in my life.
When it came time for our perfect Polly to finally deliver, we knew, as she was showing signs of having milk. Rustic Russ got right in with her and assisted with the delivery. He knelt by her head and rubbed and caressed her, telling her it would be alright. She would look at him with those small pig eyes and then look straight ahead. Her body would ripple and shake in contractions.
Knowing what she was experiencing, I felt doubled over as I stood with towel and blow dryer in hand. As she delivered a piglet, Rustic Russ would hand it off to me so I could rub it down and dry it off before putting it on her teat. After one attempt with the hair dryer, that was tossed to the wood floor. Who needs such frivalities, especially in a barn.
I was so scared I was almost shaking. I had read too many books about pigs getting nervous, especially their first time farrowing, and eating their young – alive. I couldn't bear the thought.
As she systematically delivered each little one, we got into a good rhythm. They were all colors. Bright red, red with black spots, red with a white stripe around it's middle, white with black spots, blonde. So tiny, but so tough. I could hardly hold them as they squirmed. I was shocked by their strength. As they screamed for their mother, she started looking up and taking her focus off her birthing, so I had to act fast.
One little piglet didn't seem right. He was breathing funny, shallow. He acted like he would be sleeping and then snap out of it, only to do so again. We put him on her for milk, but kept an eye out.
Once the birthing was done, Rustic Russ and I were so proud. Proud of our wonderful mother, Polly. I was relieved she didn't get nervous and attack her young. We, too, were both exhausted by the process.
Rustic Russ and I like to do things natural, so we had a big pile of straw for bedding and Polly had made a nest. However, there is a good chance of the sow laying on her piglets and suffocating them in the first couple days before the piglets are strong. Polly was being careful as she had her "post labor" meal. However, I was grateful that Rustic Russ had made a little shelter at the end of the stall, like a dog house with a tiny little door that the piglets could enter and get away from their mother. Within the house, there was a heat lamp shining down on the corner bed of straw. We could peek in the removable top and see the ten of them as they lay in a heap, grunting and groaning, toasty under the heat lamp. Polly would lay with her head by the opening, breathing her hot air into the enclosure, reminding the piglets of her presence. Upon feeding time, when Polly called them with a single low grunt, they would slowly amble out and make their way to her side. Of course, as days went on, they would scramble out and race to their milk source, Polly, upon her first call.
The first night, we were worried about the little runt. He just wasn't looking the same as the others. We had given him a small dose of Pen G antibiotic to help fight off any bacterial infection that might be the cause of his lethargy.
I had retreated to the loft in our cabin for the night when Rustic Russ appeared on the vertical loft ladder with a tall Rubbermaid container. "Here, grab this please."
"What is it?"
"That little guy, Weebles. I think he needs to be in where we can keep an eye on him."
So up in the loft he went. Until now, he hadn't had a name. But Rustic Russ thought Weebles was a good one. And it fit.
He seemed OK in the tall container, tucked next to us. We talked a bit about the day's events and then drifted off to sleep, hoping the best for Weebles in the morning. At least he was toasty in the cabin loft in this mid-November northern Michigan weather.
I awoke sometime later with a start. I had heard some shuffling/scooting/crinkling in my sleep. Darn mice! I thought! It took me a minute to focus and realize Weebles had gotten out of the container and was wandering around the 12" perimeter of our bed in the loft. I screamed for Rustic Russ to wake up and help me find him! I frantically searched in the dark, trying not to think of the horrible outcome that may take place – a long 7' drop onto the floor below – surely he would not survive the fall. Plus, the house dogs would be shocked to see a guest appear in that fashion, in the middle of the night.
Quietly, Rustic Russ gently lifted him from near the side of our bed and put him back into the container. Time for Weebles to go outside and join his 9 other siblings and mother. Nice try, but Nature needed to be in charge this time.
Down the loft ladder they went. Rustic Russ bundled up and carried Weebles tucked down in his Carhartt jacket, close to his chest, as left the cabin and made his way through the dark woods and back into the barn.
To be continued...
Until tomorrow – dreaming of spring piglets – God willing,
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