This summer has been hectic. I know that I say that almost every single blog post, but it’s true. The summer has been crazy. The farm has been crazy. It’s always crazy. It’s a farm. We’ve had some huge projects going on this summer including the expansion of our rotational grazing pig pastures, a big ribbon gutter concrete pour over our driveway and the installation of our energy free irrigation system, just to name a few. Alongside those projects, we’ve had the weirdest summer weather ever. It rained the entire first half of the year, leaving our garden wet and confused… like spectators at a Gallagher comedy show. We (well… I) said a tearful goodbye to a few animals on the farm that crossed the rainbow bridge before their time. That was the most awful part of the summer. I can start the garden over again next year but I won’t be able to get our beloved animals back. I cursed Mother Nature and the farm for my pain. I was mad. But again, that’s farming. After I dried my eyes, I realized that there was still a beacon of hope… rather, a bacon of hope. Last week, we had five sows deliver 48 beautiful baby piglets. One of those mommas was my good friend, Amy Swinehouse. So this blog post is an open letter of thanks and gratitude to her.
Those that have been following us for a while have already met Ms. Amy (as I like to call her). She is by far our biggest sow and because of that, she starts showing her pregnancy belly early in her gestation. Last spring we thought that she would be due “any day” but then ended up waiting another 40 days for her to pop out nine perfect baby pigs. During that time, I was able to get to know her through daily visits, prenatal massages and belly rubs. This is the very first sow that I ever connected with and we’ve been friends ever since.
This fall, I had a better idea of her due date. So when I moved her and four of her friends into the farrowing pasture, our ritual continued. As soon as she would see me coming into the pasture she’d waddle over to me then flop all 350 lbs of herself onto the ground, ready for belly rubs. I knew she was only a few days away when she would keep getting up and down and clearly uncomfortable in her XXXL state. (Farrowing sign #1)
Now, I love farrowing and the anticipation of baby pigs just can’t be beat. However, a lot of things can go wrong during and after farrowing so I try to make it a point that I’m present for every single birth on the farm. That can be hard to time out because pigs don’t really give you a labor and delivery schedule. Call it intuition or some crazy farming mojo, but I just so happened to be there at every single birth this year, just by happenstance. The first pig that farrowed, of course, was Amy Swinehouse.
After I got home from running errands one night, I went to check on all of the girls at about 10:30pm and noticed that not only was Amy nesting (farrowing sign #2), but I noticed that her water broke! I ran up to the house to let Dave know the great news, then changed into some warmer clothes (it was for some reason 50 degrees on this August night) and grabbed a head lamp and sterile gloves. Then, I sat in her hut with her and waited. After each contraction I would give her a good back rub and encourage her. I knew she was gearing up for a big litter. Then around midnight, the air got very still and quiet. It was just me and her, nestled in this little hut in the pasture. She pushed and pushed and out came baby one, then baby two and so on. Sometimes she would give one push and two babies would come out! Holy moly Ms. Amy! By 3am, she was surrounded by 13 perfect babies. She was tired and I was in love.
There was something about that night that really made me feel peaceful. It solidified this deep connection I have with this massive 350 lb pig that genetically is half Russian wild boar. It was magical. Not to go all crunchy granola Earth momma on you but it made me feel like I was one with nature and one with the farm. Nestled together in the middle of the pasture, in this tiny little hut, I witnessed the miracle of birth (times thirteen) with this incredible animal. I probably didn’t have to be there since pigs really do everything on their own and hardly ever need assistance, but I was glad that I was there to experience this with her. It’s like the entire world went away and it was just me, her and her thirteen perfect babies.
So thank you Amy. Thank for letting me be a part of your miracle. Thank you for reminding me that Mother Nature can be beautiful and kind. Thank you for connecting me back to the farm. There’s something about connecting with an animal, especially an animal that’s her size and her breed. Getting to know her personality, what she’s feeling or needing, knowing her behavior and gaining her trust. The work that goes into that is so rewarding and fulfilling. In reverse, I feel like she knows my personality now. At first, I was terrified to get too close to the sows. Especially sows with babies. But she knows when I go into the pasture because I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up. She’ll come over to me and just lean against me, nuzzling her head against my hip. When I’m feeling happy or excited, she’ll get playful with me and show off. And when she’s in labor, I can be in the hut with her and her babies because she knows I will comfort her. She can trust her babies with me. Farming is full of miracles every day. Thank you Amy, for reminding me.
And just for cuteness sake… here’s one of the baby pigs we brought inside the house to nurse back to health. Someone (I won’t name names… Dave) got really attached to him.