Posted by: A Part of the Solution | March 25, 2012

Hand Raising Nursery Pigs

I write this to continue the journey in the life cycle of the pastured, heritage breed piglet of unfortunate farrowing circumstances. We haven’t quite decided on their names yet, so bear with me.

When we last left our trio of survivors (Archie, Betty and Veronica), we found they would take the dry mix sow milk replacement formula if we dribbled the nursing bottle directly over that one of Ruby’s nipples to which a piglet was attached and sucking. This proxy nursing method is time consuming. And it requires strong hand-eye coordination, otherwise the formula is just leaking down Ruby’s side and not getting into the piglets.

Happily, Chrissy (of Chrissy, Janet and Jack) quickly took to suckling the bottle directly. After a few more meals, so did Elizabeth (of Mary, Elizabeth and Edward). But Abednego (of Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego) refused to learn to suckle the bottle. He chewed, licked, mouthed and nosed the bottle and never tried to suck on it.

This wouldn’t be such a matter for concern, but that Ruby has lost most of her maternal instinct as her teats dry up and the hormones do too. Ruby began objecting to how long Monday (of Scarlet, Carmine and Monday) took to nurse. Ruby seemed not to like the cold, wet, sticky trails the formula leaves across her belly–or the way the flies seem to like it so much. Ruby took to rolling over and upright when she’d had enough of the messy nursing sham.

While coping with  this, we accidentally missed the closing time at the big farm chain which sells us the bags of dry nursing formula (which the piglets like better when a couple drops of lemon juice are squeezed in). I hopped on the interweb, and researched homemade sow’s milk replacement formula. Those of you who know me have probably been taking bets with yourselves over how long it would be until I was making the stuff by hand, fresh. The triplets (Romeo, Juliet and Rosalyne) were born Monday morning. I was heating up formula for them Thursday evening.

The recipe I settled on took two parts milk, 8 oz/250 ml,  to one part cream, 4 oz/125 ml, bolstered by a splash of cane syrup (use filtered, heated sweeteners, no raw honey which might interfere with their tiny immune systems) and heated to 115°F/45°C. Then I beat in two egg yolks–save the whites for the pets or grandpa, and a splash of lemon juice to account for the more acidic condition of sow’s milk compared to that of other farm animals; plus a dropper/ml of liquid baby vitamins. Insulate your bottle, old towel rags are good here, as much as possible. A sow runs 103°F/39.5°, and the formula cools when the yolks, lemon juice and vitamins are stirred in.

That’s right, faithful readers, I made creme anglais at four hour intervals round the clock to hand feed to the little piggies (Peter, Paula and Mary) in the barn. Hallelujah! The piglets (Bill, Hillary and Monica) just loved their warm, golden bottles of goodness. Truly, if my workload were a little less, I’d be in there for the guys (Giuseppe, Josephine and Jo-jo) all the way to weaning.

We bought in a couple more bags of the nursing formula. The piglets (Porphyry, Opal and Jasper) accepted the old formula as they do everything, hungrily. They’re gaining weight. They’re gaining energy. They’re becoming coordinated. We have a cold night tomorrow. Garnet will probably give birth then. I expect we’ll hang heat lamps over both farrowing dens. Stay tuned.

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