Posted by: A Part of the Solution | April 16, 2012

From Nursery Pigs Into Piglets

It’s been a month (a month) since Ruby suffered through her prolonged farrowing. And it’s been two weeks since Garnet completed her much more standard delivery of six live piglets. We’re deep into spring now, and we’ve learned a lot in the last four weeks about the husbandry of nursery pigs and piglets.

Ruby’s live births, known to the farm as Lil Darwin, Cutie Pie and Hyacinth (on account of her ears curl back like the petals of a hyacinth–and not a grape hyacinth, either), needed bottle feeding to supplement the very little milk Ruby produced while she was so very ill. We hoped Garnet would be able to produce milk for both litters of nursery pigs if the farrowings were close together.¬†¬†Frustratingly, Garnet didn’t farrow for another two whole weeks after Ruby had.

Certainly, within a day or two of Garnet’s farrowing, Ruby’s triplets were latched onto the milk bar at Auntie Garnet’s almost as often as she was open for business. But pigs, like all mammals, produce milk specifically to support their young. And the balance of nutrients changes on a daily basis to meet the changing needs of the young being nursed. All this would be good, but Ruby’s piglets were already requiring 2 pints of milk a day–each. Of course, new mother sows don’t produce anything like the volume of milk necessary for two week old nursery pigs. So we continued to bottle-feed Ruby’s litter several times a day through the first week and a half of their cousins’ lives.

Once we observed Hyacinth and Lil Darwin putting their noses into the sows’ feed buckets, we knew they were ready for the next stage in their nutritional development. We got out the creep box, a sturdy structure with half-walls and barred openings big enough for the piglets to get through, but too small for their mammas to make use of. We’ve taken to setting small feed bowls of well-cooked oatmeal and fruit loosened with a little whey or milk in the creep box.

All three of Ruby’s litter run into the creep box happily at feeding times. Like their larger counterparts, they stand with their front two feet in the dish snuffling away at the tasty piglet feed. When you’re deciding what to feed a piglet transitioning from nursing to eating, keep in mind that their digestive system is terribly similar to the human iteration. Piglets can eat anything you might give to a toddler making the same transition. Like a toddler, they don’t have all their teeth yet. And like a toddler, it’s easier for them to consume and digest cooked foods as they’re just getting started.

Meanwhile, Garnet’s litter are advancing by the startling, yet usual, leaps and bounds of fully-nursed piglets. The largest of her six piglets are not too far behind Ruby’s litter in size. And all of the nursery pigs are agile and full of vitality. Even ‘Tiny’, the half-sized piglet (runt? yes), has put on weight while maintaining a go-getting joie de vivre. Don’t tell Tiny, but his health and activity levels are such that his ‘Bris’ is not far from today.

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