A newborn piglet usually weighs about three pounds. The natural way to pick one up is to reach down and grab it one handed, the way you might scoop up a dropped beer. Though even the smallest piglet has a surprising heft and solidity, it is hard to believe that something so tiny will grow into a market hog in less than a year, increasing its weight by a factor of 100-250, depending on where it starts and where it ends. After a week or so piglets will squirm and squeal if you pick them up, but in the first day of life they accept handling with stoic wonder, overwhelmed by everything about the world other than their litter mates and their sow.
Cows arrive singly, lambs are usually twins, but piglets come in litters. On our farm these have ranged in size from six to fourteen, with ten being our target. Being this prolific comes with increased risks to the piglets, especially early on. It’s only a few days before a newborn lamb can keep up with the flock, and it can immediately tolerate an amazing amount of cold. Piglets are comparatively helpless, so a good sow coddles them by making a nest of hay or other suitable vegetation. (This year ours are favoring the dried stalks of lambs quarters.) The piglets stay in the nest at first, and when the sow isn’t eating she’s there too, providing nourishment and warmth.
Because of their small size and helplessness, piglets have higher rates of mortality than young ruminants. But this year is off to a good start. Three sows out of seven have farrowed so far, and all thirty-three resultant piglets are healthy and vigorous.
Photo Credit – Garth Brown