Nude Study on Hay – The Incredibly Beautiful Petra Pig
Petra is possibly the most photographed sow on the planet, or so she said, especially with her risque nude shot out in nature on the mountains, in the ponds and bathing under water flows or the light of the morning sun. Google loves her.
Petra was born here on Sugar Mountain and lived her entire life here. She was one of our earlier generations of sows although not a founder. She has had a lot of offspring during her stay here on our farm and in their improved genetics she will be remembered because Petra was, as the saying goes, one fine pig.
The photo above is her second to last litter. Petra was big, friendly and a very good sow. She was very white and threw white piglets suggesting she is a pure blood white pig, at least as far as color goes. But that was not her important characteristic. Petra had extraordinary tits with a count of sixteen teats, all of them very well developed and heavy milk producers. Petra made Holstein cows blush with envy. Her feminine endowments are a part of what made her so special, which allowed her to raise large numbers of piglets to high weaning weights. She did this all while not losing her own body condition summer or winter. I wish I had 30 sows and pigs like Petra Pig. That’s a statement that could cause some confusion as I recently discovered. But more about that later.
Why tits on a boar matter: There is an old phrase that something is “useless as tits on a boar.” This is sadly miss-informed for the simple reason that the more teats a boar and sow have the more likely their daughters will have more teats. More teats means more milk. Bigger breasts, at least in cows, sheep and pigs, mean more milk too. Very well endowed sows produce massive amounts of milk necessary to nurse large numbers of offspring. Since pigs might have ten to twenty piglets this becomes a big issue. A sow with a lot of large strongly producing mammary glands weans larger piglets giving them a better head start in life. It’s all about the Head Start Program for piglets.
On top of the fact that Petra had great tits, when fully bagged she almost dragged on the ground, and a very friendly temperament she also had large hams, broad shoulders, was long bodied and had great legs – these are all parts of good conformation in a model pig. Petra wasn’t just a pretty face. She also thrived on pasture, held her condition in the winter and produced excellent fast growing piglets with little to no intervention. The lack of need for help during farrowing is an important trait in the fields. With confinement animals the farmer or even a vet is there to pull calves and piglets from the womb. In nature that doesn’t work. Pasturing is more along the model of nature than factory assembly line and as such we need mothers that can do natural childbirth.
Petra’s sweet temperament was also critical in such a large animal. Petra weighed about 700 lbs, when not pregnant. During pregnancy she would gain about 100 lbs on top of that. Fortunately she knew her place with the people, the dogs and the other pigs, behaving appropriately with each group. Petra is the kind of pig I want more of on our farm. Thus I select the best of her sons and daughters to continue on the fine traditions of selective breeding.
A wonderful thing about pigs is that they are so plastic in their genetics that we can easily use traditional selective breeding to quickly and safely develop new lines of animals to meet the needs of our customers and our environments without needing to resort to transgenetic modifications and GMOs. The “mistakes” are edible feeder pigs. The top 5% of the gilts and 0.5% of the boars make for the breeders in the next cycle.
Each round takes only six months to a year. From conception to market is about ten months to a year depending on season of birth. Birth to market about six to eight months, again depending on when they were born. To get a gilt, a young female pig, to her first farrowing is about a year from her birth to her offspring’s birth. This is a fairly rapid turn around with animals. Pigs rivals rabbits and mice in food production. Heck, I can’t breed carrots that fast as they’re a biannual. This rapid reproduction, several litters a year and lots of offspring in each litter lets you do a lot of selective breeding quickly so you have the chance to improve your herds rapidly. Always remember:
Gradually you’ll have better and better animals.
I said that this is her second to last litter pictured above. Petra’s subsequent and last littler yielded only one piglet. Since then she has failed to ‘take’ every cycle – about 21 days for pigs. In fact, she didn’t appear to be ovulating anymore. Perhaps she had gone through menopause. After seven months of that I realized that Petra had finished her reproductive cycle of life. At over seven years old Petra was officially an old sow. In human years she was in her late 70’s or 80’s. She had a very long and productive life out in our pastures and I’m thankful both to have known her and to have had all of her offspring.
There are some of her cohort who are still breeding like Winnie and Mouse but with regret I realized that Petra’s days were numbered. As winter wore on I realized that I needed to take her to market. Winter is the hardest time of the year. It is when an old pig is more likely to die as they fight the cold. The same happens with dogs, sheep and humans. Winter is harsh.
When a sow dies on the farm I add their bodies to one of the compost piles to return the nutrient’s to the soil of the mountain. This is a far better and greener funeral arrangement than embalming in poison (formaldehyde) in a box, cremation or even simple burial in the dirt which risks ground water contamination. With composting the nutrients are quickly returned to the soil and even the bones break down to nourish new life.
But that is not the best economic solution for the farm. The farm needs to make sales to stay viable and sustainable. A big sausage sow represents 300 to 400 lbs of meat off the bone. That’s the size of a small beef cattle. As unromantic as it may seem we’re not here to provide rest homes until death do we part – as much fun as that might be with a pig as gentle as the lovely Petra. The reality is the government, the banker, the butcher, the electric company, the phone company all want their money each month. The best solution is that I note the sow after she loses her fertility and before she begins any decline in health. If I catch her in time, as I did with Petra, I can send her to the slaughterhouse where she humanely dies and then helps to pay the bills one last time. This is reality.
Petra yielded in her final sacrafice ultra-large hams that might be used for prosciutto, huge Boston Butt and picnic shoulders that are great for fancy pulled pork, massive tenderloins, bacon and a tremendous amount of premium ground pork for sausage and hot dogs. In fact, about 230 lbs of Petra went into our next batch of all natural hot dogs.[1, 2, 3]
Petra is dead. Long live her line.
From alert reader Mike:
30,000 pigs swept away in flood.
— The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, 6th January, 2011
I love it! I’ve said those words so many times without realize the other possible miss-understanding.
30,000 pigs isn’t outrageous for the big factory farms but little pastured farms typically have more like 30 sows and pigs. :)
We have 30 (to 40) sows and their resulting piglets, weaners, growers, roasters, finishers and market hogs. The number fluctuates. When someone asks how many pigs we have the easy way to say it is “about 300 pigs” or maybe “30 sows and pigs”. Who knew that they might hear 30,000 pigs!
Outdoors: 26°F/15°F 4″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/60°F
Daily Spark: Say what you mean but don’t be mean about what you say.