Milk Jugs have nothing to do with today’s topic
In the On Site Inspector post Cara asked:
Do the piglets each choose one teat and pretty much nurse off of “theirs,” or do they all share? I am asking because I see some of her teats are obviosuly producing milk, while others seem not to be(?). Human breasts/mammary glands produce according to demand and independently of each other, so I imagine other mammals may be similar. Thanks, as usual!
I’ve heard many people say that piglets pick one teat and only use that. It is a myth. The reality is they switch back and forth between teats and if there are multiple sows available they’ll switch back and forth between sows. Co-nursing as we call it. The sows are very willing to nurse other piglets after the initial period. This can be a problem if older pigs come in on a new mother to steal milk from the newborn piglets that need the early colostrum. Experienced mothers will keep them away. This is probably one reason that sows go off to a private area in the brush away from the herd to build their nest to farrow their litters. Later they bring their piglets back to the group and resume herd behaviors.
Sometimes we’ve had a sow wet nursing other sow’s piglets when one sow wasn’t able to do it or in one case when we didn’t have enough winter birthing areas because an unexpectedly large number of sows all farrowed at once. In one extreme case Jolie adopted a total of 23 piglets and nursed them all. Very impressive since she does not have anywhere near that many teats.
Jolie has a daughter we named Happy because she’s always dancing around and, well, happy. Happy and Jolie both collect piglets to them. They can be quite easy to pick out in the field as they’re often surrounded by hordes of little ones or lying down in a pig pile buried under little bodies most of whom are not their piglets. They are adopters who love to babysit and wet nurse for other sows. Natural mothers to an extreme.
Speaking of teats, in the “industry” pigs typically have 12 teats. But there is variance. Some people talk about their pigs having as few as six teats. All of our sows have at least 14 fully developed teats and some like Petra and Blackie have 16 fully developed teats. Bagged up they look like Holstein cows in full milk production. More teats means more milk production capacity. This is why “tits on a boar” does matter.
The catch is that when they’re producing so much milk I have to watch to make sure they don’t get nursed down. Some sows can get peakid, their back fat is lost and their spine peak shows, from over nursing. Other sows like Petra, Blackie, Blue Lady and the F series sisters keep their condition even with heavy nursing. Maintaining the calories in their diet is important – as Holly says, eat lots of ice cream! Weaning the piglets in time is critical so the mother’s health does not suffer – a dozen little mouths pestering you can also get to be a bit much, especially when they each weigh 30 to 50 lbs and their combined weight can be greater than the sow’s weight. The sow’s solution is to try and lie on her belly to stop the piglets from nursing but then she can’t get up to go pee, eat or drink. When I see this I know it is well nye time to wean. On pasture it is more challenging to maintain the sow’s weight than with pigs raised on high grain diets so we have been selecting for this ability for years, one of the parts of our breeding program.
Just like with humans, if a breast/teat isn’t getting nursed then it does dry up independently of the others. As the piglets start to wean this happens because they’re not nursing as much. Then they start nursing some teats more than others. When we finally wean her she has about three days of engorgement before they dry up. The first day can be painful for her due to the back pressure of the milk. This back pressure is what tells her body to stop producing milk and begin the drying up process. Unlike with humans, when a sow dries up her gallon jug size D-cup breasts can shrink down flat against her chest and belly although her nipples will remain somewhat larger than they were before she nursed her first litter. With an older sow the breasts may not debag fully flat to her body after she’s gone through many repetitions of bagging up and drying off.
A politically correct myth, among humans, is that small breasts produce just as much milk as large breasts. It’s might be appealing to think but not true. What is true is breasts do tend to produce enough milk for the baby and react strongly to usage which relieves back pressure that would inhibit milk production. The reality is that the very well endowed cows, pigs, goats and other animals produce more milk. Since we’re all mammals I expect that happens with humans although my sample set is small in women. In cows, goats and sheep this is well known and we select for it also in pigs. Blackie is one of our very well endowed sows. When she’s full engorged she’s huge. She produces a lot of milk easily without losing condition raising up particularly large batches of large healthy piglets. The more milk they easily get the larger they are at weaning time. Exceeding her is Petra Pig. Even though Petra is tall her enormous natural (no silicone added) breasts nearly drag when she’s at maximum lactation and she creates literal fountains of milk. I’ve lightly test tugged on her teats shooting milk four feet up and six feet away on white crescent streams much like the old photos of shooting milk to the barn cats. Just before farrowing Petra leaks like sixteen faulty spigots.
This is not to say that all ‘endowment’ is glandular tissue – sometimes it is fat if an animal is over condition. An overly fat sow can actually end up producing less milk than if she was in better condition because the fat can take up space in the breast. This can particularly be an issue if the sow were fat when she was younger. Since our pigs are on a low calorie pasture/hay diet they don’t run into this. The same is true in cows and I’ve read this can be true in humans too. All of this is regulated by genetics, food and chemicals. I’ve seen some reports that suggest that endowment in humans may be increasing due to hormonal mimics, pollution in our environment, that also cause early onset puberty and feminization of males in many species from alligators to humans. Biology is quite the brew between herbicides, pesticides, plastics and other nasties. Eating naturally grown food and avoiding toxins is looking better all the time.
If you’re curious about more big breasted news on the farm, see this post about the Breast Ice Cream in Vermont for some fun… It is one of my wife Holly’s favorite posts.
So what’s with the milk bottles you ask…? Nothing much. I just needed an interesting photo for the topic of lactation and that one has been sitting in my files for a while. The milk jugs are cloches for protecting our plants from frost in the spring. They are merely metaphorically related to the topic at hand. On the farm we have no problem using the proper term for things although sometimes the euphemisms can be fun. In the background you can see our “big red dump truck“. Everyone needs a lawn ornament. I suppose I should plant a lawn to go along with it…
Outdoors: 47°F/31°F Light rain
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/56°F