One of the interesting indicative behaviors that a pregnant (gestating) sow pig is about to farrow a new litter of piglets is that she will begin to gather hay, chop it up and build a soft nest. The sow above is Flo, one of the three sisters Flip, Flop and Flo. She began gathering dry hay in the mid-morning. That evening she began to farrow, dropping ten piglets. Total elapsed time: about eight hours from gathering to when the first piglet was born.
Generally the sows gather hay from a short distance of about 30′ around the nesting site. Typically during the warm weather from April through October they farrow out in the fields, generally along the sides if brush is available. In the winter they farrow in the hill dens and the house end shed although sometimes they’ll make a nest out in the open by a fresh round bale of hay.
On one occasion a sow named Petra walked over 1,200′ for each trip to gather hay from a fresh round bale I had put out this winter. She was impatient and I had put hay to the main herd first. As soon as I delivered a bale to her nesting site she switched to ripping mouthfuls off of that. Of interest is that when she walked the distance back from the herd’s supply of hay she carried very large bundles of unchopped hay in her jaws. When she switched to the bale right near her nesting spot she also switched to much smaller mouthfuls. She’s no fool and she didn’t want to walk that trip more times than necessary.
If hay or grasses are not available the sows will use brush, small saplings, leaves or even dig into a dirt bank or under the roots of an old tree. Given the choice though they seem to prefer dry grasses or dry hay. It certainly does make for a nicer nest.
Farrowing nest construction is different from the typical nesting we see in the winter that is simply for warmth. With a winter warmth nest, which is built by pigs of all ages above weaners, the pigs simply gather a large amount of hay together and then snuggle down under the hay for the night. Typically this is a joint activity as opposed to the solo work of a sow about to farrow. Even boars will help with this process of gathering hay for winter nests so it is not simply a maternal trait. Interestingly, on one occasion I have seen a boar assist an about to farrow sow with building her nest.
Construction note: today we learned that a diamond blade on a standard skillsaw will cut with the greatest of ease through black granite. Most amazing. It opens up all sorts of possibilities. Black granite is the heaviest, the densest and the hardest of the granites. It comes to us all the way from Africa via the waste granite from the local sculptures at the stone sheds.
Outdoors: 60°F/33°F Overcast, windy, hard to light rain
Farm House: 62°F/57°F
Tiny Cottage: 58°F/52°F spackled desk, granite & partition block cutting