Camping Out

Sleeping with the Seven Silly Sisters

After a bit of a hiatus we’ve had a bunch of sows farrow piglets in a cluster. We’ve been spending many a night watching over the birthing process. There really isn’t much we can do but occasionally we keep a piglet from wandering too far away from mom or help it get unstuck. Ben and Will, our teenage sons, have been taking most of the night time shifts. A good book and some music helps during the long dark night hours.

Seven Silly Sisters and Black Boar

The Seven Silly Sisters are a group of new gilts who just got bred. In about three months they’ll be sows. A gilt is a female pig who has never given birth – e.g., the old Biblical meaning of Virgin. A sow is the name for a female pig after she farrows her first piglet. So this begs the question, what is she while she is in the process of farrowing that first piglet???

Flora All Backed Up and Ready to Go – Nest Building

Only a few gilts get to breed – those who are of prime quality, the top few. Even being superior conformation isn’t enough. A sterile beauty is useless on the farm. She must breed and take. Yet even that is not good enough to win the coveted title of “Sow”. Getting pregnant, of which only about 75% do, is still not good enough.

Flora, the sow in the photo above, is one of our short tailed sows. They have the double gene for short tails – we don’t dock tails. She is a very experienced mother and this time she almost got to the record. She had 18 piglets closing in on Blackie who’s had 19 and Emma, a daughter of Blackie, who had 22. Kudos to Flora!

Experienced Sow Flora Farrowing – Newborn Piglets

A lady must deliver the next generation to win and become a sow. The reason the distinction between sow and gilt is relevant is that the lady proves herself with that first litter. But she still has not won the final title of “Breeder Sow” yet. There are more qualifications. If she has a fine litter of many big healthy piglets that grow well and she demonstrates good mothering skills, housekeeping, nest building and has a pleasant temperament then she’ll almost certainly stay on the farm.

Octavia’s Piglets

Only about 5% of the female pigs get this opportunity. Out in the wild I calculate that the number is probably even lower, more like 1% to 3%. For males the odds are worse. On the farm about 0.5% stay to breed and in the wild it is likely about 0.05% to 0.2%.

South Field Shed under Blue Sky

Curious about more terms and facts of pigs? See our FAQ also known as Frequently Asked Questions up in the title bar under the header photo.

Saturday’s Super Moon

By the way, the Seven Silly Sisters and the sows all snore like pigs and make other rude noises in the night.

Outdoors: 42°F/8°F Sunny, 2″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/61°F

Daily Spark: Mob restaurant sign: Eat at Luigi’s… or else!

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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12 Responses to Camping Out

  1. Jenny says:

    Yowsa Flora that is a lot of piglets! Good girl! Walter I am always amazed at the size of your sows and their huge udders! They look like super cows! No wonder why pigs grow so fast with all that wonderful milk she must produce!

  2. Mark Addams says:

    Is there no problem with the almost flat rooves of your barns? Arent you worred about snow loading collapsing them?

    • I designed and built the roofs to hold snow rather than shedding it. This is for two reasons:
      1) There isn’t really anywhere to dump the snow since the building are short; and
      2) The snow on the roofs act to insulate the buildings from the wind and the night sky.

      You can see some photos of the roof details and other things related to the South Field Shed in these posts. Eventually the foundation of that structure will support a greenhouse but for now it is a series of sheds. The money we had saved to use for buying glazing went into the butcher shop. This post shows the floor plan of the sheds. Note the slots in the pillars which you can see being used with 2×4’s, 2×6’s and 2×8’s in several of the photos above to divide up the spaces into stalls. The sows can go in and out but have a space they can call their own. This post shows the long beam going into place and you can see more pillar and roof details.

  3. Michaele says:

    This isn’t just a blog – this is like the most interesting thing I read all week. Just had to come out of the shadows and tell you that. Don’t ever stop – please.

  4. Holly says:

    Good Morning this is by far the most interesting camping we have come across, we do a lot of out doors as you may know and we have never camped out like this. The roof thing is very interesting as well. Really look forward to catching more blogging of yours. Thank you for posting!

  5. ranch101 says:

    “what is she while she is in the process of farrowing that first piglet???” Darned uncomfortable if it’s anything like any of my births :)

  6. Julie says:

    Way to go Flora!! I am blown away with the numbers 18, 19, and 22. We were excited for the 11 Rosy our gilt had this past week. I would be concerned on them getting enough milk as they can’t have enough teats for them all to nurse at once. Do you see a dramatic decrease in size with such large litters? You definitely have good genetics in your herd!!

    • Will, Holly and I were just talking about that as we were looking at four litters. The smaller litters (10 to 12) definitely had larger piglets than the larger litter (18). All four sows were about the same age and size so that was not the difference. Our conclusion is there are only so many resources inside the 700 lb sow – she gains about 100 lbs with pregnancy (and you felt bloated?!?) so if there are 50% more fetuses then those resources get shared by more and the result is smaller piglets. The good news is they do catch up by finisher age at about 6 months more. That is to say, without knowing the individual pigs as I do I wouldn’t be able to pick out who was from a big or small litter.

  7. Ashley says:

    Have you ever come accross farrowing fever with any of your girls ? My sow delivered on Friday every thing went well but yesterday evening she was off her food. It’s a Bank holiday here in Canada to day, so my vet is closed. I read an artical from New Zealand suggesting Apple cider vinager. She is feeding her piglets well all is quiet in the nursery ! I do hope you can suggest some thing. P.S. I love all the little insight’s and stories to your farming life.

    • I haven’t run across ‘farrowing fever’ but it is normal for her to have a reduced appetite after farrowing so she stays with the piglets and calm. Hopefully that is all it is. Does she actually have a fever? Normal is about 103°F

  8. Carol Binkley says:

    Our pig Bessy had 8 babies August 27th not at the 3 am as in the saying that I heard 3 months 3 weeks 3 days 3 am, it started at about 9 am. 3 were born before my daughter called and was in rather a panic as one got behind her and was surely mashed. We stayed and watched the others as they came and made sure she did not move and mash any more. As the next to the last was coming, we heard squeeling behind her and quickly made her move and grabbed what Michelle has named Miracle. There was a little space under a board against the wall that saved her. However, Michelle thinks miracle may have brain damage as she seems differant. Ha, Not to me, but even though Michelle was raised on a farm her whole life somehow she got the city gene because she can’t handle the stresses of survival of the fittest.
    We gave their 1st vaccinations on day 12, and next time will do it sooner as it is amazing to me how strong and loud the little buggers are. 4 girls 4 boys,. Bessy is a big spot and there are 2 red with spots and the rest white with big black spots. We really don’t know for sure what she is crossed with or who the dad is as we bought her at auction, and why someone sold her who knows, but for out first sow and babies, it turned out GREAT. We now are waiting for June and Summer to have babies and we know Kermey is the dad.

    Love your blog.

    • The wonders of birth. Glad to hear it went well. Not all are born alive or viable. Sometimes ones that you think got mashed when you weren’t there simply weren’t alive. Did it still have the coating on or had it cleaned off? If coated then it may have been born dead or unviable without the mother’s blood supply through the cord.

      Summer is definitely the easier time of year to have piglets. Depending on your local climate, farrowing in May through August is ideal, September and even October can be quite nice too. I dread November and December as it hasn’t gotten cold enough. Ironically, the dead of winter around here is actually better than the early winter because things are drier so it is easier to stay warm with lots of bedding. Think of the mothers as huge 103°F heating pads.

      A trick on crushing if you’re using a stall is having a 2×6 ring running around the inside offset on two 2×4 pieces. This creates a creep all around the sow that she leans against and piglets can climb under, around and through. Out in the open field this isn’t an issue.

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