By Craig Thompson, Mayfair Farm
The thing with pigs is that every sound they make sounds like giving birth. Or what you might think a sow giving birth might sound like. When you walk into the pig barn in the morning and wonder if there are any new piglets on the way, the sounds you hear might make you think there are. Grunts, heaves, barks – all part of the language pigs speak. But none of them mean piglets are coming. When piglets are coming, everyone in the pig barn is actually kind of quiet. Like someone hung out a sign – “Shhhh – piglets coming. Quiet please.”
A pig that is soon to have a litter will look the part. Her belly will hang low filled with milk. She might get a little irritable, short tempered even, towards her barn mates. Of course she might do this a couple days before giving birth or a couple weeks, so even if she knows when it’s going to happen, she’ll keep you guessing. Which isn’t such a bad approach on her part, because when she starts to act this way you’ll probably move her to nicer housing, make sure she has lots of clean straw, and probably pick out the best kitchen scraps for her. Maybe some left over pizza or bananas.
While she’s enjoying her upgraded accommodations you’ll check on her several times a day, handing her that pizza or banana and scratching behind her ears. And she’ll make sure you get a good look at her profile, sagging low towards the ground, to make sure you don’t forget just how pregnant she is. She’ll take the treat you offer her and grunt a bit, not in labor but in thanks, and look back over her shoulder at you as if to say, “Soon, but not right now, Mister. Maybe later.”
This will probably go on for several days. Even weeks. But it will eventually end. You’ll know you’re getting close on the day when you look into the pig barn and see that she has rearranged her private accommodations. The straw will no longer cover the floor in an even yellow carpet, but instead she will have pushed and pulled it into a bed. Maybe all the straw will be piled in one corner. Or a mound in the middle of everything. When you offer her some left over peanut butter toast, she won’t even take a look. No. In fact she won’t even come across the stall to see you, but instead will wait quietly – no grunting, heaving or barking – for you to leave. And you will leave, both because she’s asked you to and because there’s nothing for you to do but wait.
As you go about your day you’ll check in on her and at some point when you look in she’ll be nursing a couple pink little piglets at her side. And when you stop by again during the day there will be a couple more. And over the course of several hours they will keep multiplying by her side till there are eight or ten or even 12 or more, all in a jumbled, wiggling row competing for space along her belly. When you finally get a good look, maybe by going into the stall and sitting at her head to scratch her ears, you’ll see a row of piglets so long the first is nursing between her front legs and the last just visible between her back legs. And what you’ll hear then won’t be the barking and heaving and grunting of everyday life, but the sound of contentment.