This morning JB and I were doing chores. Chores have expanded dramatically lately. We are now milking all five of the cows, bottle feeding three calves, monitoring Patience-the-Momma- pig and her piglets’ progress, tending the various chickens, wondering how two of the biggest sheep are regularly getting out, picking vegetables, building high tunnels, painting the ell and wishing that it all might slow down a little. I remember when Fall meant driving to an orchard and getting cider, peeping leaves and reading the New York Times Sunday edition in a fisherman’s knit sweater and feeling all LL Beanish. I’m pretty sure I like this better. And I’m also pretty sure I’m now living the life that the LL Bean models are pretending to be living in the catalog, except the various little animals that I’m carrying around are busy soiling me while I strike toothy-grinned farm poses.
So. Chores: Milking was finished and calves were fed, and I felt compelled to go visit the piglets. I wandered into the barn in which they are currently housed and counted; two… four…six… eight…twelve… fourteen and, yes, fifteen piglets. Patience had birthed 18, but three were not viable from the outset.
In fact, on the piglets’ birthday I had been back and forth to visit them several times throughout the day and had each time counted 15 piglets. It’s no small thing to accurately count a squirming mound of piglets. On a late afternoon trip I found a dead piglet amongst the farrow of piglets (interesting word, farrow, it means both a litter of piglets and the process of birthing piglets. I guess you, or, more accurately, a sow, could farrow a farrow of piglets). So we were down to 14. But I then proceeded to count the piglets and, magically, came up with 15 again. Apparently Patience had popped another one out long after the rest of the original brood. I can only imagine that it took a while for the last piglet to find its way out after everyone else’s number had been called. There must have been a lot of room in there by then… easy to get lost.
On this visit, the piglets were all flouncing ears and hobbyhorseness, squealing and careening off of each other like claymation pink sausages. All except for one. One piglet looked small and hunched and had its eyes closed. JB and I looked at each other. I asked him, because he has loads more experience with piglets than I do, what he thought we should do. He tilted his head and said, “it’s a load of work raising a cosset.” Because fools go, I decided that we needed to take the piglet out. It seemed the only way it would have a chance.
Not really knowing any better, and fortified with the knowledge that Patience had been pretty tolerant of my wandering around with her and her piglets, I waded into the little pink school and plucked up the weak one. It loosed an impossibly loud series of blood-curdling squeals. This was a big sound coming out of a little package. Loudspeaker manufacturers would do well to study the sound generation capabilities of a one-pound piglet. Patience, who had been quietly gnoshing apples, became suddenly convinced that I was killing her piglet. Thus roused, she grunted, barked and charged. I freaked. I jumped to my left and, in true cowardly fashion, tossed the piglet toward her. She calmed down. I tried to.
Okay, now what? We stacked up a feeder as a barrier, and plied Patience with grain and drop apples. She wasn’t interested, especially now that she knew something was up. JB ran interference with the intention that I would pick up the piglet and make a break for it. He counseled to run and keep running until the piglet was out of earshot. Despite all good effort, the piglet stuck close to Mom and I wasn’t about to try outrunning her when she was watching me so closely. I busied myself trying to make the feeder more appealing. JB was doing all of the work. And I was OK with that. I’m not generally a pansy about this stuff, but something about an extremely angry and vengeful 800 pound sow had me a little unnerved. I watched as JB moved Patience around with his own series of barks and grunts and then bent over, picked up the piglet, and dashed for the gate. He made a clean escape, closed the gate and headed for the hills. Patience made a serious run for the gate, but pretty quickly lost interest and went back to counting her remaining piglets. For once, somebody came up with a number other than 15.
We got the piglet into the house, JB got some colostrum from the cow into “15 of 18” and we took an inventory on the piglet.
He had all of his parts, but his eyes were closed, he had two gouges, one on each cheek and a large gash on his leg. We guessed that maybe Patience had determined that she had the right number of teets for 14 piglets and that this one needed to go. “15 of 18” was then tucked into a cat carrier filled with chopped, dried maple leaves, and he promptly burrowed himself out of sight.
“15 of 18” is now sitting in my car in a cat carrier while I wait in the Hopkinton Library for the end of my daughter’s history class. He needs to be fed little bits every two hours or so.
I can’t wait to see where this goes.