Essex Farm Note
Week 16, 2016
Are you tired of repetitive news about difficult farrowings? Me too. But difficult things happen, and I’ve always thought it important to share the bad news as well as the good. So, the third gilt farrowed on Saturday morning and it was the same story all over again. Two piglets out, but dead, and the next one stuck fast, the gilt straining and straining until she was exhausted. I got the bucket of warm soapy water, the iodine, the industrial-size bottle of lube. With all this practice, I’m getting better at porcine midwifery. The piglet was head first and already through the cervix, so I could get two fingers around the back of the ears, thumb under the chin, and pull. It took a while but it came, a four pounder, which is a big piglet for sure. The next one was breech, with just the tail presenting. No way it was going to fit like that. I hooked a finger under the hocks and pulled the slippery back legs straight, then gently, gently, past the pelvic bones and out. This string of bad farrowings is not normal. Pigs usually birth with no trouble, needing help less than 1% of the time. I reached out to everyone I could think of this week; vets, pig farmers, and the hive mind of the internet have generated no obvious answer. The trouble could be anything from selenium deficiency to overfeeding, a bad mismatch of narrow-hipped gilts with a big-headed boar, something contagious, or a combination of things. The woman who sold us this boar, Scooter, is having difficult farrowings this year, too, though the boars she used on her gilts are not related to ours, and are of a different breed, so that’s a confusing data point to add to the mix. We sent a piglet off to Cornell for necropsy and tissue analysis, so maybe we’ll get a definitive answer. Meantime, Charlotte and I gave the remaining sows a shot of selenium, which will help if selenium is the problem, and won’t hurt in any case. We’re going to check their worm load, and keep our fingers crossed that this warm weather brings better results. Good news is that all of the gilts are alive and well, despite their ordeals, and the piglets that made it through birth are beautiful and growing like crazy.
There is a big circle on the calendar today, and inside it, LAMBING BEGINS, with a bunch of exclamation points. Nobody lambed early, which was wise of those ewes, since the weather is making a sudden turn from harsh to beautiful. The lambing barn looks fantastic, ear tags and lamb slings and crooks and all the other supplies set out in good order. We are lambing in Beth and Josh’s barn this year, across Middle Road, and Beth, my techie friend, has fitted the barn with a lamb cam, which might cut down on my midnight barn checks. If we can get it working I’ll share the address with you and you can follow along at home.
The forecast says we are at the front end of a stretch of perfect weather. The fields are already workable, and we’ve been plowing, harrowing, dragging, drawing up field plans, and debating the ratio of soy to corn we should plant. In the greenhouse, Kirsten, Isabelle, Phil and others potted up 2,350 tomato plants. The air in there feels thick with oxygen. We are waving goodbye to Katherine and Ben who departed for California today, with thanks and good wishes. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this crazy-good 16th week of 2016.
–Kristin & Mark Kimball