The French Pig (from salt to ham)

A Tour of the Birthing Stalls

Like I said before, no champagne, no roses, no Al Green sound track. I must admit that as prepared as I was for this moment, I was utterly unprepared. It's not like I haven't seen animals having sex before, it's not that I really wanted to get video footage of pigs getting it on. It's difficult to not anthropomorphize the situation. I get the point that when you have to supply a steady stream of quality piglets to several farms every week, well then there's no room for put them in a pen together and see what happens. For one thing, a boar (daddy pig) just can't "service" enough sows (mommy pigs) consistently to make a breeder farm economically interesting.

So to make up for the lack of Al  Green, M. Guenard gave us a tour of the birthing stalls and several other rooms with litters of different ages. And seemed content to let us linger in each room for as long as we cared to.

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They go very quickly from being floppy and barely able to stand to running around like a group of kindergartners in a playroom. Their main job is suckling at this stage. But you can tell pretty early which piglets are going to be the top dogs. A good sow gives birth to 12-16 piglets, she has enough nipples to suckle all her piglets, and she produces enough milk to keep her litter growing without loosing weight herself. 

The birthing/nursing stalls restrict the movement of the sows because there is a danger of the mothers to trample or rollover and crush their tiny piglets. I'm told as much as half the litter could be lost this way. 

In the next room, the piglets weren't as new born-y. M. Guenard pointed out one mother nursing a litter of piglets. These weren't her piglets but a culling of all the smaller piglets from other litters. This sow was one deemed to be a good mother and good milk producer. The runts from all the other litters born at the same time were aggregated in this pen so they might have a chance to thrive. 

I asked Josette about this later that day. She told me that by the first day each piglet will chose a teat and suckle only that one. The teats to the front give the most milk and the milk becomes less plentiful as one works ones way back. So the dominant piglets suckle at the front most and the runts get the least milk.

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The final room he took us to had piglets that were almost ready to wean about four weeks old. M. Guenard only breeds the piglets. They grown up somewhere else.

The next time I return to this farm, sometime in late March, I will be witnessing the birth of my piglet. The gestation period for pigs is three months three week and three days.