The French Pig (from salt to ham)

Suckling and Surviving

This newborn piglet is going to die. Sometimes a piglet is born without what it takes to survive. We noticed this little guy in one of the birthing stalls. All his litter mates were scrambling to suckle their mother but this guy was huddled by himself. Whereas the other piglets were warm almost hot to the touch and squirmy, this piglet was surprisingly cold and seemed to be trembling. Kate and I tried to encourage it to suckle but it kept wandering away from his mother without interest in her nipple. So finally we called Agnes's attention to him.

Yes, she confirmed, she had spotted him earlier. He won't make it through the day. She put her pinky finger in his mouth to demonstrate that he had no suckling reflex. 

"What will become of him?" I asked. She said that when she first started, she had let them die naturally, then after a while she asked one of the men on the farm to kill these cases after she had left for the day. Now she can't bear to watch their prolonged suffering so she does it herself. Kate didn't tell me how it was done (if Agnes told her). We were all a little heartbroken for the little guy.

I was struck by how mobile and aware healthy piglets are as soon as they are born. How is it that human babies survive at all? We are so absolutely helpless when we are born. Parents/caregivers have to intervene from the very first. Actually, Agnes told me, a human newborn if left alone will crawl up its mother's belly towards her nipples sensing the presence of her milk. "No shit." I thought, "Just like a kangaroo baby." Agnes believes we intercede too much in this basic biology during human birthing. 

That first secretion of the mammary glands after giving birth is called the colostrum. It's rich with antibodies that give the piglets immunity against the world's germs. Piglets do not inherit antibodies through the placenta so this first suckling is incredibly important. So when that little piglet we were first talking about refused to nurse it was a sure sign that his fate was sealed. Most piglets suckle until they fall asleep. It's incredibly cute to watch.