Sunday, 11 May 2008

Midwifery for backward beginners

Listening to: cockerel crowing, curlews and snipe calling, rabbits laughing at me behind my back
Weather: opposite of whatever the BBC says it's going to be

It was a long, busy night in the pigshed - Molly the sow produced a litter of 12 piglets.

It proved to be far more of a 'hands-on' experience than Kim's farrowing on Wednesday (you may remember she fired her eight piglets out in an hour while I was having my tea).

It also turned out to be exceptionally messy. I've no idea why I'm surprised by that; I was present at the birth of both my children, I've seen quite a few animals born and blood and goo are all part of nature's miracle. The stash of old towels we had put aside proved to be very useful.

Molly had been in a mood all day and I became increasingly anxious as time went on. She kept lying down and sitting up, occasionally discharging a little blood. With my neighbour Marcus away from the island until the end of the month, I called John-Paul the Saddleback breeder in Thurso.

"She keeps sitting up then lying down again, is that OK?"

"Yes, she's probably stacking the piglets up before giving birth."

"Stacking up? As in air traffic control?"


"Fair enough. Live and learn."

Molly finally settled down at around 6.30, going into the kind of trance that often accompanies a farrowing. There was a lot of heavy breathing and the occasional contraction, but very little happened for two hours, by which time I had convinced myself the piglets were going to be stillborn and we might even lose Molly.

I consulted the books, got the hot soapy water and 'investigated'. There was no obstruction, so I made a couple of calls.

"Stop worrying you fool and let the sow get on with it," was the gist of both conversations, so the fool stopped worrying and let the sow get on with it.

About 9pm the first piglet slithered out, an hour-and-a-half later we had eight and the process slowed. Molly reached double figures, but the 11th piglet was tiny and wasn't breathing. There was a faint pulse so I cleared the gunk out of his airway and held him upside down for a few minutes as you're supposed to. Sal rubbed his chest for a while and, as a last resort, I tried mouth-to-mouth, but there was no response and he just faded out.

Two more piglets followed and both Sal and I were relieved when the appearance of the afterbirth signalled the end.

With 12 piglets and 14 teats, competition was fierce for the best spots and there was far more nipping, shoving and squealing than there had been with Kim's litter. We did our best to referee, but were both tiring. Sal went off to bed and I spent another hour trying to get them organised before deciding to let them sort it out for themselves at around 2.30.

I checked them again first thing this morning and all were happily suckling while Molly rumbled contentedly.

I'm going back to bed.


elizabethm said...

What a fantastic post. I feel as if I have been through the mill myself. So glad they are here at last and that Molly is ok. Sounds like you have earned a few hours kip.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

Pictures please! What you need is a farrowing-cam... :)

patroclus said...

Well done Malc (and indeed Sal, not to mention Molly) - *now* you're a pig farmer!

I, still, ♥ the views said...



that's just great - well done everyone! and you had time to tell us about it!!

(for some reason I can't help thinking of all those sausages you'll have lined up soon)

I think a pig-cam is a brilliant idea (might be more interesting than watching the surf at Polzeath)

hope you got some good ZZZzzzzzzzzs and that you, Sal, mother and children are all doing well today!


Ginni Dee said...

I think you did very well! I never was very good at math, but I think your swine herd has quintupled in the last few days, hasn't it? How exciting that you got to help Molly in her efforts. I know it can get very tense and worrisome when things seem to go too slow, but good old Mother Nature has her own way of doing things.

Congrats Mr. and Mrs. Pig Farmers! Well done!! And don't forget those of us who love to see photos, but get your sleep first!

Murph said...

I always suspected you were really a chartered accountant in Hawick.

Until now. Well done.

susi said...

Congratulations again!
Are you going to keep some of
the female piglets to increase
your breeding stock?

Anonymous said...

mmm more sausages...

Z said...

Well done, glad it went so well. And congratulations on a fantastic post, too - on the edge of my seat, I was!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

congratulations take the chequred flag then!
Pictures when you have a mo please!

We had a delivery last night right in the middle of a party ...down to one now ....Scary Mary!

Daphne said...

Aaah - excellent news. So good to see them having seen a mother pig confined and unable to move - I think it's called a "farrowing pen" or similar - and the piglets just lying on concrete in a French factory-farm. I'm not anti-meat-eater of course - I just want the animals to be properly looked after, like yours.

dinahmow said...

so...can you now drop "trainee" from your resume?
Pleased all is ok. (And one loss is not too shabby.)

ziggi said...

Oh well done Daddy!

20 little piggies, just wonderful!

With the big boys you can have 2 teams!

KAZ said...

Gosh this should be in 'Pig Breeding for Boys'
I feel I could do it now.
With the pigs I mean not personally.

Arabella said...

Like an episode of 'The Good Life' but without Margot.
Enjoy your well deserved kip.

Hayden said...

wonderful and congratulations! Looks like I've a good bit of reading to do, will take a look around. You were recommended to me by Andrea.

lettuce said...

oh aren't they just so sweet

well done all of you! congrats!
weet weet weet weet

Richard said...

This is what it was all about, wasn't it. Well done.

Malc said...


I think sleep will have to wait a few days.


Several farmers here have CCTV in their cattle sheds. I'm tempted to go for that next time.


I'm very proud of us all, but still not sure I deserve the pig farmer title.


Not enough meat on them for a sausage yet.


Yes, I have to learn to trust nature and the sows.


Shhh! You'll blow my cover.


We'll keep the best two or three gilts for breeding. We have been asked about a boar already, so at least one lucky lad survives the chop.


Eventually, yes.


Glad to have entertained! Thanks.


Middle of a party? Most people I know make do with a few vol-au-vents and a game of charades.

Malc said...


There's definitely a cultural difference between Britain and France in the way we treat animals. I find it surprising that a country that has such respect for good food can show so little respect for the animals that provide it.


I'm really not sure I can drop the 'trainee'. I just feel I'm doing everything by the seat of my pants. Thanks anyway.


Trouble is, Eric and Ernie (who are up for 'transfer' at the end of the month) ate the ball.


Great title for a book. And if I can muddle through, anyone can.


I had a bit of a thing for Margot when I was a lad. Sorry, too much information.


Hello there. I'll pop over to your place when I get a moment.


Yes, I'm having a hard time thinking of them as farm animals.


Absolutely. . . and thanks very much.


go to bed you idiot.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

This company advertises in the sheep farming magazine I get...

mig bardsley said...

Congratulations to all.