BlackBetty and her first litter of piglets

First farrowing – BlackBetty

Tuesday, 15th November…

They were not there at 1am, or 3.30am or 8am yesterday morning (15th) …. But when I went down at 10.45 there were 13 of the little critters in this huge fluffed up nest that BlackBetty had constructed from hay, straw, brush, thistles and sticks some time after 8am!!  I started to write this post between 7 and 10 hours after they were born and all 13 appeared to be active, feeding and tumbling around and BlackBetty seem relaxed and peaceful basking in the glorious sunshine. 

Although we missed the birth itself we are very very pleased – no, amazed – at the size of the litter for this first time mum pig.  My expectation based on the experience of other long time pig breeders was 6-8 piglets from the standard Bulgarian White sow, so we were really surprised to find so many. We looked for the afterbirths (pigs should have two, one from each side of their womb) but it seems she had eaten them after the birth.  One of the pigs seems to have an ear sliced into – can’t imagine how that happened but a good dose of “purple spray” followed by the spray-on wound plaster seems to have fixed that.

As expected there’s a good chance that at least one (if not two) runty piglets may not make it [see below] but (1) as the very old saying goes “where there is livestock there is deadstock” and (2) we don’t want to  work against nature that’s for sure and (3) one of our freezer pigs was the runt of the litter and she now weighs 130kg. So who knows!!

Having said all that, any birth is a truly miraculous thing and we feel very blessed to have healthy pigs and their (hopefully) healthy and active offspring.  We aim to continue to try and give them as many opportunities to live a “natural” life – as far as anybody can on a smallholding where space and resources are relatively limited.

Piglets sorting themselves out only hours after the birth - BlackBetty being calm and content (probably exhausted)
Piglets sorting themselves out only hours after the birth – BlackBetty being calm and content (probably exhausted)

To the surprise of our Bulgarian friends (and many expats who raise or have raised pigs here in BG) in the 11 months we have been learning how to raise the pigs we have used no medications other than “purple spray”, no synthetic/chemical/pharmaceutical wormers or feed additives, no injections and – touch wood – have so far not needed any interventions from a vet. Grazing on grass and lucerne, ploughing up weed-infested land, clearing tree roots and bushes together with hay and lucerne when it has been cold – and whatever fruit and vegetables are in season and a steady supply of eggs has provided about 50% of their diet and probably saved us a lot of money on feed.

Some people have told us we are crazy, some have said we are brave, some that we are not “doing the best” for the critters and others have been supportive and encouraging… we are learning as we go and are particularly grateful for the advice, wisdom and shared experiences of a small group of friends around BG who we can turn to with livestock related questions and for help.

BlackBetty's first litter 15 Nov 2016

Today, Wednesday…

We woke to find the number of piglets down to 12.  Around lunchtime we watched the sow get up for her normal toileting session, then she went to a spot on the very edge of her nesting area and dug up the missing piglet which she had buried under some brush.  I am not trying to shock anyone but I watched her eat the dead piglet – a completely normal behaviour, just like she ate the two placentas after all the piglets had arrived, and she even eats the nesting material if the piglets pee or pooh too close to where she or the other piglets are nesting.

In the next day or so the piglets will “latch on” to a preferred teat and we should see which dominant or strongest piglets take the best teats (the two closest to the sows head). My Bulgarian friends tell me that black pigs are unusual and desirable – but we will see what the village folk make of them in due course :-).

We haven’t sexed them yet but there are 6 black with white socks and 6 spotted like dalmatians.

Toby pigletsitting while BlackBetty is eating her tea
Toby pigletsitting while BlackBetty is eating her tea

All being well we plan on weaning these piglets at between 6 and 8 weeks depending on whether the sow gets too stressed trying to feed so many – so sometime in early January – when we hope they will go to new homes to have good lives, work hard on the land, and make good pork.  We will be watching the piglets – and the piglets from the second litter that are due in a few weeks – to see if there are any special individuals that we might keep for ourselves next year 😉

Once the piglets are weaned we will advertise them for sale here in the blog and on Facebook.

Our other pregnant sow, Pop, is due to “pop” in about 3 weeks time, in the first week of December… brrrrrrr I wonder if they will arrive in snow??

On the other side of the livestock raising adventure, sometime in the next two weeks we will slaughter and butcher our two “freezer pigs” – that will be another milestone and probably a real challenge of physical and emotional endurance over two days.  But the outcomes will, we very much hope, be delicious!

You can see some other video snippets from our “great adventure” in Alekovo – some daft, some not so daft – by visiting the Alekovo playlist on YouTube.

Me and the new GrandPigs - 15 Nov 2016
Me and my first grandpiglets

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