o A farm in the winter is picture-postcard beautiful. A winter on the farm is another thing. We are fortunate here in the Ozarks; we don't enjoy the frigid temperatures and several feet of snow that hits the Northern tier of this country. It does present challenges that contrast with the crisp air and the beauty of a barn in the snow.
The weekend after Christmas, we got almost a foot of rain in two days, followed by a cold front. The two enemies of animals is wet, cold conditions. Although the sows are on a hill, it rained so much that the upper field, which is flat, drained down into the sow palace. We heaved and ho'd and flipped the thing, in spite of Pistachio deciding she needed to step in and see what was up. Petunia sneaked up behind me and gave me a goose with her wet snout. It was all kinds of fun. We put down lots of wood shavings and a bale of straw and all was well. Except...
Pistachio hadn't been drinking enough water and her electrolytes got wonky. For a while, we were afraid she was going into labor way too early and losing her piglets. And it was a Sunday night, not the best time to call out the vet. I placed a call with my Pig Mentor (a guiding light and guardian angel if ever there was one!), who recommended giving her some Dr. Pepper. I was desperate, so yes, I crawled into the sow palace with a pan of DP laced with sorghum. She was lying there, panting, scarcely able to lift her head until <snurffle, snurffle> she got a whiff of the soda, buried her nose in it and drank it all up. She rose, went to the bathroom, drank water. By the next morning, she was at the gate, loudly demanding her breakfast and some more of that Dr. Pepper, please. She's had no troubles after that.
It has since gotten a lot colder. The water tank has a heater, but the water isn't warm enough to keep the nipple drinker thawed. Up hill I go with buckets and a jug of hot water to thaw things out. I do this three times a day at least, and the girls know by now to camel up. They also get crimped oats with molasses and pig pellets mixed into a mash with warm water.
As long as their housing is dry, they stay pretty warm. Grown pigs are essentially land-locked walrus, and with three of them in the sow palace, they stay nice and snug. The outside of the palace is dark green, which captures a bit of solar energy.
One thing I have learned from observation is that the boss sow arranges the communal nest. It is her Big Mama role, apparently. Every day, Pistachio assesses the weather conditions and moves things around. If it is warmer, she pushes straw and bedding to the front; if it is colder, she rakes it in with her trotters and snout and makes things snug. I throw a flake or two of straw in every couple of days, and she gets busy chopping the straw up and incorporating it into the nest. She hadn't gotten to the new straw I added in the photo below.
If the day is sunny, even if there is snow on the ground, the sows are in a good mood. They all are black, and the sun warms them. They are extra friendly and want some scratching and food. Pistachio is in her last trimester of pregnancy, and she wants her food and everyone else's, but it is too early to let her have much extra. The hot mash slows her down and the others get most of their food before she exerts her prerogative. She is getting more round, more gravid looking and loves a good belly scratching, and I pet her babies gently through her flank. February 14th isn't very far away now.
Petunia is happy to announce that she is pregnant. She is always radiant when she conceives. She lost her last litter early on, so I will be keeping a close eye on her. and hoping for the best. She really likes to be scratched behind the ears. She's a beautiful sow, long and big and graceful.
Big Lil is adjusting to life with her new herd. She has grown continues to grow and is in good condition. She is due to come into heat and I am observing her for signs to determine the right date so that she can be bred for the first time, which should be 21 days from when she is in standing heat. This can be tricky to detect with gilts, so I feel like it is test time for the farmer.
Funny to think that her babies will be conceived in the cold of winter to be born in early June. It's that promise of life and the cycles of seasons that keep me going as a farmer. Knowing that harshness can be endured and it will carry you forward to better times - and sure, other challenges - but always moving forward, even through set backs and the days you doubt your decisions and yourself. And I guess that is, for me, well worth hauling water for.
Keep warm, incubate your dreams like baby piglets, and keep looking forward. More news from the farm will be coming your way. We've got things a-cooking as preparations are made for the next batch of pigs, the first born on our farm. Exciting times.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.