Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Story of a Piglet

A quick update on Faith and Linus and then an entertaining story about one of our farm's residents!

Linus has started to put weight back on again. The vets reassured me that he probably lost a bit due to the stress of his surgery. We have increased his feed slightly and are closely monitoring him!

Faith is getting another set of radiographs viewed by Dr. Barnes again. We will hopefully have a plan with what do regarding her knee within the next day or two.

I did receive a phone call last week from a woman stating that she may have known Faith when she was four. I put in a phone call to the farm and am waiting to connect with the woman who may have possibly owned her. The suspense is killing me!

Brad Erickson will be out today at eleven to trim and shoe them.

Also, I have exciting news that I will be sharing next week with everyone! Stay tuned!

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Last fall, an animal came into my life that would forever leave a mark. Her name is Charlotte, and here is her story.

On September 28, 2008 we were packing up from a long horse show weekend. A student of mine happily informed me that he was chosen to participate in the pig scramble at the fair. I told him congratulations and wished him luck. Then came the question that I dreaded, yet somehow knew was coming... "If I catch a pig, can I keep it at your barn, Julie?"

Now, we travel to many shows and fairs each year. I have seen quite a few pig scrambles in my years, with the results of many favoring the piglets. You see, even though piglets are small, they are fast. And they are strong. It's quite difficult for an adult to catch and keep hold of a squealing, squirming piglet, let alone a child. There was no way that he was going to actually catch one, right?

"Of course you can," I replied to him. What was I going to do with a pig, anyway? Just to give you more insight onto my knowledge of the swine culture, here are the three things that I knew about pigs before Charlotte came into my life: They have curly tails. They make cute noises. And they are super tasty! :-) You see, I have never had a pig before. Nor did I ever think that I would. I tend to prefer "fluffy" pets...

I arrived back to my barn a few hours later, unloaded horses and began unpacking the trailer. I received a text message on my phone. It read, "What would you like to name your pig?" I assumed it was a joke and kept doing my work. Then came a text from another student's father. He had stayed with a bunch of my students to watch the scramble. "Julie, you really own a pig now. Think of any names yet? From, Mike"

Forty-five minutes later, Mike's pickup truck pulled into the yard. Out popped my student, a big smile on his face, holding a burlap bag. At first, I was sure they were only joking. Then the bag started moving and oinking.

He carried it into my barn and gently placed it down onto the shavings in a freshly cleaned stall. Out popped a little red-haired piglet. I couldn't believe my eyes. I also couldn't stop laughing. In front of me was the cutest piglet I had ever seen!

At first, we decided to name the piglet "Wilbur" from Charlotte's Web. Then I checked and realized that she was in fact a girl, and we quickly made the change to "Charlotte". The name fit her well.

Thankfully, Charlotte came with a bag of grain and an instruction manual. I kid you not. It was a few pages in length and had great information in it. The first half of the manual explained how to care for her. The second half focused on when and how to butcher her. Gross...

So we made the decision right there and then that we didn't need the second half of the manual. Charlotte wouldn't be eaten, and until we could figure out something to do with her, she was here to stay.

Charlotte learned her name very quickly. Once it was spoken, you could hear her oinking in her stall. She was very friendly and enjoyed human interaction. At night, she would push all of the shavings in her stall into one corner and drag all of her hay on top of it. Then she would take the sack she was brought home in and place that on top of everything. We would peek into her stall to find only her curly tail sticking out from underneath the pile. She stayed warm in her little nest and would sleep into the morning hours when we woke her up.

I eventually trusted her enough to let her out in the yard, and she would follow me around every morning while I turned horses out and fed. She would run from stall to stall as I cleaned them out, sucking up the last bits of grain off of the floor. She kept me laughing and was pretty entertaining company.

However, I felt bad for her. She was used to living with her brothers and sisters, and was now in a new place with no friends. I decided it was time, and I brought the dogs out to meet her. She instantly took a liking to them, but they weren't quite sure what to do with her.

Charlotte walked right up to Molly and sniffed her nose. Molly turned to look at me with a puzzled "do I eat it or play with it?" look on her face. Ginger thought she was pretty cool and tried to get her new swine friend to partake in a game of chase. After a few minutes, Charlotte realized what the objective was, and took off running with them!

The next half hour was comical. The pig would chase the dogs. The dogs would turn and chase the pig. The pig would turn and chase the dogs... You get the idea.

Although Charlotte enjoyed the company of my dogs, it was my dad's dog that she fell in love with.

"Mikey" was a puppy that we rescued for him in December of 2007. Our family's old dog passed away a few years ago, and my father informed us that he was "too busy" for a dog and didn't want another. But the hints kept coming, and soon we heard of a little german shepard mutt that was at a kill shelter down south. A few phone calls were made and Mikey arrived two weeks before Christmas. On Christmas Day, we put a big red bow around his neck, opened the door to my dad's house, and sent him inside. They have been inseparable ever since! (I'll do an article on him sometime, too. His story is inspiring!)

Back to Charlotte...

Charlotte took a fond liking to Mikey, and they played with each every time Mikey came to visit. Their friendship was picture perfect...

I ended up putting them together in a power point presentation and Mike (Charlotte's "Dad") put them online for everyone to see! (It's a big file and it may take a while to load!) http://home.comcast.net/~thejuddz/pig.ppt

Charlotte grew bigger and bigger each day. Every Sunday morning after we did our barn chores, Dan would weigh her. She weighed in at a whopping 14 pounds when she first came to us. As the weeks went on, her weight gained averaged about 11 pounds per week. That's over a pound and a half a day. She quickly became too large for Dan to pick up, so we found a formula online and began using that to chart her progress. She hit the 200 pound mark by Valentine's Day, 300 pound mark by Mother's Day, and now she clocks in at a hair under 400 pounds. And she's only a year old!

Charlotte is very friendly and exceptionally intelligent! She is by far the smartest animal I have ever had the pleasure of caring for. She lives in a paddock with our two goats and our donkey, Dominic. They have their own 10X10 stall that they go in and out of, plus the goats have their own house they sleep in. Charlotte and Dominic get along quite well and frequently take naps laying next to each other.

A few months back, after calculating how much Charlotte was costing us to feed, we decided to breed her. The piglets can be sold and will pay for her grain for the rest of the year. After some searching, we found a very handsome, solid black husband for her, creatively named "Midnight", who tipped the scales at 525 pounds. Things went well with them, they did what needed to be done, and then he went back to his home in Massachusetts.

That was four months ago. Today, Charlotte is nearing the end of her pregnancy. Although we never had her ultrasounded, we knew that her interaction with Midnight worked. She never went back into heat, which was our first major clue. About three weeks after she was bred, she went from eating 5 quarts of grain each day to 13. Her activity decreased and when she wasn't eating, she was sleeping. And snoring. She snores very, very loudly!

As many of you may know, pigs enjoy a roll in the mud and water. It helps them stay cool and protects their skin from the sun. That combined with the fact that Charlotte is pregnant, we figured we'd do a little something special for her. We were given a child's pool a few weeks back, so we dug a hole in her paddock, put the pool in it and filled it with water. Needless to say, she just loves her very own inground pool....

Charlotte is due to deliver her piglets roughly between today, August 4th and Saturday, August 8th. We have temporarily moved her back into a stall in the barn so we can keep a closer eye on her. She has begun bagging up and the milk production means she is getting close to delivering. We are having a full moon on the 6th, so my money is on her delivering that evening.

She could have up to 14 piglets, but typically their first litter is a bit smaller. I think that she's going to have nine piglets, Dan is betting on ten. We have been trying to come up with names, but nothing has stuck with us yet. Does anyone have any ideas? I was thinking, "Ham," "Bacon," "Sausage," and "Pork Chop", but my students don't approve...



  1. Please be very careful.. Having raised pigs, the females can go through a tremendous attitude change when they have their babies. I have seen them go from great 'pets' to absolute killers. The mothering instinct can be very pronounced.

    If you name the piglets it makes it much more difficult to sell and/or eat them.

    I do like the names you have picked, also think about Barbie (for BBQ).

    She is a beautiful pig, you should have some interesting colors.

  2. You may enjoy reading a book called "the good good pig" by Sy Montgomery. It's on amazon, it's a recent story about a pig raised as a pet in NH.

  3. You have some of the best stories! Charlotte is very pretty :-)

  4. Julie had a farm, ei, ei, O...or OINK!! I love reading the updates, you keep me laughing. I really do need to get down there to meet the zoo.

    Hmm, Julies Petting Zoo?

  5. One of the dangers, and very common, is the mom laying on the babies. If you are there for the birth, they tend to come very fast and may need help by cleaning their noses and mouth out. If they don't start breathing, you can hold them by the back two legs and swing them to get the mucus out. Just hold on, they are slippery! And yes, a new momma can be aggressive at first, so do be careful until you've judged her attitude. Good luck and have fun!!