First, before I launch into the tale of “Pigs in Heat, Episode 2”, I don’t know about anyone else up here but I’m swimming in a sea of mud. Even the animals are sick of the muck. Bear carefully made his way around the large lake in front of the orchard gate so as not to dirty his paws. The sheep are using the narrow edge of the barn’s concrete foundation to avoid what is an almost quick-mud puddle in front of their pen. That stuff’s particularly sticky. I almost lost a boot to it. Even the pigs have had it with the cold, wet, gooey stuff. And, what about that creek? No more gentle trickle, at least not at the moment. Although it’s nowhere near flooding, until this last week I hadn’t heard the noise of rushing water since last year’s flood, which rerouted most of the flow to the other side of the island. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop: rain followed by a freeze that will leave me slip-and-sliding down the ramp to the barn early some morning.
Now, to PIGS IN HE-E-EAT!
Twenty-one days. That’s the length of a gilt/sow’s cycle. So, December 31st was exactly 21 days since Boinker went into heat for the first time. (I can hardly believe how quickly the days whizzed by!) The first day of my year was filled with those blood-curdling squeals of hers. She spent all of yesterday locked in the orchard because this time I was ready for her, although sort of by accident.
I love having an insurance agent who is also a farmer. Kelly Cathcart knows practically every farmer in the area, and what they do. So when I mentioned to her that I wanted to breed one of my gilts for piglets without a boar, Kelly knew just who to contact. After juggling our schedules, Diana arrived at the farm on the 30th to take a look at my girls. She took one look at Boinker and said what I already suspected–that my pig was just about to go into heat. Unfortunately for her, Boinker’s timing is off.
You see, in order to do the deed sans male, I need to order semen for overnight delivery on the day before the girl reaches what is referred to in pig-lingo is a “standing heat.” That means if I press on the middle of my girl’s back, she stops everything she’s doing, stands perfectly still and puts her ears back in anticipation of the “great event.” Sort of like dirty dancing without moving.
Yep, just as Diana indicated and I suspected, Boinker hit that moment late on New Year’s Eve while the place that supplies pig semen was closed for the holiday. That’s unfortunate for her but fortunate for Oinker, who will entering her heat on Wednesday. (This is the upside of blogging. I just checked the date of that post and counted to 21.)
Still, I thought I should double-check and asked Diana which pig she’d breed. She immediately pointed to Oinker. What’s not to like about that statuesque gilt with her shapely hams, broad back and well-spaced teats. Diana believes Oinker is at least part Berkshire (good meat!), and breeding her with a full Berkshire boar should make for really pretty black and white piglets. OOOH! No more sunburn!
With that, I was grateful that Carl the Butcher had to cancel our appointment. Earlier in December, I had finally decided I needed a professional to kill and gut my first pig. Between this one and the next one, I need to learn how to shoot. Even before Diana’s comments, I’d been regretting my choice of which girl was to be the mama and which the sausages. Although Oinker is bigger (meatier), she’s sweet-natured and much calmer while Boinker is more aggressive, albeit in a friendly way, as well as skittish. The day I waded out wearing the army surplus poncho a friend gave me poor Boinker practically had a heart attack. She ran forward as if to greet me only to do one of those cartoon leaps–all four feet off the ground while turning a full 180 before returning to earth. Hard to imagine a 230 pound pig doing that, but I’ve learned that pigs are unbelievably agile despite their short legs and big bulk. As Boinker hit the ground, she shouted out “YARP!” Then she repeated the whole maneuver, certain it was me for an instant, then reacting as if it was hooded Death coming for her. And maybe it was.
The more I think about this, the more I like my choice. Boinker was clearly a runty piglet. Will her offspring be small as well? Or worse, will she die because her offspring are too big? Either one is not a good risk. Moreover, Boinker’s heat–the agitation, the pacing, the inability to eat–makes me look at her behavior with a new eye. The calmer the girl, the better the mom, I think. For the record, I’m not using a farrowing cage. If pigs needed those to continue their species, they’d have evolved bars around their hips and shoulders. But then I’m not out to profit from my one pig. I just want a few pig-erators for next year’s pasture turning.
So there it is. Carl will come for Boinker while I’ll be perusing the catalog of boars on Wednesday for delivery on Thursday. Three doses, I’m told, to be stored in my commercial kitchen which I can keep at 60 degrees. There’ll be no romance for poor Oinker, just three doses delivered 12 hours apart. Diana thinks we’ll have no trouble doing what needs doing. I assured her that raisins will keep Oinker happy while one of us (I’m assuming me) straddles her and the other pushes the pipette where it needs to go. That’ll give me the piglets I want three months, three weeks and three days later. (There is something really weird about saying it that way when it’s just 114 days.)
Oh yeah, this is one more thing that was never on my bucket list and now I can’t imagine why it wasn’t. Can you think of anything more fun than splashing around in a sea of mud atop a pig as she’s made pregnant?
Before she left Diana added one very scary note, even more scary than trying to find the right non-spermicidal lubricant. It seems piglets are dangerous. Diana is certain that I’ll instantly fall in love with them because they’re so-o-o CUTE!
Oh bother, Piglets!