Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Some Mangalitsa sows have been farrowing lately. It has been a bit ridiculous, because the Mangalitsa sows are very good mothers.
For pigs, being a "good mother" means a few specific things. The above photos shows a Mangalitsa sow being a good mother - that hair standing up on her back means she's ready to attack anyone that gets close to the piglets.
When her time comes, a good mother goes to a hut or builds a nest out of vegetation. She lies in there and farrows (or "pigs"). The piglets come out and get their first milk. The sow doesn't get up much or move around, because if she does, she might trample the piglets.
A bad sow lays in an exposed place and farrows, and her piglets get trampled or eaten by other pigs. Or she moves around a lot in her nest, trampling her just-born piglets. Gestation crates can turn a bad mother into a productive sow, by stopping her from killing her piglets - but some folks think they are cruel to the sows.
If she's a good mother, she'll lay with her nose pointed out the hut or nest, so that she can bite anyone that comes close. If she's a bad mother, she lie with her nose in the hut or nest, and the piglets pop out into the cold, perhaps freezing.
If she's a good mother, when humans or anyone else comes to investigate, she'll attack them and chase them off. Even if the human has been feeding them for months and treating them nicely, a good mother will attack. The better mothers attack with less provocation.
A good mother stands up and gets upset when her piglets make distress calls. That prevents her from crushing them inadvertently: if she starts to crush them, they squeal and she jumps up, upset, ready to attack. A bad mother ignores them, perhaps crushing them to death. It can take a very long time for her to do it. She'll even do it in front of humans, as they watch, which is simply infuriating.
We've got two Mangalitsa sows who just had litters - #12 and #20.
Sow #12 will let you go up to her hut and scratch her nose. If you try to reach in the hut, she'll get upset and bite. Sow #20, in contrast, won't let you get near the hut. She'll come out and chase you away. #20 is the better mother. Both of them will probably wean all their piglets - but #20 is probably the better mother.
The farrowing reminds me of the Certified Humane standards - we'll never count as humane by them, because we can't get those piglets castrated in the first week. Even if you could keep the sows away physically, castrating the piglets in the first week would traumatize the sows, because they'd hear their piglets distress calls and get very upset. You'd rather traumatize the male piglets that are getting castrated more than your sows, because you need a working relationship with the sow, whereas that male pig, once castrated, is certainly heading to the slaughterhouse.
Posted by Heath Putnam at 2:02 PM