Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Unlike normal pig breeds, Mangalitsa can farrow in winter with minimal assistance. One doesn't need to attend the birth, provide heat lamps or much else, assuming the sow can find some shelter and build a nest. The biggest danger is other pigs, who will, if given a chance, eat the piglets.
We "coddle" our Mangalitsa, providing them a small Port-a-Hut (we are the local dealers of this equipment) and straw or hay, which they pull into the hut to build a nest. We saw folks in Austria who just provide the pigs with old trailers and other junk to take shelter under. Humans providing animals warm, dry, clean shelter is a modern phenomenon without precedent - humans just didn't have the resources.
Some of our sows recently farrowed, so we've got photos.
In the beginning a Mangalitsa sow is especially protective of her piglets, and gets upset if someone visits the hut. She'll stand up and start barking. The piglet will typically run and hid behind his mother. It is astounding how they know to put a big pig between them and the potential threat. You can see that in these two photos - the first being a closeup of the second:
If you reach into the hut, the sow will bite. Most sows won't leave the hut when a human is around and the piglets so young. One way to grab a piglet (for instance, to castrate it) is to have someone distract the sow at the front of the hut, while someone else reaches in through the back window to grab the piglet, which will have run to the back to hide. All that bothers the sow a lot, so both people are taking their chances of getting bit. Most Mangalitsa breeders figure it just isn't worth the grief - you are better off handling the piglets when they are older, and the sow isn't so protective. Of course, late castration gets you in trouble with some people - but there aren't alternatives unless you confine the animals.
Mangalitsa breeders tolerate sows that are protective of their young because they generally wean the most piglets without human intervention. The sow that bites perceived threats also doesn't crush or savage her young. The sow that lets you pick up her squealing piglets without biting somebody is usually a bad mother.
This is the other view of the piglet that you see: a piglet's butt as he runs away behind the bulk of his mother.
When the piglets get a bit older, the sow mellows out a bit. Then it is possible to approach the hut and take some photos, and perhaps not get bit. When I took these photos, the sow was standing by my shoulder, and making agitated noises. Had the piglets squealed, I would have jumped up, to avoid getting bit in the face.
Finally, when the piglets get a bit older, they'll look like these guys, who aren't piglets or adults, but are still very cute:
One natural question is why the Mangalitsa is so different from normal pigs. The answer has to do with the history of pig breeds - essentially the Mangalitsa is a somewhat domesticated European Wild Boar. That explains the tremendous ability to fatten up, the special taste and fat quality and nearly everything else that makes the meat and fat superior to modern pork.
If you want to taste Mangalitsa, you can head to the U-District Farmers Market in Seattle on January 19, or you can head to a few Seattle-area restaurants (Lark, Le Gourmand, Sitka and Spruce, Stumbling Goat and The Herbfarm) after this Friday, when we deliver our first batch. When you are there, you might as well ask if you can try the very special Berkshire pork they got from Wooly Pigs.
Seattlest has more info on this.
Posted by Heath Putnam at 5:15 PM