Double set of piglets a learning experience

The following first appeared June 1, 1999, in the Tribune:

Chub started the pickup to drive to work, none too soon as usual.

"Would you take eight or 10 ears of corn down to Christmas Tree?" he asked and hurried off.

As a farm girl, I liked being useful in our family's farming enterprise, and that feeling survives. That day I was needed by this pet pig. She rooted out under the lot fence, leaving her shelter and a nice bed of straw to hide out in the woods alone. Why?

How could she possibly have known that all of those babies were inside her? She was given to our Nancy and Walt by a neighbor who found her, alone in his cornfield. Porky had no contact with other hogs except with Unc's red gilt, which also was to have babies soon.

That gilt was a Christmas gift to Chub's uncle who lives with us. These two young mothers-to-be had no mature contact with their mothers; their only experience with other swine was for breeding, and that brief encounter didn't teach them about birthing or mothering! Porky needed to be alone.

All four of us searched the woods for the missing gilt, and we warned the children that their pet would be a vicious animal if she had babies to protect.

Chub said, "She'll come up when she's hungry." But walking back toward the house, we found her, bedded down on dry needles in a clump of cedar trees -- with babies. Nancy immediately renamed the pet "Christmas Tree." Chub counted 13 piglets; two were mashed.

Actually, counting again, there were only 10 live ones. Nancy said, "I want that puny one, the runt, for my very own."

That morning, as I carried a bucket of corn to Christmas Tree's nursery, I was cautious not to cough, sneeze or clear my throat; the young sow had accepted the responsibilities of motherhood, and she had an enormous bunch to protect.

I found the whole family sleeping in the warm sun. When I poured the corn into her old metal pan, Christmas Tree snorted and sprung up, scattering all 10 of those squealing babies. Then I took the bucket down to the creek for water. I recalled my childhood as I stepped on some soft, bright-green moss and walked around beds of violets. Oh, the wonderful smell of the rain-soaked woods in spring!

I dipped the bucket in clear water where, six weeks before, I'd chopped a hole in thick ice so the cattle could drink. While the young sow drank, I again counted 10 babies, and all were doing well.

When I returned to the house, I smelled cigar smoke and heard the old caned rocker creaking. Uncle Archie, 81, was happy. He heard the door close and called to me, "My red gilt had 11 babies in the night." We went right out to see them.

Chub would drive Christmas Tree up to the lot as soon as her brood could follow.

We're cattle people, but with Christmas Tree's 10 survivors and the red gilt's new family of 11, we needed more shelter, fences and a water line to the hog lot. We all had more evening chores as we cared for those 23 animals until the newcomers were ready for market.

Unc's farm had both cattle and hogs, and we were glad Nancy and Walt could learn about producing both beef and pork. They learned how both sausage and pork chops get to the stores.

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