Little Ginge gives birth to 10 piglets
The sow lay on her side, quivering. Along her belly, a double row of blubbery udders juddered and shook. This was Little Ginge’s first litter, and we were watching closely in case she needed help.
A pointed tip of pink hoof appeared, only to slide back from view. This happened a few times – and then Ginge grunt-shoved and the first piglet flopped, wet and liver-coloured, on to the straw. Within seconds it was struggling to its feet, wobbling wildly and making a quacking noise. Piglets are born with their eyes open and able to walk.
Ginge heaved herself on to her haunches and peered downwards.
She lowered her head to sniff, her triangular ears flapping as she gave a series of fast snorts. This was a crucial moment, and we stepped back and waited.
It didn’t take long. Ginge pushed the piglet with her snout and collapsed back on to her side, exposing all 13 of her stoppered teats. The piglet nosed them clumsily, the fine hairs covering its skin already drying into iridescent bronzed fuzz.
A few minutes later, she gave birth again, to a strong, silvery-pink piglet trailing a thick umbilical cord. Pig uteruses are forked and embryos form in each half. During birth, the two horns contract alternately, pushing piglets out from one side and then the other. There’s usually about 20 minutes between each, but sometimes two
are born at once – as happened next when a pair of black-splotched piglets tumbled out together.
The next ones after that came easily: one tiny and white – the runt – and another spotty. But the seventh piglet, a ginger with small spots, was born lifeless.
Alexa picked it up and it hung limply in her hand. She wiped its nose and shook it gently. No reaction.
“Come on pig,” she said, clearing its airways. No response. She rubbed it with straw – nothing happened.
And then, just when it seemed certain it was dead, the piglet retched, gasped and began to breathe, life inflating its crumpled body.
Ginge produced 10 piglets in total. As night fell, we left them rooting and squealing and slurping around her under the rosy contentment of a heat lamp.
First published in the Guardian Country Diary 4 March 2021.