So, I have been doing this piglet breeding thing on and off for the last ten years, but this time it is turning out unlike anything I have experienced before.
The mothers of these two, who were the subjects of this blog this time last year namely Bangers and Mash, were the first two mums I had ever known to have a full scale fight. And I mean 85 kilos of pig up on its hind legs trying to take chunks out of her sister kind of fight. It scared me to death! They did this twice a few days after the babies were born, so I put it down to hormones and happily things evened themselves out pretty soon afterwards.
Therefore, I was not entirely surprised when sisters Apple (brown with black spots) and Sauce (black and white saddleback) were fractious with each other. There was no encounter such as we saw last year, but it soon became evident that Apple is in charge and Sauce gives her due reverence and a wide birth.
That said, when Apple attempted entry into Sauce’s separate pig house to check out her babies Sauce stood firm and there was no way Apple was gaining access, even though this came at some physical cost.
After which Apple then nonchalantly wandered off without a care in the world leaving her piglets in her separate Cabana (tin hut), where they lay sprawled in a heap whilst she started rummaging for acorns dropping from the Cork Oak trees in the paddock. Laid back, unprotective, indeed positively horizontal with everything and everyone but her sister!
At this moment I decided to quietly close the gate, allowing Apple to peruse acorns in the paddock which left Sauce safe to wander around the capacious pig pen on her own.
Little did I expect to see Sauce a few minutes later ducking into the Cabana to check out Apple’s babies. I galloped over urging her to leave as I was sure Apple would be back in no time, to break down the gate and give her a severe ‘seeing to!’ How wrong could I be. As Sauce, looking guilty and rather sheepish exited the Cabana, Apple continued to saunter around the paddock without turning a hair.
It turns out I was wrong on two counts. Firstly the belief that Apple is a protective mother (not so), but secondly that female pigs eat the babies of other mothers. Yep! The local Portuguese had put the fear of god into me with stories of babies being munched by rival mothers, marauding males you name it they spun me a good yarn. Now foxes or mongoose I know are a possibility, but pigs eating their own young? No wonder I was paranoid when I saw Sauce popping into the Cabana to count how many babies her sister had produced. Perhaps the local Portuguese are having a good laugh at what they had told this silly foreigner. Mind you, they always back that story up with another - that my mothers are far too heavy, too fat, so weighty their tiny trotters can’t handle their volumosity!
I prefer to think I feed my girls sufficiently to keep them look well, not scrawny and with sufficient wherewithal to feed their young. I guess if they were on iron rations then the sight of a tiny bony baby may well look like a small snack to a hungry pig.
Anyway, there were further surprises in store…
After a bit of thought I opened up all the gates so the girls had enough space to run and hide, fight, stretch their legs and let off all that hormonal steam… I was pretty sure that at one week the piglets in the Cabana couldn’t jump over the small fence at the front nor would they have the inclination. And, at 3 days Sauces babies would certainly not be stirring far from their haven of straw in the pig house.
Well, how wrong you can be for a third time!
At first it was just three of Apples piglets that struggled over the fence of the Cabana and needed my help to get them back after their adventures. Then, with no fence to negotiate I saw six tiny piglets intrepidly venturing into the run of the pig house, through the open door and out into the wide world to explore.
Previous experience has kept them all locked in the pig pen for at least two weeks… but not this time. A couple of days later I looked out of the kitchen window to see Apple and Sauce meandering around the paddock with a little line of piglets in tow.
I rushed down to see what was happening and with the horror stories from my pig breeding neighbours rushing through my brain I was inevitably anxious. This was the only time Apple has shown some degree of maternal instinct, she swiftly returned to her offspring shepherding them back into the pig pen as did Sauce.
Sauce then lay down and all 13 piglets piled in for a drink from her milk bar and she welcomed them all. This pig is a natural mother, embracing all, only when the piglets can’t find a teat do they give up and go in search of their own mother who then willingly obliges. And in subsequent days I have seen the reverse… never before have I witnessed this kind of maternal duty, sharing all aspects of child care. One pig stays with the babies whilst the other wanders the paddock returning in due course to take over creche duties. Astounding.
It turns out that Sauce needs Apple to be the strong but laidback in the same way Apple needs Sauce to play instinctual mother earth. What a team!