Sorry if this is a bit long, but I hope it puts the reader right into the straw with me & shares the gore & the glory of the experience.
I got back to the farm from a night away and went straight to check our first British Lop Sow Sally. She had seven piglets scrambling around her teats and her ‘lady bits’. Some were clean and bright while others still had a thick layer of mucus around most of their body. Thanks to their determination these had at least broken through sufficiently to breathe. I cleaned the piglets up with some clean straw and settled mother and little ones down. Then I watched quietly for about five minutes. The scene of quiet had me fairly convinced that there were no more piglets to come, so I headed into the house to catch up on a variety of issues that required my attention, waded through the carnage created by the young Labrador puppies overnight and headed upstairs to change into clothes more appropriate to porcine midwifery. When I got back to the farrowing pen, barely ten minutes later, five more piglets were squirming about. As I set to cleaning these up, small shrivelled, black mummified Halloween, horror story of a creature slid out of her back end. Sows quite often give birth to these distorted mini versions of themselves. They tend to have died at a much earlier stage of the pregnancy, and though often quite putrid, the sow seals the monstrosity in its bag so that it rarely affects the rest of the litter. I set the nasty mess immediately to one side just as more slithering hot baby pigs began to squirt out of the mother. They were now coming so quickly that I barely had time to assess each one as it landed onto the straw bedding. I quickly pulled each piglet, firmly but gently away from the mother so that the umbilical cord would shred in a natural way. Cut the cord and the piglet chances bleeding to death. Next I would clear the mucus from around the head and pass my finger through the mouth as far back as I could without choking off the air supply. Eight more slipped out like sausages out of a machine. Unfortunate imagery, I know, but accurate. Two came out and unlike the others were neither breathing nor wriggling. I took the first, went through the routine described above, rubbed its side roughly with clean straw, still no sign of life. I then held it upside down and patted its sides quite smartly while swing it gently but bringing it to a fairly sharp halt at the bottom of each swing. These actions combined seek to clear the airwaves and shock the pathetic little creature’s system back into life. This all takes quite a few moments of concentrated activity during which it is just about possible to continue to go through the basic actions needed to process the other slithering lives as they pop out. An immediate decision needed to be made, however, as I certainly do not have the skill to do this to two unbreathing piglets simultaneously as well as tending to all the others. I put the second unbreathing piglet to one side. Fortunately after a few minutes of application the heart of the still corpse in my hands began to beat, although the lungs were not pumping and the eyes were still firmly closed. The gently beating heart encouraged me to continue until the eyes opened slowly and the little mite took its first breath. Now breathing, but with no strength or co-ordination in its body or legs, I inserted the good sized but paralysed piglet in among its siblings to keep it warm. I checked through the other piglets and attended to the last few newborns. Nineteen live in all. Putting the little near dead piglet in with its fellows also meant that it was jostled constantly by the general push and bustle for a limited number of teats. This often works as a way of massaging the life back into these borderline cases. I checked on this one regularly over the following hours or so and each time it was a little stronger until it was soon impossible to recognise it among it fellow guzzlers.
It is nearing mid night. I have sat with Sally and her 19 survivors since around 4 O’clock. I am writing during one of the many lulls in activity. A very jolly Spanish themed Chieftains tune is playing via Itunes on my laptop. At this moment a cockerel across roosting with his girlfriend on the side of another farrowing pen decides that he really want to join in with the jolly tune and starts crowing very loudly indeed. Sally has decide to dig around to find the somewhat well-trodden placentas which she has firmly ejected over the last few hours and have a goulish but very important midnight feast. I have made a cordon of packed straw and half pushed, half thrown, gently of course, all nineteen piglets into the corner under the low heat lamp, and managed to persuade them that this is the safest place for them until their mother settles down again. Her snack completed, Sally tries to impress upon me that she really should be allowed to squeeze in with and on top of her babies, which of course would mean that I might as well be in bed and just let nature take its course. Trouble is that nature in this instance would probably see no more than one third of her babies survive. Of course, even with all my efforts, this may be still what happens. Persuading a very large and determined sow that she should not lie down on top of her offspring under a very inviting heat lamp, is none too easy, but eventually we compromise and I allow Sally to lie with her head next to the pile of wriggling, but content piglets.