By Becky Clifton
DAISY MAE AND BERTHA SUE WITH PIGLETS
Down on the farm we have been busy with new life. Life born on our farm and a new animal that has breathed life into our farm.
Our big sow, Bertha Sue, farrowed in late June. As we all know, it has been an extremely scorching summer and that did not make the process easy for her. This is the third litter of piglets that she has blessed the farm with. She had 14 piglets this time but two were stillborn and a weak one died the first day.
Bertha did not seem to be her normal self after farrowing. She would not eat and kept making trips to her water hole. We just thought it was the heat. But on the fourth day after farrowing, we found another dead piglet. At first, we thought she had laid on one—these things frequently happen during the first week. However, when we counted piglets, there were still 11.
That is when we realized she had a piglet stuck in her for four days and that is why she was not acting right. We quickly called Swainsboro Animal Hospital and Dr. Ace got her all fixed up. He warned us that the next 24 hours would be critical and to prepare ourselves, but how do you prepare to care for 11 piglets without their mother?
Bertha’s milk production had already fallen off as her body was trying to fight infection. We had to supplemental feed the piglets from a pan. They took right to it and thankfully mama pig pulled through.
That was six weeks ago, and all the piglets are thriving little rascals. Even the runt that we nicknamed “Potato Chip” because she was so thin. The piglets are now in the process of weaning and being trained in electric fencing and Bertha Sue is getting a much-deserved break.
While these piglets are cute, they play a significant role on the farm as we rotate them across the pasture and through the woods. Over the next several months, they will be our little tractors and we will plant fall cover crops of rye and clover behind them.
Of course, they will also munch on soaked hog feed from a local feed mill, Peifer Feeds down in Metter. Soaking the feed makes it more easily digestible for the pigs and there is less waste—not that anything could be wasted around here with the turkey, guinea, chicken, and duck entourage.
By around January, these piglets will have grown into 250-pound meat hogs, and they will take a trip to a local abattoir over in Vidalia known as McLemore’s where they will be turned into delicious pork chops and bacon that will feed several families.
That is the circle of life on a farm that employs biodynamic and permaculture principles. We are thankful for the joy they bring us and the work they do bringing microbial life back to our soils.
Just a few weeks ago, the capstone of our farm arrived. Her name is Daisy Mae, and she is a jersey milk cow. According to Karl-Ernst Osthaus in The Biodynamic Farm: Developing a Holistic Organism, “The cow is the fundamental element of a farm: soil, farm, and cow forming a union. The cow’s complex digestive system means that its dung will bring more vitality to the soil than that of any other animal.”
Daisy Mae is not currently in milk, and we are not sure if she is bred. She is our long-term project, but she has already changed the entire energy of the farm and she is providing valuable manure for our compost piles which will feed next year’s garden.
In the future, we hope that she will be turning our pastures into delicious raw milk that we skim the cream from for our coffee and make our own butter with. The whey and excess milk can be fed to the chickens and the pigs, and another circle is completed on the farm.