As some of you may be aware via the social media networks, we recently had to deal with an orphan piglet.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Ellie was left orphaned after her other siblings died overnight. I arrived on the morning of Monday 6th October to discover the piglets had passed away over night and that there was one left buried in straw, shaking. Mum was uninterested so I scooped her up and so began a massive learning curve for me.
I have not had children, but I have heard that the sleepless nights are a killer. I can relate to this fact now!
I spent my Monday researching the correct way to raise an orphan piglet which consisted of very specific instructions, such as a ratio of one third milk to two thirds lukewarm water. There were initially some problems which desperately needed solving. The farm did not have any substitute pig milk and therefore the nearest acceptable substitute was ordinary condensed milk served warm from a bottle. We did not know when she had last ate and whether she would even take condensed milk.
Thankfully she took to the bottle greedily and had a good strong suckle. As she was only a day old she was only capable of drinking about a teaspoon every two hours. She required a heat lamp and permanent observation (we were very unsure as to whether she would make it through to the end of the working day, let alone over night!)
She beat the odds and came home with me on Monday evening, and this was where I discovered how much getting up every two hours can kill a person. Just as I got to sleep, my alarm went off again! I would creep anxiously out of my bedroom and into the living room where I would peer with dread into the box, fully braced for the fact she may well have died. However, every time I began my dreaded peek, she would squeal in delight and I would breathe a sigh of relief. The pig had made it through the night!
As her first week progressed I continued my steep learning curve. For example, did you know that in order to wean a piglet off a bottle and onto drinking from a bowl, you should pick the pig up and plonk their head into the bowl of milk? No? Neither did I! It was the weirdest experience. It felt a little like I was drowning her and boy oh boy, did she scream! Thankfully, pigs are intelligent animals so it only took her two ‘drownings’ to realise that she had milk on tap by her bed.
It was amazing to see how fast she grew. She outgrew her first little plastic box within three days and has since progressed through two other boxes and onto the biggest box on the farm. After two days we felt confident enough to name her, and Ellie came about due to her piglet skin appearing like leather and her nose all wrinkled, just like a baby elephants would be.
She is now (at the time of writing this) two weeks and one day old, and she must have almost doubled in size. You will be happy to hear that she is doing well, drinking her milk quite happily and we are starting to consider her future with a bit more optimism.
The next stage will be to move her into the smaller pigsty in order for her to smell and communicate with other pigs (she has been living in isolation so far). We will then introduce her to other piglets (a litter which was born one week after her) once they are weaned and hopefully, a few months down the line she will be contentedly socialising with some new friends!
In the long term, as she is unrelated to our new boar, we can use her as a breeding sow on the farm and that way, once I have left, I can still come and visit little Ellie (who won’t be quite so little by then!)
Heritage Farming Apprentice