This is Marge our newest fixture on the homestead. She is one special pig and life here wouldn’t be the same without her. Marge has changed the way we homestead forever, but that was not the plan when we picked her and her brother and sister up from a local farmer. For the last several years we have raised pigs on the homestead. We raise three pigs a year. We typically buy them at about 8 weeks of age, and raise them until they are 7 months old. At seven months, they are just the right size to go to the butcher and provide our family with all of the pork we need for the year. When Marge and her siblings first came to our homestead they were like all the other pigs we had raised.
After a few weeks they became friendly and enjoyed laying in the shade on a hot day.
We did not name all of the pigs but the one with pink nose we named “Rosie”. The three little pigs were happy and we enjoyed having them on the homestead. They grew fast and soon it was almost time for my least favorite day of the year. The day before they were to go to the butcher I received a text from Tracy with this picture attached
For the second year in a row our pigs escaped the day before they were to go to the butcher. By the time I got home Tracy had them all secure back in their area. No small feat for a girl from suburban New Jersey. The next morning we rose before the sun to put the pigs on the trailer and get them to the butcher. There was only one problem. They didn’t want to get on the trailer, and no amount of coaxing with food would help. Finally we were able to get the two smaller pigs on the trailer and had to leave the biggest girl behind. She was just too stubborn and too big. We called the butcher and they understood and we were able to schedule another date for her 2 months out. Homesteading rarely goes as planned and often setbacks can be opportunities. I had been toying with the idea of inseminating a gilt (girl who’s had no babies). Now it was time to convince the boss. I ordered catalogs, did research and began to track the gilts cycle. Pigs come into heat every 21 days, so we only had one shot to get it right. Even though we had done the research, we were still unsure if we going to attempt the insemination. Then we got the sign we were looking for. I received a cyber Monday email from http://www.shipleyswine.com/ with great deals on the products we were looking for. Who knew pig semen would be a Cyber Monday special! We decided, as we always do, to take the leap. Shipley’s swine was amazing to deal with. I even called and talked to the gentleman who works on inseminating their swine. He spent a half an hour on the phone with me explaining the process. Then I called and ordered our semen and supplies. We chose less expensive option that allowed us to choose the breed of the boar but not the actual boar we would receive the donation from. The arrival of the semen had to coincide with her heat cycle, and after talking to Shipley’s, we picked a day that worked. When the semen arrived we found out who the daddy would be. His name was Night Wolf.
Next we bought a used wine refrigerator to store the semen at the right temp (59-64 degrees F). Then we waited for the tell-tale signs that she was in heat. This was a nerve wracking time and we never would have made it through without the expert advice of Our friends Tom, Paul, and Kate (themoderndaysettler) on Instagram. Finally our gilt became very vocal and friendly so we knew the time was close. We were waiting for standing heat. This is when a female pig will stand like a statue when you press on her back and she will even let you sit on her.
Then it was time to do the deed. We had watched online video after video. Shipley’s even had their own, but we were still nervous. We needed to give her three doses of semen in 36 hours, which would require a late night dose as well. The first dose went as expected. A little awkward, but some of the semen went in so we were encouraged.
The night dose was a total failure with most of the dose going on the ground. We had one more shot to get it right. The next day our friend, Randy, stopped by to help. He is an experienced farmer and great with animals. With Randy rubbing her side we were able to get the whole dose in just like they showed on the videos. Randy had the magic touch. Now it was time to wait. Since it was now obvious that she was staying we decided to name this stubborn pig. We agreed that she would be called Marge because she was so big (remember large Marge from the Peewee Herman movie?). After 21 days Marge did not go back into heat and this was a good sign that she was pregnant. We cancelled her date at the butcher and waited some more. A pig’s gestation is 114 days, but they don’t really show any outward signs until the last few weeks. We waited and watched and Marge not only became our best friend, but she also became a bit of a local celebrity. We had been posting about the Marge saga on social media (Instagram: bearded_fisherman) and everyone loved her. She even had visitors and everywhere we went, people were asking about her.
She helped around the homestead by holding parts while we worked
We became very invested in Marge and she became very affectionate.
We even said goodnight to her every night.
Finally Marge began showing signs that she would be a new mama soon. We had a vacation planned and we were scared to leave but my mother and older son took good care of Marge while we were gone. We even face timed with her. My Mom still brings her apples daily as they have become good friends.
Then on April 1st we checked on marge when we got up and there they were 10 beautiful piglets, right on time.
We were so happy and scared at the same time we had never had newborn pigs before and not all of the stories we read were good ones. We kept an eye on them but sadly we lost one. We made some adjustments to Marge’s accommodations and so far have been lucky enough to not lose another. If you have never seen small piglets before you are missing something. That are amazing and we could watch them for hours.
They are less than two weeks old and they love to play and itch their butts
Marge even takes them out and teaches them how to forage. On warm days she even feeds them outside.
Because of the current “stay at home” order, we have been able to spend hours with Marge and the piglets. Their cold little noses have been a wonderful distraction from the current situation in the world. When Marge wouldn’t get on the trailer in November, we had no idea how much joy she would bring us, and how much we would need the happiness of new life that she has brought to the homestead. Often people say, “in failure there is opportunity” and we laugh it off as an old cliche. But Marge and her babies are living proof that it is true.