This past weekend Gizmo and I poured Nick a big glass of orange juice and walked outside to give it to him. He’d been out cutting down dead trees for the past couple hours so we figured, rightfully so, he was thirsty. Just as we get to the spot where I'd most recently heard chain sawing we see him, running towards us at full speed.
“What’s wrong!?” I yelled.
“Gumball’s in heat!”
Sure enough, there was Gumball, one of the original Farmstead Tamworths, who is now pushing 600 pounds, barking at his heels.
Gizmo and I turned too and quickly made the jump up onto the tractor where we now sat, an adorable family of three, being circled by pigs.
“This is what it would be like if we were stranded in shark-infested waters,” I said to Nick.
“Yeah,” he agreed, “If sharks lived in close knit family groups.”
He was right. At our feet we had all ages of life. From tiny piglets to adolescents to our bigger sows, like Gumball. We’ve always raised our pigs like this, as a multi-generational community, and have been happy with the results.
“Well you know what that means…” I started.
Over the next couple days we watched the girls closely…when Gumball is in heat everyone usually follows suit. She has a way of riling everyone in the herd up. Finally, last night, all signs pointed to yes.
Nick prepared the semen in our kitchen, using my bright red Le Creuset cake pan, because it’s the perfect length to defrost the semen from the tank. Once mixed we trucked down as a family to Sampson’s forest. We prefer to AI near Sampson, our boar, because the success rate is better. Sure enough, he was there, foaming at the mouth. Nick quickly put Savannah and Gumball in with him to keep them out of the mix and turned to decide who would get AI'd.
Picture This: Me standing in the forest with Gizmo on my back, chattering away at the little piggies squealing around our feet, while I hold two bottles of semen and two applicator straws. Nick is methodically moving from pig to pig, rubbing their udders, applying pressure to their backs and wiping off their lady parts with a rag (when pigs are in heat they tend to nose each other a lot making very muddy unmentionables). In his back pocket is a big bottle of which the only words I can make out are, “LUBE”.
One of the Old Spots, Lady Macbeth, stands for him, but then decides to promptly lay down.
“It’s not called laying heat” I hear him tell her.
I resist the urge to make a joke and instead smile as she makes gleeful little grunts. These Old Spots sure know how to enjoy life.
Finally he finds two Tamworths who are in actual standing heat. He worked quickly and professionally. Wipe, lube, insert, massage (we maintain the secret to bigger litters is massaging the udder while inseminating), squeeze, remove.
“Pull and pray means something different when you’re a pig farmer,” I say.
And that’s exactly what we did. We prefer not to AI but, in our effort to continue the growth of our Heritage Breeds, bringing in diverse genetic stock is important. AI isn’t cheap and it’s not a guarantee.
So here’s hoping that 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days from now we’ll be welcoming more piglets to the farm. We chose to AI Piggy Smalls, AKA The Notorious P.I.G with Tamworth sperm. She was our number one piglet last June and should make incredible babies with the boar we selected. Our other girl, for who we have no name yet, was AI’d with Large Black semen. Crossing the genetics is a test to experiment with hybrid vigor in heritage genetics.
As we headed back home I spot two little weaner pigs humping each other.
“Love is in the air,” I smiled just as Gizmo let out a big piggy sized squeal.
My heart swelled and I beamed from ear to ear. This is our life and I love it.
I resisted the urge to hold his hand though…I know where that hand had been.