Baby piglets cause excitement at the fair

Photo by Jenny Kirk Erin McCoy, left, holds up a newborn piglet as Veronica Meyer, Odessa Knochenmus, Jaida Fricke and sisters Elizabeth, Evelyn and Clara Buyck look on at the Ralco Enrichment Center at the Lyon County Fair.

MARSHALL — While people of all ages filtered in and out of the Ralco Enrichment Center on the grounds of the Lyon County Fairgrounds, Tracy natives Erin McCoy and Dave Rialson delivered 16 baby piglets.

“They’re so cute,” 10-year-old Hannah Lyons said.

The farrowing process started at 9:44 a.m. and quickly grabbed the attention of fairgoers.

“I went to see the rabbits and someone started screaming, ‘The babies are coming,'” Veronica Meyer said. “I came running over, but I missed it. Then I had to take my granddaughter to an appointment and got back a minute too late for the next one being born. I’m thinking the third time’s a charm.”

Meyer did get to see the miracle of birth when the third piglet was born. And the fourth — all the way up to the 16th one.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I was a farm kid, but I didn’t typically see them until afterwards. This is great that they explain everything. I’m amazed with the whole process.”

Meyer even ended up becoming the official timer for the births.

“It’s been so fun seeing the births and watching everybody who is out here,” Meyer said.

To know when a piglet is about to arrive, McCoy said it helps to pay attention to the animal’s behavior.

“They’re supposed to deliver one every 20-30 minutes, but she’s taking her time,” she said.

There were two hours between the first and second piglets, but then the delivery pace picked up considerably. In fact, 10 were born in nearly an hour — the fifth was born at 1:08 p.m. and 61 minutes later, piglet No. 14 was born.

“They’re actually coming too quickly and the umbilical cords are already broke off,” McCoy said. “You really have to stimulate them to get them breathing.”

The 12th piglet took a few breaths but didn’t survive. McCoy believes it was because of a loss of oxygen caused in large part because of the rapid delivery of several piglets.

“It’s umbilical cord had a clot in it,” she said. “We tried, but we just couldn’t save it.”

While the average litter size is 12, having 16 isn’t uncommon.

“I’ve seen sows have 24 or 25 before,” Rialson said. “That’s a full belly’s worth.”

Immediately after birth, piglets are covered in a special powder called Mistral. They also have access to heat lamps — called comfort zones.

“It’s a powder to help dry them off and warmed up so they can start eating,” McCoy said.

McCoy said most farms typically cross-foster newborn piglets.

“They put all the runts on one mom to reduce the competition,” she said. “You take an above-average mom and do that. Unfortunately, we only have one mom here, so I’m trying to help all the runts eat.”

The piglets definitely differed in size. And the more that arrived, the more difficult it was to keep track of them. McCoy said they use a system to make sure all of them get enough colostrum.

“What we’re doing now is split suckling,” she said. “If their belly is full, we put them in the tub. We don’t want them to push the newest or the smallest ones away because they need colostrum.”

McCoy added that during the farrowing process, a sow lets her milk down. But afterward, she decides when to let her piglets eat.

“She’ll squeal and they’ll wake up and come running to eat,” McCoy said. “Within 24 hours, the babies decide where they’ll eat and that’s were they’ll go back to every time.”

Since the sow is roughly 450 pounds, it makes sense to keep her in a maternity pen.

They’re supposed to reduce the chance of the sow laying on one of the piglets,” McCoy said.

This marked the sow’s third litter.

“You can breed the sows at 200 days old or 300 pounds,” McCoy said. “She’s bred to be a good breeder. Her genetics are for large litters, good milking and good mothering skills.”

Rialson said gestation is just under four months.

“It’s 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days,” he said.

Piglets grow very quickly.

“They’re weaned at 21 days,” McCoy said. “They’ll be between 13 and 14 pounds by then. They grow really fast.”

The Ralco Enrichment Center is open and free of charge. Along with the pigs, there are a lot of other animals to see and activities to take part in.

“The sow and piglets will stay here during the entire fair,” Rialson said. “Then they’ll be going to a 4-H family, I believe.”