People could learn a lot from pigs.
The community was a peaceful one. Ten sows, a boar and their offspring wandered happily in six acres of woodland and rough pasture. No farrowing crates or stalls. Shelters, arcs and sheds, each equipped with a mound of fresh straw, were available well spread out so that sows could choose where they had their litters. Detached residences suited them.
My original sow, Doughnut, and her eldest daughter, Lucky, always managed to farrow within a couple of days of each other and swapped babysitting duties. The first time it happened I went up the field to check the new litters and found Lucky out rooting around minus piglets. They weren’t in her arc. I’d heard of gilts (young sows) killing and eating their young but only in enclosed conditions. It was rare, but it seemed to be the only explanation.
Heavy-hearted I went to check on Doughnut. She was blissfully asleep under a mound of twenty-five replete babies. An hour later she was out rooting while Lucky was child-minding.
Another sow appointed herself as midwife. As soon as a pig started in labour she would stay nearby offering encouraging grunts and occasional comforting nuzzles.
Older piglets came under the watchful eye of Aunty. Aunty had been the runt of the litter but she was so friendly and anxious to please that I hadn’t the heart to send her on to the abattoir. She was also sterile. She saw her roll as guardian, keeping a watchful eye on adolescent youngsters, stopping scuffles, rounding up strays who wandered too far away from the group or appeared to be getting lost in the trees.
Eric the Boar wandered round rooting, sunbathing, allowing the older youngsters to clamber over him, and performing his husbandly duties as required.
Bad manners were not allowed in the community. The mothers were strict and dealt summarily with disobedient offspring. At feeding time any greedy piglet claiming more than its share would find mother’s snout tucked under its belly and it would fly through the air to remind it that more circumspect behaviour was expected.
©Percydale Press 2006