Here we are already, less than two weeks from Christmas and over halfway through Big Marie's pregnancy. It's hard for me to believe that she's over halfway through her 114 day gestation period already. I also still have a hard time believing that Big Marie got pregnant via artificial insemination on my first time trying despite all of the warnings I got from people saying that she was "too fat and too old" to be bred. Granted those were valuable lessons to learn, but I am still partly in disbelief that she took the first go around.
Now that she is confirmed pregnant and we are getting further along in her gestation, there are certain preparations I am making to ensure that the piglets are getting everything they need to develop properly as well as keeping her as healthy as possible.
One of the biggest concerns I initially had when breeding Big Marie was her weight. While she is a very large pig in stature she was also overweight. Fat pigs can have difficulty not only getting pregnant, but it also typically leads to issues when it comes time to farrow if they do manage to get pregnant. I put Big Marie on a crash diet a month before insemination, cutting her daily feed intake from 6 lbs/day down to 3lbs/day. It was an aggressive cut, but necessary to get her in healthy body condition for breeding. She quickly dropped weight, and I maintained this daily ration through her first month of pregnancy.
Because I got a positive test result with the ultrasound at 18 days post breeding, this is a sign that she is carrying a large litter of at least 11-12. With potentially lots of little piglets in there developing and her being in good body condition, around a month or so into her pregnancy I upped her feed intake to 4 lbs/day. I have maintained that daily ration until now.
At this point (65+ days) in the gestation period, the piglets are demanding more nutrients to develop and grow properly, while her body still has to maintain and develop the products of conception (uterus, placenta, mammaries). Because I was able to get her into shape before breeding and early in her pregnancy, she doesn't have excessive fat reserves to burn for calories to maintain her body condition. Basically, this means that without increasing her feed, the babies will take as much as they can for proper development not leaving much for her. So, I have increased her feed again to 6lbs/day. She will maintain this daily ration until the very end where it will be increased again when she is lactating and nursing her piglets.
I have also added supplemental fiber to her diet in the form of wheat bran. As with a human pregnancy, sows and gilts can have issues with constipation so the fiber will help keep things moving along for her and hopefully reduce those issues. The fiber addition will also satiate her hunger, and let her feel fuller in between feedings. During my research I found some interesting studies on the piglets themselves as a result of their mother being fed a high fiber diet during gestation. Results show that these piglets grew faster than those fed a lower fiber diet, and also showed less aggressive tendencies. Whether this is true or not, it certainly won't hurt and if at the very least it helps her through her pregnancy it's worth it.
Prior to breeding Big Marie I never vaccinated her before nor did I give it much thought. I take a middle of the road approach to vaccines generally speaking. I think that they have their place, but like most other forms of medication they are overused and their use has spiraled out of control. So, I decided that I would minimally vaccinate to cover some of the more common diseases that could be detrimental to her health as well as the piglets, and ones that she could pass on immunization in utero. While there are countless vaccines I could give her to cover anything and everything, I have opted for more broad spectrum vaccinations. I firmly believe in the power of diet and environment and how it contributes to overall health and naturally immunity. With her being raised outside the natural way, she is extremely healthy. But, she is at a higher risk for certain diseases carried by other species such as birds, but at very low risk for certain diseases seen in confinement type settings. Regardless, I am administering Farrow Sure Gold and ProSystem TGE to protect against some of the "biggies" that are a realistic threat.
Right now, making sure Big Marie is getting proper nutrition as well as the necessary vaccinations are the top priorities in addition to her overall comfort. As she gets closer to farrowing, we are going to convert the feeder pigs house to a farrowing hut to give her a comfortable place to safely have her piglets outside in the beginning of February. I will be sure to post all the details about that when the time comes as it is essential for piglet survival.
To say that we are ecstatic for our first litter of piglets is an understatement. She's such an incredible pig and I cannot wait to see what a wonderful mama she will be. Oh, and the photo opportunities that will come as well!
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