Piglets were born this past Sunday. Plum, Merck Forest and Farmland Center’s heritage breed sow, gave birth to three in the early morning hours, and by the time Colene, the Assistant Farm Manager, arrived for morning chores, Plum had given birth to a fourth. Three more piglets were born during chore time, unfortunately one was stillborn, but with apprentice Emily checking in to make sure everything was going well, the other piglets and Mom did just fine.
Six curly-tailed, pink piggies might be considered a small litter by some, especially when you look at the size of the newborns—they weighed in at an average of 2-3lbs (As Colene put it, “the size of a homemade loaf of bread”), which, all-totaled, still only equals a fraction of Plum’s 500 lbs. But, piglets grow quickly, and six piglets, plus a sow, can have a big impact on the land.
This past summer, Merck used a group of pigs to help manage the farmscape. The pigs cleared overgrown brush in the understory around the farm by grubbing around in the dirt, scratching their itches on fence posts and small trees. The six summer pigs made a huge difference in the viewshed, clearing densely vegetated areas that had previously blocked visitor’s and staff’s views into the pastures.
The new piglets, though little now, will also impact the land. As they grow, they will frequently move to new pastures, both in the fields and the forest. Pigs that stay too long in one place can cause erosion of topsoil and chew down too much vegetation, but a rotational grazing pattern will help create a varied landscape that respects both agricultural needs and those of the forest ecosystem.
But…ideas of land management and stewardship might be too much for Merck’s little piglets. Right now, they are comfortable in the warmth of Plum, heat lamps, and the straw bedding in the Small Animal Barn.
Come visit Plum and the piglets in the Small Animal Barn at the farm!