Chub started the pickup to drive to work, none too soon as
"Would you take eight or 10 ears of corn down to
Christmas Tree?" he asked and hurried off.
As a farm girl, I liked being useful in our family’s
farming enterprise, and that feeling survives. That day I was
needed by this pet pig. She rooted out under the lot fence,
leaving her shelter and a nice bed of straw in order to hide out
in the woods alone. Why?
How could she possibly have known that all of those babies
were inside her? She was given to our Nancy and Walt by a
neighbor who found her, alone in his cornfield. Porky had no
contact with other hogs except with Unc’s red gilt, which
was also to have babies soon.
That gilt was a Christmas gift to Chub’s uncle who lives
with us. These two young mothers-to-be had no mature contact with
their mothers; their only experience with other swine was for
breeding and that brief encounter didn’t teach them about
birthing or mothering! Porky needed to be alone.
All four of us searched the woods for the missing gilt, and we
warned the children that their pet would be a vicious animal if
she had babies to protect.
Chub said, "She’ll come up when she’s
hungry." But walking back toward the house, we found her,
bedded down on dry needles in a clump of cedar trees with
babies. Nancy immediately renamed the pet "Christmas
Tree." Chub counted 13 piglets; two were mashed.
Actually, counting again, there were only 10 live ones. Nancy
said, "I want that puny one, the runt, for my very
That morning, as I carried a bucket of corn to Christmas
Tree’s nursery, I was cautious not to cough, sneeze or clear
my throat; the young sow had accepted the responsibilities of
motherhood, and she had an enormous bunch to protect.
I found the whole family sleeping in the warm sun. When I
poured the corn into her old metal pan, Christmas Tree snorted
and sprung up, scattering all 10 of those squealing babies. Then
I took the bucket down to the creek for water. I recalled my
childhood as I stepped on some soft, bright-green moss and walked
around beds of violets. Oh, the wonderful smell of the rain
soaked woods in spring!
I dipped the bucket in clear water where, six weeks before,
I’d chopped a hole in thick ice so the cattle could drink.
While the young sow drank, I again counted 10 babies, and all
were doing well.
When I returned to the house, I smelled cigar smoke and heard
the old caned rocker creaking. Uncle Archie, 81, was happy. He
heard the door close and called to me, "My red gilt had 11
babies in the night." We went right out to see them.
Chub will drive Christmas Tree up to the lot as soon as her
brood can follow.
We’re cattle people, but with Christmas Tree’s 10
survivors and the red gilt’s new family of 11, we’ll
need more shelter, fences and a water line to the hog lot.
We’ll all have more evening chores as we care for these 23
animals until the newcomers are ready for market.
Unc’s farm had both cattle and hogs, and we’re glad
Nancy and Walt could learn about producing both beef and pork.
They’ll know how both sausage and pork chops get to the