The year Chris was born was a record one for piglets. Because we were beset and
frantic, we didnt visit the barn that February or March. But that year, unknown
to us, George and Mary had twenty sowsmore than ever beforeand almost all of
them had record litters.
Usually a sow doesnt want to raise more than ten piglets, Mary explained to
me. Usually a sow has ten good working teats. (They actually have twelve, but
only ten are usually in working order.) When a sow has more than ten piglets,
somebody is going to lose outand that somebody is the runt.
A runt is distinguished not only by its small size and helpless predicament.
Unless pulled from the litter and nursed by people, a runt is usually doomed,
for it is a threat to the entire pig family. A runt will make this awful soundNynh!
Nynh! Nynh! Mary told me. Its just awful. It would attract predators. So the
sows response is often to bite the runt in half, to stop the noise. But
sometimes she cant tell whos doing it. She might bite a healthy one, or
trample some of the others trying to get to the runt. It isnt her fault, and
you cant blame her. It screws up the whole litter.
Every year on the farm, there was a runt or two. George would usually remove the
little fellow and bottle-feed it goat milk in the house. With such personalized
care, the runt will usually survive. But the class of 1990, with more than two
hundred piglets, had no fewer than eighteen runtsso many that George and Mary
had to establish a runt stall in the barn.
Christopher Hogwood was a runt among runts. He was the smallest of them allhalf
the size of the other runts. He is a particularly endearing piglet, Mary told
us, with enormous ears and black and white spots, and a black patch over one eye
like Spuds McKenzie, the bull terrier in the beer commercial. But Mary was
convinced he would never survive. It would be more humane to kill him, she
urged, than to let him suffer. But George saidas he often doesWhere theres
life, theres hope. The little piglet hung on.
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