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"And then there were ten" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, August 2010

Last Tuesday began in quite a planned, expected, and orderly fashion. We each woke up in our respective abodes, completed our morning chores, came together promptly at 8am for the weekly garden meeting, then headed to the potato pasture. Potato beetles – and their removal from our potato plants - were the only plans for the next couple of hours.

It was a hot sun shining down on us at D Acres Farm, and the sounds of pigs rooting, hawks calling, flies buzzing, & the local apiaries twittering their own news pulled our minds away from the sweat vigorously rolling off our foreheads. Slowly, though, as the minutes passed, there was one other sound that finally garnered the full attention of our frontal lobes.

"No way!"

"No, it couldn't be!"

"Really?!"

"How is that possible?"

"She's a miracle momma!"

To the best of my memory, each of these statements was uttered with various exclamations of incredulity over the course of the next thirty seconds. When that ceased, all we were left with was the looming question: "what do we do now?"

One of our sows had piglets. Ten of them. In the field, and sooner than we were expecting. She had herself intelligently positioned in the bottom corner, a little nest dug into the ground. Even while nursing she was on the lookout, surveying, alert, ready to be on defense. Unnecessarily, perhaps, as our boar seemed to know to leave well enough alone, and the other sow found the day's assortment of mud and roots intriguing enough; danger wasn't imminent. There was merely one dead one; the other ten piglets were very much alive. Nine were big and strong, with a tenth runt that immediately won us over with an underdog's charm.

Our new momma's hardest work was done. Ours was just beginning. Our prior litter – less than two months old at this point - currently occupied our pig-house suite. Where were we to put them? Like all firstborns they were thrust from the spotlight to the sidelines in a matter of moments. For ours, this meant the bottom half of our greenhouse/animal house/chicken coop cob structure. To get them there meant catching them. And winning.

Now, the last time I wrestled a pig I ended up riding it inadvertently as the pernicious oinker did 0-60 out of its cage with an alacrity unexpected of the average porker. Granted, our two-months-old piglets were smaller than the contestants of that virgin pig tussle, but smaller also means a lower center of gravity and a cuteness that inserts hesitation into a forceful grapple. No excuses, though: success was had and we returned to the field for Stage Two.

The big pigs were distracted with, what else, food, while the momma sow was led inside the pig house with, of course, food. The little piglets were then scooped up lickety-split and spirited away in cardboard boxes to re-join their mother inside. Done.

A week later, the older piglets are now settled into Pigland, out of our greenhouse-animal house and into a home of their own with field space to run and root. The new piglets have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size.

There's only one problem: the littlest of little guys is hitting the bottle…not too successfully. Which is to say that we've begun bottle-feeding the runt of the litter. He gets picked on something awful, and his joints & muscles don't want to work quite right. At this point we've all held him too close, have all pushed his siblings off when they crowd him out or bite his tail…we have to try and help him along, just for a short while.

We'll see. Life, death, the fermentation of compost, the creation of our next garden space, and the slow growth of winter's bacon. It's all right here, a step outside our back door. Remarkable, isn't it?

Beth Weick is a resident of D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, a non-profit service organization. She first came to the farm in April 2008 as an intern, and now focuses her work on gardening, tending to the animals, and writing. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org.

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