Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Carrying Sticks

"Cliff, come to the barn with me, I need help shutting up a sow." "She's carrying sticks." When my Dad would say that I knew that we would be on our way to the unexpected. The idea was to put the pregnant sow in her own pen because she was about to have babies. She needed to be by herself to do this. Having pigs, as we called it, in the open, with the rest of the expectant mothers close by would have spelled sure disaster for the upcoming litter. Hogs have an instinct that sometimes won't allow the very young to survive. The brand new young ones apparently look like a good meal to other sows. When pigs are 'farrowing', (the correct term for having pigs) they go into kind of a trance while they do it. You can walk right up to a normally unapproachable sow. For that reason the new piglets are at risk from other sows until mom comes to her senses. If they survive to the point where mom is awake then they will probably be fine. The mother becomes very dominant and grouchy. Not unlike...oh never mind.
The prelude to all of this was the nesting. Back then we wanted to keep the sows together as long as possible because they could be fed and watered in a group which was much easier. They didn't have any hard surfaced floors to walk on. Even the barn had a dirt floor.
Most sows would begin to build a nest in preparation for farrowing. The nests were usually burrowed out holes in the dirt floor of the barn. The sow would then go outside in search of 'stuff' to add to her nest.
The unexpected I referred to was trying to pen a sow in a place other than where she had started her nest. If we lucked out her nest would already be in a pen and all we would do is grab a gate and some baling wire and wire a gate across the opening. This good fortune seldom happened and then the battle was on. We always got them penned up but it could be a scary activity with a 400 pound sow barking at you while being pushed into quarters she didn't want to be pushed into.
Many years ago every hog lot would be surrounded by trees and a wood fence. Both were a good supply of sticks that the the sows could use for their nests. Within a few hours of farrowing a sow could be seen out in the barnyard by herself, picking up sticks in her mouth and carrying them into the barn. Thus the "She's carrying sticks" warning from Dad.
As my family began to get married and have children, Dad would in his own way ask whether the birth of the next grandchild was imminent by asking "Is she carrying sticks yet?" We seldom had to explain that because the boys in our family knew what he meant and didn't always let our wives in on the farm humor.
I recall coming down to the home place where we now live and telling Mom and Dad about a sudden burst of energy that Marilyn had as she was cleaning the house and the kennel and the cars and everything she could get her hands on all the while being about 12 months pregnant. At least in her opinion.
Dad said, "You'd better stay close to home, it sounds to be like she's carrying sticks."
My children know the story well, and so when I talked to my youngest on the phone yesterday, no explanation was necessary when I asked if Stephanie was carrying sticks yet. "No Dad, but I think very soon."
I know Tom well and guarantee that he's staying close at hand. There will soon be another Morrow.


Dan said...

These are some of the most exciting times of our lives, I hope all involved enjoy every minute.

JunieRose2005 said...


Loved this story...something I didn't know about pigs... ( See- I'm not a REAL farmer...but I bet my husband knew that about those mama pigs!)

Best of luck to all of you- with this new baby on the way!! What exciting times for you !!


Jerry said...

We used to bring in our sows to the farrowing house within the last week of their pregnancy. But every once in a while, one would sneak up on us and we'd have to drive through 3-foot high clover trying to find where she built her nest. It was usually a muddy bloody mess. Snatching up those newborn pigs while the mother is barking at you is no treat.

Great story. One that I could relate to easily.

Good luck with the new litter!

Rhodent said...

Wonderful story! Looks like another grandbaby for you to photograph and post on your blog will be arriving soon. I really do envy you!

Lee said...

That's a great story, Cliff. :)

nora said...

That made me teary, and not just at the memory of the smell or what happens to baby boy pigs soon after birth.
Seriously, I am thrilled for Tom and Stephanie, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles and cousins. Nothing better than a new baby.

Flip Flop Goddess said...

well dang, I never knew that about sows..I learn something new everytime I come here..

I cant wait to hear about the new lil Morrow..

Good Luck Grandpa...

Jamie Dawn said...

I love learning Farm lingo.
It's more fun than Pig Latin!!
I can't wait for the new Mini Morrow to arrive!!!
How fun!!

Rachel said...

Gee, growing up on the farm you would have thought I would have known this. Well, I didn't.

Sure hope all goes well with the arrival of the baby. I know they are so excited as Grandma and Grandpa are too!! I know you'll have a picture for us when he/she/they do get here!!

Ralph's Homespun Headlines said...

Great story Cliff. Another Morrow ready to enter the world - things are looking up. Keep us posted.

LZ Blogger said...

Cliff ~ Thanks for the farm education here. I really never knew any of this "farm stuff" before reading it here. The term "is she carrying sticks yet?" will NOW always mean "nesting" to me. Too bad about the other pigs trying to eat the babies. TALK ABOUT PIGS!
Have a GREAT weekend Cliff especially tomorrow night!
~ jb///

Cheyenne said...

Loved that story. I grew up all around farms but I never knew that about sows either. Thanks for the education. And good luck on that new baby...

Anonymous said...

just heard the good news - congrats cousin Tom! MEM

Cliff said...

Thanks MEM. I'll be seeing the group tomorrow and will pass on the word. He'll be tickled to hear from you.