"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.