Tag Archives: birth

Piglet Slippers

I did not grow up raising piglets. Of course, I raised hogs in 4-H and FFA as a child, but I only finished hogs. Starting a farrow to finish  business is something I got into in my adult life. I had to learn a lot about farrowing (birthing) piglets, rather quickly. Like anything, to be good, you need to keep learning. I have been incredibly lucky to have lots of pig experts in my life. Again and again I have reached out to them with basic questions and they have come back with thorough, knowledgeable answers.

This is the eponychium on a brand new piglet.

This is the eponychium on a brand new piglet.

In an effort to pay it forward, I decided to share something I find interesting and an average person might not know. The piglet slippers! Let me be clear, piglet slippers is not the correct term, it is the eponychium or the deciduous hoof capsule. Piglets are born with these to prevent hurting the sows reproductive tract. As soon as they are born they dry up and fall off.

The same piglet just a few minutes later. The eponychium is totally gone.

The same piglet just a few minutes later. The eponychium is totally gone.

It’s not just piglets who are born with eponychium, all animals with hooves have them. Unfortunately, I tried this summer to get some good shots of a baby calf’s capsules but the time I wiped the afterbirth off my hands and got my phone out, they were gone. That’s how fast they dry up. I’ll try again next calving season.

And a shot of a piglet in it's sack demonstrating how the eponychium works. This was a healthy, alive piglet by the way.

And a shot of a piglet in it’s sack demonstrating how the eponychium works. This was a healthy, alive piglet by the way.

This is a really fascinating part of birth. Oddly, I can’t remember ever being taught about this in my animal science classes, it was one of those things I had to ask about. I hope I was able to pass on some hog knowledge to you today! 

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Birthday Piglets!

I had the week of September 13th all planned. It was my birthday week so happy hours, brunches, friends and my yearly haircut were all on the calendar. I had everything planned around M-Pig, she was due to farrow (give birth) the 16th.

Brand new piglets! Fresh from the oven.

Brand new piglets! Fresh from the oven.

But the best laid plans are often foiled, especially when animals are involved. M-Pig acted like she was ready to farrow in the 16th, she had milk, she was off her feed, she was HUGE!  I was ready! But…nothing. I was ok with this because I figured she was going to wait and have them on my birthday, because that is the kind of pig she is, so kind and thoughtful. However, the 17th went by and nothing, then 18th (my birthday!), and most of the 19th. Birthday dinner was postponed, as were the happy hours and brunches.



Finally, mid-morning of the 19th, M-Pig’s demeanor changed drastically. She no longer wanted to eat the past the prime peaches Noble Orchards  (thanks guys, the pigs loved them!) donated to the cause, she didn’t want to have belly rubs, she just wanted to sleep in her nest. I figured she’d start to farrow as soon as it got dark. She did.

My first pig selfie. I look exhausted because I am.

My first pig selfie. I look exhausted because I am.

I knew it was going to be a long night for everyone involved. This was M-Pig’s and my, first time farrowing. I’ve helped lots of cows do it, but this was my first pig and I was scared! I really like M-Pig and did my best to learn everything I could about this process so I could help her if she needed it. But M-Pig was a total champ about the whole thing. She had her first 7 piglets within a few hours, with no help at all. It was amazing watching these tiny, little, spotted piglets enter the world. The last two piglets took longer and were both born dead. I tried to revive them like we do with baby calves, but I had no luck.

Aunt Hoot dog was very worried about these little pigs!

Aunt Hoot dog was very worried about these little pigs!

I stayed with M-Pig and her piglets until all the afterbirth had been passed and they seemed to be settled in and happy. I kinda felt like I was in college again, pulling an all nighter because I didn’t finish a project in time (I’m too old for that now, it hurt!).

A milk drunk piglet. Don't worry little guy, we've all been there.

A milk drunk piglet. Don’t worry little guy, we’ve all been there.

I made sure M-Pig was up, eating and drinking before I went to bed. That has actually been the most challenging part. She is so focused on being a Mama and not squishing her piglets, she stays frozen when her babies are around her. She is getting better about it though! This morning she was asking for breakfast and got up all on her own.

Getting M-Pig up to eat and drink.

Getting M-Pig up to eat and drink.

Stay tuned Beefjar readers, there will be many more pigtures to come! And a few ranch days for those of you that live in the area!

Just doing piglet things.

Just doing piglet things.



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Farrowing Time!

A pig’s gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days or 114 days. I am well acquainted with this knowledge because I am about to experience for first solo pig birth. And it’s like Christmas for me. My very first sow, M-pig is due next week with her first litter. As you all recall, I’ve been anticipating this day since the end of May!

Yes, I took a video of M-Pig and her boarfriend.

All summer I’ve been extra careful with her diet and care. I’ve spent a lot of time with her, giving her attention and lots and lots of brushes and baths. I figure, if this pig really likes me, she’s not going to care too much when I assist her with her birth because she’ll trust me. I’m also looking forward to having a ranch day or two so my clients can meet their meat and I want tame pigs and piglets.

She is so close!

She is so close!


This week I have finished my “pig birthing kit” and worked on M-pig’s bedroom. I’m pleased to report I am pretty much ready for the blessed event. I’m watching videos on youtube, talking to my experts and reading books. I almost feel like it is a whisper silly that I am so nervous about one pig giving birth! I spent the whole summer watching and helping a couple hundred cows do it,  so this shouldn’t be that big of a deal for me.

Remember the Montana Cowboy? He helped me install some bumpers so the piglets have a place to hide from Mom.

Remember the Montana Cowboy? He helped me install some bumpers so the piglets have a place to hide from Mom.

I am doing the birth the “natural way”. That means I am not using a farrowing crate. A farrowing crate is a small pen that keeps the mama sow from rolling over and squishing her babies. My gilt is pushing 600 pounds, she couldn’t feel herself roll over on her babies even if she tried. I’m not using a crate for a few reasons. The first being I can’t afford it, pretty much all my money is going into buying more pigs. The second is since I have the time, I plan on being with M-pig during and after the birth. This will hopefully mitigate any loss until the piglets can figure things out for themselves. I do realize that I do face increased piglet loss by this choice, but I am going to try it and see how it goes.

My farrowing kit. My vet helped!

My farrowing kit. My vet helped!

I’m excited and proud of myself that I have reached this point in my hog operation. Honestly, I never thought I’d ever own a sow, let alone farrow one out! I’m getting ready to purchase a boar and build more pig pens, so I can keep expanding! Hopefully next Wednesday, my Wordless Wednesday will be cute, newborn piglets! Stay tuned!


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Wordless Wednesday: Newborn Moo



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You Put Your Arms WHERE? To do WHAT?

WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important to share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.

Every single cattle person I interact with loves their cattle. Our lives revolve around them and their needs. Their needs are met before our own. Their well-being is our first priority, always. When we have an animal in distress, we are in distress as well, and we do everything we possibly can to fix the situation.
I was reminded of this fact recently. It’s calving season in Northern California. Calving season is the best and worst time of our year. On one hand we are witnessing the birth of our future, new life and all the promise that brings. On the other hand, this is the time when things are most likely to go wrong.

Brown Ranch's first 2014 calf!

Brown Ranch’s first 2014 calf! Minutes old.

Just like when humans give birth, it is an event. Bodies change, hormones rage and things can go wrong. 98 percent of the time everything is fine, everyone is healthy. But sometimes, we do have problems. Often heifers, whom are giving birth for the first time, will need some assistance. Sometimes a cow will have a set of twins or a calf will be born backwards. In this case, both happened. In this video you will see our neighbor and family friend “pulling” a backward, twin, calf.

Unfortunately the calf you saw being pulled was not alive at birth and could not be resuscitated. However, her twin was alive and well!

Brand new twin.

Brand new twin.

When calves are born and are not breathing, there are certain methods we will use to resuscitate them. I’ve seen my father perform mouth to mouth on calves before and they lived! My Mom jokes that she decided to marry my Dad after watching him save a newborn calf. You can see Brian feeling and rubbing the chest, to double check that she was gone. This calf was already gone, so she felt no pain.

However when we do have a calf that is born dead, and without a twin for the cow to raise, we have methods to lessen the grief of the cow. Again we want our cattle to be happy, to do their jobs, and earn us an income so we can continue to ranch.

Cattle people work very hard to prevent pulling calves. I mean, honestly, is reaching your arms into the reproductive organs of a cow, something that you would WANT to do? No. This is why we use technology to improve what we do and hopefully prevent this from happening as much as we can.

This really isn't something we want to do.

This really isn’t something we want to do. But Brian is very good at it.

We use our knowledge of genetics and our understanding of EPDs (expected progeny differences) to manipulate our cattle herd. This means, calves are born with smaller birth weights (making birth easier on everyone, little babies are easier to push out!), but higher weaning weights. This makes us efficient. We are using technology to do more with less. I’ve been especially lucky in my lifetime to see these changes first hand. When I was a child, I remember watching my Dad pull way more calves than he does now. Our calves were also weaned at 500 pounds versus almost a 1000 now, all because we have access to better technology.

By adapting this technology into our herds we have improved the quality of our cattle’s lives, the quality of our lives and have become more efficient and sustainable. Yes, we still have death and loss, but, as I’ve just explained here, we constantly are seeking out ways to mitigate that.

Mama cow and her baby (from the above video) are currently grazing in a lush, green field in Northern California.

Seriously, these cattle have the best home!

Seriously, these cattle have the best home!



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Glossary of Beef Terms

This is a very broad overview of terms I use on the Ranch. I will add more as I think of them.

A.I. – artificial insemination

Average daily gain – pounds of liveweight gained per day

Balling gun – a tool used to discharge pills into the animal’s throat.

Birth weight – the weight of the calf taken within the first 24 hours of birth

Birth weight EPD – The expected average increase of decrease in birth weight of a bull’s calves when compared with other bulls in the same sire summary.

Bloat – abnormal conditions characterized by a distention of the rumen, usually seen on the left side, due to the accumulation of gas.

Bloom – a haircoat that has luster that gives the appearance of a healthy animal.

Bolus – a large pill for treating cattle; you use a balling gun to administer.

Bos indicus – zebu (humped) cattle, including the Brahman breed. They tolerate heat and insects well.

Bos Taurus – European breads that tolerate the cold, such as Hereford, angus.

Brand – a permanent identification of cattle usually made on the hide with a hot iron or freeze brand.

Bred – a cow that has mated with a bull and is pregnant.

Brucellosis – a contagious bacterial disease that results in abortions; also can be called bang’s disease.

Bull –  a male bovine, usually of breeding age.

Bulling – when a cow is in heat or estrus.

Calf – a young male or female bovine under 1 year of age.

Calve – to give birth.

Castrate – to remove the testicles

Cod – scrotal area of a steer remaining after castration.

Colostrum – the first milk given by a female cow following the delivery of a calf. It is high in antibodies that protect the calf from invading microorganisms.

Conditioning – Treatment of cattle by vaccination and other means prior to putting them in a feedlot.

Cow – an adult female

Cow/calf operation – a segment of the cattle industry that manages and produces weaned calves.

Crossbred – animal produced by crossing two different breeds, for example a Brahman and Angus is a Brangus.

Cud – bolus of feed that cattle regurgitate.

Cull – to eliminate one or more animals from your herd.

Dewlap – the flap of loose skin under the chin and neck of cattle.

Direct sales – selling cattle directly to one ranch to another, from ranch to feedlot, or ranch to packer.

Dressed beef – carcasses from cattle.

Ear mark – a method of permanent identification by which slits or notches are placed in the ear.

Ear tag – a method of identification by which a numbered, lettered, or colored tag is placed in the ear, like an earring.

EPD – expected progeny difference, one-half of the breeding value in the sire or dam. The difference in expected performance of future progeny of a sire, when compared with that expected from future progeny of bulls in the same sire summary.

Embryo transfer – transfer of fertilized egg(s) from donor female to one or more recipient females.

Eviscerate – the removal of internal organs during the slaughter process.

Feed bunk – trough or container used to feed cattle.

Feeder – Cattle that need further feeding prior to slaughter or a producer that feeds cattle.

Feedlot – a segment of the industry in which cattle are fed grain and other concentrates for usually 90-120 days then slaughtered.

Finish – Degree of fatness of an animal or the completion of the last feeding phase of slaughter cattle.

Finished cattle – Fed cattle ready for slaughter.

Freemartin – female born twin to a bull (usually these heifers will never conceive).

Grass tetany – Disease of cattle marked by staggering, convulsions, coma, and death that is caused by a mineral imbalance (magnesium) while grazing lush pasture.

Heifer – a young cow, one that has never had a calf.

Hot carcass weight – the weight of the carcass just prior to chilling.

Ionphore – antibiotic the enhances feed efficiency by changing microbial fermentation in the rumen.

Liver flukes – parasitic flatworm in the liver.

Marbling – flecks of intramuscular fat distributed in muscle tissue.

Mastitis – inflammation of the udder.

Natural beef- beef that has not been fed growth stimulates or antibiotics.

Open – non pregnant females

Offal – the organs and tissue removed from the cattle during the slaughter process

Pasture rotation – the rotation of animals from one pasture or field to another so that a field or pasture have no livestock grazing on them during a certain period of time.

Pay weight – the actual weight for which payment of the cattle is made. Usually the actual weight minus the shrink.

Polled – naturally hornless

Preconditioning – preparations of feeder calves for selling and shipping, can include vaccinations, castration, training the calves to eat from a feeder or drink from a trough.

Primal cuts – the wholesale cuts of beef. It can include: round, loin, flank, rib, chuck, brisket, plate and shank.

Progeny – offspring, calves

Quality Grades – grades used in the beef industry to rate the beef; for example – prime, choice, select.

Ration – the feed fed to an animal in a 24 hour period

Replacement heifers – heifers, usually between the ages of 10 – 16 months, that are kept to replace old cows in the breeding program.

Ruminant – a mammal whose stomach has four parts – rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum Cattle, sheep, goats, and elk are some examples.

Scours – profuse, watery diarrhea from the intestines.

Seedstock – breeding animals like bulls. Used interchangeably with purebred.

Shrink – loss of weight. Usually expressed in percentage of liveweight to account for fill (food and water). It is usually around 3 to 4%.

Steer – a male that has been castrated before puberty

Subcutaneous – an injection below the skin of an animal.

Tagging- when we place tags in the ears of the cattle for identification purposes.

Vaccination – when we administer a vaccine or shot.

Weaner – a calf that has been weaned or is near weaning age.

Weaning weight – the weight of the calf when it is removed from the cow.

White muscle disease – muscular disease caused by a deficiency of selenium or vitamin E.

Yearling – animals that are one year old.


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Wordless Wednesday: Triplets

It’s rare when a cow has a triplets. It’s even more rare when they are alive. Back in 1950 our old hereford cow Betsy accomplished just such a feat. Good girl Betsy.

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“I no longer want to eat that big ass steak I wanted seeing your pictures last week. I think it’s the poop and the blood and stuff together. I mean, I can blow someone’s head off in a video game and be fine, but this makes my stomach turn. Which means that you posting this is a good thing, because I feel like the reverse should be true”… – James Wall

I’m glad my friend James agrees with me. Again I think as a society we are removed from all things gross, unless it is in the movies, on TV or in a video game. Since we dealt with death last week, we deal with life this week, here is my Wordless Wednesday.

Again – if you have questions, please leave me a comment or drop me an e-mail. I will answer anything you want to know.


Cattle sometimes need help giving birth or “calving”. This happens for a variety of reasons – from using bulls whose EPD’s are too high, or simply a baby calf gets twisted around. Often time heifers or – cows that have never given birth – need the most help. Remember the blog post I did a while back about how we check if a cow is pregnant (https://megraeb.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/how-do-you-know-if-a-cow-is-pregnant/), this heifer is from that same herd.


This heifer needed some help giving birth because the calf was twisted all around. My Dad is a champion calf puller – he’s been doing it his whole  life.


He reaches in and adjusts the calf. Then he affixes “calf pulling” chains to the calf’s front legs. If he didn’t use the chains both he and the calf risk more injury. When the cow has her next contraction and pushes, my Dad pulls and the baby is welcomed into the world.


We place the cow in the squeeze chute for two reasons. The first being it keeps the cow still so my Dad can help her, without getting killed. Second is the pressure from the chute calms the cow. The cattle are not being mistreated here. This is standard industry practice and if we didn’t intervene chances are very high both Mama and baby would die.


Concerned Mama waiting for her baby to come out of the chute.


My Dad picks the baby up and places her in the pen with her Mama so they can bond.


She loves her baby!


Right before my Dad starts dry heaving (one would think that after 50+ years he’d stop that).




The nursery field. Cows that have new babies are all put in a field with short grass (so we can see them), that is not being irrigated (so they don’t get sick) and they are all together so we can check them easily. It’s probably one of the cutest things ever – a whole pasture full of racing, Angus babies.

Photos from Sharon Brown


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