Posted on Dec 28, 2023
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
As you read last week, our family drove to Washington to rescue a mother pig and her piglets. When we got home, Jay backed the Beyond Meat trailer up to our barnyard gate and waited for us all to get out of the truck. We walked to the back of the trailer and opened the door so we could watch our new pigs enter our barnyard for the very first time. They spent a minute looking around, and then, one by one, they jumped down and headed into the barnyard with their tails wagging, eyes bright, and faces open and curious. Because they were rescued during the holidays, we gave them all holiday-related names: Menorah, Tinsel, Mistletoe, Blitzen, Dreidel, Gingerbread, and Miracle.
In the 24-year history of The Gentle Barn, we have always rescued one pig at a time from slaughter. We had never had a family of pigs, or a mom with babies, and we were eager to watch them grow together.
In the beginning, Menorah would circle the yard calling to her babies. The piglets would come running one at a time until she had them all, and then she laid down, rolled over, and sang as the babies nursed. Over the next couple of weeks, the babies acclimated to eating piggy food with organic fruits and vegetables mixed in, and Menorah slowly started weaning them. She went from nursing every two hours down to twice a day, and then to just once a day, before bedtime. The piglets would nurse their fill and then waddle over to their bed of hay, and collapse for the night. Once the last piglet was done nursing, Menorah would join them in the soft warm hay, all of them cuddled together in a big, dreamy piggy pile.
By the time the piglets were four months old, they were eating huge plates of food three times a day and growing teeth that were accidentally hurting Menorah. It was time for Menorah to wean them completely. At bedtime, Menorah lay with her belly on the ground and tucked her legs underneath her. The piglets skipped over to nurse, and Menorah grunted “no.” The piglets squealed, dug at her with their noses, and ran around her in vain attempts at changing her mind, but Menorah would not relent. That first night the babies tried and tried to get to her soft, milky underbelly and finally gave up and went to bed under protest. Once the last one was asleep, I watched as Menorah tiptoed silently to the bed so as not to wake them. A week later they were all successfully weaned and back to sleeping as a family.
Menorah and her piglets are grown now. They love resting in their sand pit and cuddling together in their hay beds. They all enjoy cookie balls and popcorn parties each afternoon and pumpkin smashes in the fall. They blow bubbles in their pool when it is hot and snuggle under blankets in the winter. They have a fully developed language and are quite talkative to each other and to us. They wag their tails when they are happy and roll over for belly rubs whenever we pet them. They are social, intelligent, affectionate, and clearly love their life.
Saving Menorah and her babies and watching them grow in our barnyard has been one of the best experiences of my life. Witnessing Menorah nurture her babies, wean them, discipline them when needed, and be the example of a strong mom was inspiring; more proof that we are all the same. All mommies want to protect and love their babies. All babies need and want a mommy by their side. The bonds and affections that we have for our parents are exactly the same for animals. Most animals don’t get to stay with their families. Menorah and her beautiful babies will live their lives together at The Gentle Barn as an example of how animals could live, should live, and will live once we humans awaken to love!