Garth may be tiny but the piglet is putting up a fight.
Last Tuesday, he weighed in at just over one pound. His other four litter mates were three to five times his size.
“They don’t think he got enough of his mom’s colostrum,” explained Diane Marsh, owner of the Happy Herd animal sanctuary.
Garth, the runt of the litter, is now living in Marsh’s Langley bathroom, on specialty medications and receiving round-the-clock care.
Happy Herd was originally asked by the SPCA to foster two half-sister Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs in June and was assured the year to year-and-a-half old pigs could not be pregnant. One was.
The animals were part of a seizure in Maple Ridge and embroiled in an SPCA cruelty investigation.
“If you raise your hand, they would scream and run,” Marsh said of the pigs.
She and the sanctuary volunteers have worked extensively with the two sister pigs to calm them but they are still wary of anyone lifting their arms.
“They have a long way to go,” Marsh said.
Because of that, the pigs cannot be fostered or adopted out. That means they will live out the rest of their lives at the Langley-based sanctuary. That means 15 to 20 years of care for the pigs. Their feed alone costs about $30 a week.
Marsh, having been assured the pigs were not pregnant, thought Lulu was too much porker.
“I had put Lulu on a diet,” she said with a chuckle.
Instead, the pig gave birth overnight on Aug. 18.
In fact, Marsh went out to the barn that morning and thought there were rats running around.
Instead she discovered four piglets running amuck, and “one I thought died right there, it was so tiny.”
They called the vet and went for colostrum, a special mixture mammal moms give their babies through their milk. It helps with everything from digestion to immunity.
Marsh and her husband, Stephen Wiltshire, are no strangers to pigs.
“We’ve had pot bellieds in our house for about 14 years,” she said.
But they’ve never had babies, which are a great deal of work, especially when Lulu went from mom to patient.
About a week ago, they noticed Lulu wasn’t looking well.
She was tranquilized and taken to the vet office.
“There was a dead baby inside,” Marsh explained.
Lulu was sick from sepsis and getting sicker.
The fetus has broken through the uterine wall and was in the abdominal cavity, meaning the infection was also widespread.
The doctors were able to save her and within about two days, she was back nursing her piglets.
Happy Herd, Marsh’s retirement dream, could use some help with the new members of the sanctuary family.
“Our [vet] bill so far is at $1,500,” noted Marsh who is 67 this year.
The sanctuary website provides information on how people can donate to the organization, which was home to more than two dozen animals before the pigs and piglets.
The sanctuary spends about $1,900 per month just on feed and bedding, not including vet costs.
Anyone with excess produce can also contact the sanctuary at firstname.lastname@example.org. But animals can be just as fussy as people, Marsh interjected, noting most animals are not fond of strongly flavoured vegetables such as onions peppers, and don’t tend to be fans of zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, or citrus. But they love pumpkins and squash, and apples are popular.
“Right now I’m buying apples because they have been hard to find,” she said.
Even before the pigs and piglets, she and her husband had decided that they could not take in any more animals, because they’re filled to capacity.
They have applied to the government for charitable status so they can seek grants and other funding.
Marsh said the first priority is obtaining more land to allow the sanctuary to take in more animals and to be able to have some paid staff. Right now everyone is volunteer.
Tours of the facility are accepted most days, but scorching hot days this summer have forced the cancellation of some public visits. Marsh said she would like to restrict tours to mornings.
Learn more on the sanctuary website.
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