Spring brings flowers, sunshine and at the Acres to Grow Farm in Scituate, baby animals: lots of baby animals. The farm recently welcomed 14 piglets, eight chicks and six goats.
“The goats are especially sweet and soft,” said Colleen Burke, who owns the farm. “They are so much fun to watch jump and run around. There are so many rocks here that they just jump all over. The piglets follow their mom around as she searches for food and will until they are about three weeks old and then they run around on their own looking for scraps.”
Acres To Grow Farm is the home of the South Shore Evergreen 4-H Club, a registered non-profit that is part of a co-ed, agricultural-based national organization open to young people on the South Shore managed through the UMass Extension office.
Burke, a 4-H member through Plymouth County, lives at the farm with her family and considers the property a “homeland farm.”
She has been running the 4-H Club for a few years.
“The piglets are American Guinea Hogs, a small homestead heritage breed that is a threatened breed,” Burke said. “They are known for their gentleness and lard, not for their meat.”
In addition to the pigs, goats and chickens, the farm also has ducks and a new Lionshead bunny.
The most difficult aspect to the births of the animals is not knowing exactly when the babies will come, Burke said, especially with the piglets as it’s often easy not to notice a sow being pregnant.
“A hog’s gestational period is three months, three weeks, three days so it’s quick while the goat’s is just under five months – 145 to 155 days," she said.
During delivery, the animals care mostly for themselves. There are some human requirements, however.
“This year was tough with all the rain and cold and a late spring season,” Burke said. “You must have a heat lamp on at all times and this is dangerous.”
Challenges always arise, making things difficult.
“The piglets are often caught under the mother nursing or under foot of the other hogs living near them,” Burke said. “It is hard to know exactly when any farm animal is going to be born so there are often problems if you have not separated the animals. This take up a lot of space and you need shelter and cover and warmth for the piglets and the baby goats. There is not a standard barn here so that has made it very hard to raise piglets with kid goats all at the same time.”
Fencing and safe birthing quarters are very important in animal care, Burke said.
“This can be difficult as the pigs destroy the ground and need to be moved and rotated, and they can destroy fencing with their strength and snouts," she said. "The goats want to browse and stay together.”
Managing animals and young farm animals along with the 4-H children is also tricky and challenging, she said. But the entire experience provided valuable learning for the young people.
“The 4-H members have learned so much this birthing season, both about new life as well as death,” Burke said. “But mostly, the 4-H members have learned important and necessary animal husbandry skills like castration, disbudding (goat de-horning), milking and the importance of vitamin deficiency and body temperature.”
It is critical to castrate the male piglets within the first week of birth, something the 4H members learned to do.
“Many of them helped,” Burke said of her 4-H kids. “The goat disbudding is a difficult task and not pleasant and this too must be done early while the goat is very young. On a farm with children that is open to the public, disbudding a goat is necessary for safety of all animals as well as the people.”
Several of the piglets and all six of the baby goats will be part of 4-H and exhibited at the Marshfield Fair and then sold or kept at the farm, Burke said.
“We expect more piglets to be born by the fair and the youngest ones will go.”
Find South Shore Evergreen 4-H Club on Facebook.
Follow Ruth Thompson on Twitter @scituateruth.