Upon approaching the pigpen at North Tabor Farm, a visitor will encounter two sensations: the faint ammoniac smell of swinish manure, and the cacophonous duet of squeaks, chirps and hisses of the farm’s two defense geese, Lucy and Lorenzo.

It is not altogether unpleasant combo, or at least I didn’t think it so. To me, this agrarian synaesthesis was a welcome introduction to the subject of my visit, the 11 baby piglets now residing at the farmstand, North Tabor’s third-ever litter and the first born to its youngest sow, Meatball.

Kyle Bullerjahn shares a moment with mama Meatball. — Ray Ewing

“She’s just got the sweetest personality,” said Kyle Bullerjahn, who has spent more quality time with Meatball than any other human denizen on the farm. “Although, right now, cause she’s a new mama, she’s way more protective....She’s in mom mode, and she’s gonna check you if you come too close to the piglets.”

Farm manager Ruby Dix put it more bluntly: “She pretty much only likes Kyle right now.”

That mama sow attitude is a far cry from their experience with Crouton, the farm’s two-year-old pig and mother to Meatball, who had her second litter this year. In contrast to her daughter, Crouton was a very hands-off parent.

“It’s a whole different experience with Meatball,” Mr. Bullerjahn said. “Crouton is very social with humans. She’s way more low key.”
 Crouton had her second litter of 11 this year, and is enjoying summer with her new piglets in pasture down the road from her daughter of last year.

Their difference in attitude likely stems from their varied upbringings, Mr. Bullerjahn explained. As the runt of the litter, Crouton was separated from her siblings to prevent them from bullying her out of a food supply. Instead of growing up among pigs, Crouton was hand raised, spending much of her time in human company.

Piglets at home on North Tabor Farm. — Ray Ewing

Meatball, by contrast, grew up in a thoroughly-porcine environment, the favorite piglet in Crouton’s litter last year. “She was super communicative,” recalled Mr. Bullerjahn of Meatball’s childhood. “You’d walk in and she’d just keep talking to you,” he said, while imitating the snuffling sounds Meatball used to make.

Going through the birthing and pig-raising process with the more sanguine Crouton first was a good dry run for this year, when the farm doubled the scale of its hogging operation.

All told, it takes four active participants to properly run a pig birth, Mr. Bullerjahn said: one to catch and clean the newborns, one to cut the umbilical cords, one to get the newborns nursing and one to make sure the mother doesn’t roll over on her babies.

When the mother is between 500 and 600 pounds, that last role is critical to preventing piglet infant mortality. This was Mr. Bullerjahn’s job.

“At one point she went to sit down on one, so I had to put down my forearms under her then kind of headbutt her off of it,” he said.

Among the toughest challenges with Meatball’s litter this year is the fact that she only has 10 nipples for 11 babies.

“We have a little bit of a nipple shortage game were playing,” Mr. Bullerjahn said, requiring some work to make sure each piglet is getting proper nutrition.

Overall, Ms. Dix said they have taken lessons from last year’s litter in improving their hogging operation. This year they practiced artificial insemination, sparing the two mothers the stressful experience of living with a boar for several months.

And with all the improvements streamlining the process, Ms. Dix already has her eye on more expansion.

“Crouton has a pig in her litter that is very lovely” she said. “So you never know, we could have three next year.”