Before we tell you all about Momo, we should probably back up a bit and tell you about the group of potbelly pigs that we rescued back in January 2022.
When I say "we rescued" I don't mean that we heroically discovered four pigs and saved them from dangerous conditions... someone ELSE found these four pigs in a very unhealthy and unsafe place, then THAT person unfortunately wasn't able to keep the pigs in a safe place, so all four pigs ended up in a local animal shelter. We had been in touch with the animal shelter previously and they knew we were willing & able to care for pigs, so when this little potbelly family showed up, they knew exactly who to call!
Captain, Atlas, Major, and Lady joined our family in January 2022 and we knew very little about them. We knew it was 3 girls and a boy, we were told they were approximately 7 months old, and we knew that they came from a situation where, presumably, they had not received any medical care (think: vaccines, basic exams, neutering, etc).
Our mission is to provide a safe, loving, compassionate home to farm animals in need - and there are many Many MANY farm animals who desperately need homes. As much as we would love to allow the animals to reproduce naturally, allowing them to have babies while living in an animal sanctuary just doesn't align with our goals. So, we made plans to have the boys neutered as soon as possible... unfortunately, the soonest appointment was not for SEVEN WEEKS.
Perhaps you see where this story is headed...
Our four potbelly pigs spent the next few weeks enjoying the sunshine, eating healthy foods, taking lots of naps, and getting lots of belly scratches.
On the day that the 3 boys were scheduled to get neutered, we decided to bring the female pig, Lady, to the appointment as well. We figured that she would be freaked out to be left alone without the boys, and we also figured that the vet could give her a little once-over since she had likely never been to a doctor before!
Red flag #1 of the day occurred when we picked up Lady to put her into the truck and noticed that she was SUBSTANTIALLY heavier than each of the three boys. I tried to reason with myself, "In many species of animals the females are larger than the males. We have never lifted her before so for all we know, she's always been heavier than the boys." We sighed a heavy sigh and thought aloud to each other "Maybe she's pregnant," and drove off to the vet.
We arrived at our awesome farm vet's office with all four pigs. I'm sure there were some pleasantries between us and the doc, but here's all I remember:
Us: "Good morning, doc. We brought the boys for their surgeries and we also brought the girl to get checked out..." Doc: "Oh, so you think she's pregnant?"
Sigh. It did not take long for an answer. Before even getting the boys prepped for surgery, the vet did an ultrasound of Lady's belly and confirmed that she was pregnant. "At least" three babies, was what we were told. Oh yikes.
The boys were neutered without any trouble and all four pigs came home with us. We prepared (as best as we could) for Lady's impending labor and delivery. I'll just summarize by saying that we THOUGHT we knew what to do and what to look for, but we REALLY DIDN'T know and we were not prepared.
Matt set up cameras in the barn so he could keep a constant eye on Lady, and we watched her day and night looking for signs of labor. We had ONE extremely important family event to travel to in Los Angeles, and we figured that being away for a mere 36 hours would be totally reasonable since Lady was showing no signs of labor.
Sigh. We were wrong.
Our dear friends and a neighbor were staying at the house and were ready to spring into action when Matt frantically called them, saying that the camera was showing baby pigs! We were devastated to have missed the birth and even more devastated that it was pretty clear from the camera footage that the babies had been born around midnight, but it wasn't until 6am that Matt woke up and saw the footage. At some point during that 6 hour period, our livestock guardian dogs, attempting to be helpful and "guardian"-ing, entered the barn and scared Lady away from her babies. We could see it right there on the camera - three squirming babies, dog enters, Mama leaves. This was bad news.
We couldn't get enough detail on the camera footage to see what happened after that. Our friends rushed down to the barn and found TWO babies - one no longer alive, one barely breathing. They worked hard to warm and stimulate the little one who seemed viable. As they started to realize their efforts were futile, they saw something rustling in the straw at the corner of the barn - the THIRD piglet!
Sadly, piglets 1 and 2 didn't make it. But piglet #3 was fighting hard and we are so thankful that our friends found her in time to get her warmed up.
By this point, Lady had been away from her babies for over 8 hours. That's just too long. The window to bond and start feeding is very very small, so tiny piglet would have to come inside the house and be fed by hand.
Our friends, of course, earned naming rights for this tiny piglet. They called her Moses, because they found her hiding away safely in the straw (think: Moses being safely hidden away by his sister Miriam, who wove a raft from straw to send him down the river). Momo's middle name is "Suki," which somehow comes from a word for "moonlight," though I'm also now reading that it means "beloved" in Japanese. We started out calling her "Mosuki," but "Momo" seemed like a much more perfect name.
It is an insane amount of work to hand raise a piglet. She had to eat every hour and we had to teach her to eat from a pan instead of a bottle. She struggled to take in enough milk, she suffered from terrible diarrhea from the milk-replacement that we gave her, and we spent the entire first two weeks of her life wondering if she would make it to the next day.
Nevertheless, she persisted :)
Momo graduated from her heated, private space in the guest room to a more open enclosure in the family room, then graduated to spending some supervised times outside of her enclosure. I cannot stress this enough: baby Momo was so So SO cute!!!
As much as we loved her charming and energetic personality, the pains of having a pig living inside the house were getting to be pretty frustrating. It's a LOT of dust, poop, pee, noise, etc. It was worth it, OF COURSE, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything... but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't ready to get her out of the house.
Finally after about 4 months, Momo was big enough, strong enough, and vaccinated sufficiently to live outdoors! But, don't get too excited yet - she still wasn't ready to live with her mom and uncles. Introducing a new animal of ANY kind to ANY group can be tricky; animals are territorial, cautious, and risk-averse (for the most part). We knew that we couldn't just plop Momo into the barn and expect a peaceful and delightful reunion between mom and baby.
We have slowly introduced Momo to the idea of living outside. Luckily she is VERY food-motivated, so bringing her meals to the barn has definitely made it easier for her to get used to spending time out there.
We started with just a few minutes at a time - 100% supervised time around the bigger pigs - and over a few weeks we progressed to allowing her to spend ALL DAY outside. Most recently, Momo was very brave and spent ALL NIGHT out in the barn, and since then we have "cut the cord," so to speak, and she spends 100% of her time with her pig family out in the barn and pasture.
Our experience with Momo has been a roller coaster. Some of our hardest, saddest, most heart-breaking moments have occurred with Momo, as have some of our happiest, funniest, and most rewarding. We didn't expect Momo, but here she is. And she's an integral part of our family now.