Monday, August 3, 2015

Takong - the Nest-Building Sow

Dr Abe V. Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
Takong in her old age.

When I was a farmhand I watched Takong – mother pig, build a nest. She gathered dry banana stalks, rice straw, leaves, and if there were clothes or blanket on a sagging clothesline, they would likely end up as nesting materials.

Takong was a native pig and carried much of the features of baboy ramo or wild pig. Her tusks were long, protruding and curved outward, resembling amulets. Her snout was long, her skin dark gray to roan and loose, her hair wiry. She was seldom without caked mud over her body because she loved to wallow. Like the carabao, pigs cool themselves in wallows and the mud coat protects them from insect bites and overexposure to sun. It also serves as camouflage. As to food, Takong was self supporting so to speak, straying on the farm, subsisting on rice bran, fruits and vegetables in season, kitchen refuse, or whatever leftovers there were after threshing, drying or milling of rice and corn.

“Our sow is ready to give birth,” my dad announced one summer vacation. Takong had been in her nest and if it were not for her heaving and grunting, you would dismiss her nest as a mere heap of dry farm materials. That night I heard grunting and squeaking. Our sow was giving birth. The piglets came out at intervals.

As the first rays of the sun peeped through her den, I cautiously searched how many piglets our sow had delivered. There were 10 piglets in all! But none was wholly dark gray and roan like their mother; they had spots of roan, white and black of varied patterns. Their father was a foreign breed - Duroc Jersey - stocky and bigger than Takong. It had upturned nose and flappy ears. Takong laid on one side and obediently nursed her litter, each taking possession of a teat. "Just don't get too close." my father warned.

Father knows that even if animals have been domesticated, they still carry the evolutionary gene designed to protect their young against any perceived enemy - which may include their own masters. Animals are most dangerous at nesting time and after giving birth, and until the young are ready to be weaned. Another warning my dad emphasized is that never touch the young, more so to take them away from the nest or litter.

We can't resist picking up newly born animals, like kittens and puppies, because they are lovable. Their mother can easily detect our intrusion. She may abandon the poor cute thing, or even kill or eat it. Or she takes the whole litter away to a safe place, sometimes too far, we won't be able to trace.

In the wild, animals can sense danger that may threaten the whole litter, if not the whole herd. According to sociobiology as proposed by Dr E O Wilson, the founder of this new field of biology, altruism and sacrifice are actually part of behavioral instinct which is important to the survival of the species - to the extent of sacrificing its individual members. Murder and cannibalism among animals may be explained with this theory. So with sudden attacks on people by pets, and by animals in zoo and circus.

Takong's offspring soon reached weaning time. Dad sold them as growers, leaving one of our choice to become our next sow. It was a crossbreed. It bore less of the features of the mother than those of the father. “It got more blood from her father," said Anding, our caretaker. I named our future sow Turik, meaning multiple spots.

We built a concrete pen for Turik to protect her from the sun and rain, and from other animals. Feeding and watering troughs were made for easier work. Twice the local veterinarian came to give Turik immunization, and thereafter visited her regularly like a medical doctor to a patient.

Turik grew bigger than her mother, Takong. Well, because we pampered her with so-called modern technology like giving her only pre-mixed feeds which we brought from the capital three kilometers away. To save time and wastage we provided built-in feeding trough with automatic dispenser and faucet. The floor was always kept clean with a power hose. A roll-on, roll-off canvas was installed to keep off the sun or cold wind. But there was one thing I sorely missed.

I missed Takong, I never saw a sow build a nest again. ~

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