When Emma the pig arrived at a Californian farm, her health was at a low ebb. And when it was discovered that she was also pregnant, her new owner was informed that she’d be lucky to have six babies. However, when the animal came to give birth, she proved the prediction completely wrong.
Emma had ended up at Apricot Lane Farms, an organic farm situated 40 miles north of Los Angeles. Not only does the holding produce environmentally friendly food, but it also wants to create a better deal for farm animals. As such, it is home to many creatures, including pigs, chickens and sheep, with all of them treated with dignity and respect.
So, when the sow turned up at the farm, it was somewhat of a fresh start for her. The animal appeared to have had a rough time of things in recent months; when she arrived at her new home, for instance, she was extremely skinny. However, that wasn’t the only thing she had on her plate.
That’s because Emma was also pregnant when she arrived at Apricot Lane. On average, sows deliver eight to 12 piglets in one litter, though the largest litter on record is 27. But Emma’s new owner, John Chester, was told that she would probably only deliver six healthy little ones.
But the predicted small size of Emma’s litter didn’t seem to worry Chester. In fact, he counted it as a good thing, because Emma was clearly unwell. He may even have been worried that a larger brood could have an ill effect on the pig’s health or, worse still, lead to her death.
Then when the big day came, a colleague radioed Chester to tell him that Emma had gone into labor. They added that the sow was grunting and appeared uncomfortable. Consequently, Chester headed to her enclosure to see what was going on.
But when he got there, he was confronted by a rather unanticipated sight. Defying the odds, Emma was giving birth to more offspring than had been estimated. And despite the fact that she was expected to deliver no more than six piglets, as Chester began to count them, he tallied eight.
Moreover, the sow’s delivery showed no signs of slowing down. As a result, Chester looked on in astonishment as Emma produced her ninth and tenth piglet. And still she kept going. As the first of her litter began to suckle, the mom gave birth to another seven babies – for a total of 17 in all.
The huge delivery was so unexpected, in fact, that Chester and his wife, Molly, struggled to process what was happening. “I’m starting to get a little nervous now,” the farmer admitted as he attended to the sow. Meanwhile, his wife simply added, “This is so fun! I love our life.”
Unfortunately, not all of the litter made it. Of the 17 that were born, only 13 survived – although this was still a great many babies to care for. But according to Chester, he was initially unconcerned, as he hoped that Emma’s maternal instinct would kick in.
However, the labor had apparently taken its toll on an already ailing Emma; she subsequently developed a fever of 108.3 °F and ceased lactating. As a result, Chester and his colleagues had little choice but to bottle feed the 13 piglets at least three times a day. Chester described it in a 2015 episode of OWN’s SuperSoul Sunday as “not an easy option. If Emma died, that was going to be our future.”
So, Chester did everything he could to make sure Emma survived her illness. And, bit by bit, her condition improved. But though her fever broke, she still refused to eat. It was then that the farmer speculated that the sow needed a reason to live: it was lucky, then, that she in fact had 13 little reasons to do so.
With that in mind, Chester reintroduced the piglets to Emma, even though she was still very weak. And what happened next astounded him. “If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” Chester said in the SuperSoul Sunday clip, “I would never have believed it.”
Specifically, after her piglets started to suckle, she got up on her feet and decided that she needed food. And soon after that, Emma began showing her little ones the way of the porcine world. “She certainly didn’t waste any time immediately teaching the pig basics,” Chester revealed.
Indeed, before long she began showing them how to forage for food, and so they started using their little pink snouts to dig through the mud. Meanwhile, Emma continued to feed the piglets, who had enough energy to leap over one another to reach sustenance.
“I can tell you there is nothing more satisfying than watching piglets, peacefully and slowly, drifting off,” Chester admitted to SuperSoul Sunday. However, the pigs didn’t stay babies for long. And just two months later, the animals no longer needed Emma’s milk.
Now grown, the piglets headed off to their own pasture, leaving their mom alone. But Emma wasn’t lonely for long. Perhaps because her mothering instincts were still coursing through her, she eventually took in a pet to look after. In this case, it came in the form of a disheveled little rooster.
And watching Emma flourish confirmed to Chester that she was meant to be a mother. “I like to think Emma was saved by us, but it’s so obvious that she was saved by her calling. In her case, it was to be a mom,” he said to SuperSoul Sunday.
What’s more, now that Emma had found her place in the world, her health improved. “When her calling suddenly took back-burner, her spirit began to fade,” Chester explained. “Today, Emma’s a much healthier sow. She’s even packed on a few pounds – 200, to be exact.”
Plus, Emma’s journey has had a material effect on Chester’s own life. In fact, it convinced the farmer and his wife to give parenting a go themselves. “We’ve all been inspired by the ways of Emma,” he revealed. “Molly and I figured that if she can raise 13, we can raise one.”