Who goes to a pig farrowing in their shorts and loafers? Novice pig farmers of course! And that’s the beauty of pig farrowing. Since only 1% of sows will likely need help with the process, pig farrowing can be so easy that shorts and clogs can be perfectly good attire for the occasion.
In a video that has since disappeared from the internet, novice pig farmers show up in shorts and clogs to watch the new piglets arrive. What their video didn’t show is the prep up to the time the piglets were born that helps them get a good start in life and how you know the piglets are on their way. So let’s cover that here.
Set Up Your Farrowing Area
Baby piglets are born skinny and “naked” immunologically. The don’t have enough fat to keep themselves warm, and they’re susceptible to pathogens and bacteria. So wherever you choose to farrow your pigs, make sure it’s clean, draft-free, and that the piglets have a place they can go to warm up. Karma Glos, of Kingbird Farm moves sows into a barn before farrowing to keep them off of wet ground. Then each sow gets her own deep bedded stall and the piglets get a “brooder box” with heat lamps where they can go to warm up. That way, the sow gets a temperature she likes (65 degrees is ideal), and the piglets have a warm place to go to get away from her when she wants to lay down.
Piglets Are On The Way!
Here’s the timing of the events telling you that the piglets will be born soon: 0-10 days before delivery: The sows mammary glands enlarge and become firm and vulval lips swell. 2 days before: Mammary glands become swollen and secrete a clear fluid. 12-24 hours before: Mammary glands begin to secrete milk, and the sow is restless and builds a “nest.” 6 hours before: Abundant milk secretion begins. 30 minutes to 4 hours before: The sow’s respiration increases. 15 – 60 minutes before: She quiets and lays down on her side. At this point you may see straining and blood tinged, oily fluid and meconium (fetal feces) coming from the vulva.
Here They Come!
Piglets may pop out head first or tail first and are born one after the other anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes apart. They generally weigh between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds on delivery. The piglet should get up and wobble its way around to the sow’s belly for it’s first milk. You can help by drying them off and helping them on their way, but don’t step in too soon.
Uh-Oh! Something’s Not Quite Right….
Some things you can solve as a novice, and for other things you need an experienced hand on deck to assist you. The National Hog Farmer Magazine has some great posters that you can print out and post in your barn so that you can answer many of your own questions about what’s going on, how to fix it, and give you background to know if you’re capable of fixing it or not. Here’s a link to their poster on Sow & Pig Care – Birth to Weaning and to a poster called See What You Feel that shows you the anatomy of a sow and gives tips on manual delivery techniques for sows having trouble.
Things to Keep in Mind The First Week
About 65% of piglet deaths occur in the first four days. Some are from crushing, some are from starvation, and some are, as Karma says, “Failure to Thrive.” As with farrowing, some things you can help with, and others, are just out of your hands. If some of your sows have very big litters, competition for milk may be a factor in starvation. If your sows are farrowing close to the same time, you can reduce competition by cross fostering excess pigs to another sow. You have about three days to get this done, but the sooner the better. Most sows will accept other young. The teats at the front of the sow provide more milk than those at the rear, and piglets will eventually develop a “teat order” with the same piglet using the same teat for every meal. You’re not in charge of how this works out. The piglets do it on their own. By watching the piglets and sow you’ll start to know what’s normal and what’s not. So take some time to pay attention. Keeping notes of what you see happening, or how well your sows do when farrowing can help you decide who stays on the farm or who goes, and help you be more successful every year. Share your own tips and questions in the comments to help your fellow pastured-pig-raisers and happy farrowing!