Your first time raising piglets is about to start. The sow you cared for is ready to farrow. When the sow begins to ready for farrowing pigs, she will stay more to herself. This is an early sign that you should have the birthing area prepared. If you are going to separate her from the rest of your pigs, and you have not done so, now is the time. Make sure she has plenty of dry straw bedding, fresh water and a daily ration of grain. Once the sow starts lactation, she will require lots of calories in order to maintain her weight plus make enough milk for the piglets.
The second sign of a sow about to farrow is in the teats. The glands will become full looking and the teats will possibly leak milk. The actual birth process is over quickly for most sows. The piglets are born one at a time but in quick succession. Soon they have found their way to the milk bar and are happily drunk on milk. Most of our sows have farrowed in the wee hours of the morning. We are greeted by happy satisfied piglets when we go in with the morning feed.
When to Intervene While Raising Piglets
Usually, no complications will occur and your sow will be just fine. The piglets are born with their eyes open and they are able to walk and move to the teats on their own. Healthy piglets are strong and active from birth. The piglets will try to stay close to the sow to stay warm. The first milk, called colostrum, is vital to the piglet’s immunity. Make sure all of the piglets are nursing.
What About a Runt Piglet?
The litter will most likely have a runt, meaning a very small piglet that is not as well developed as the litter mates. This happens because a sow is able to conceive over a span of time. If she is left with the boar, the matings can continue through her estrus cycle. The piglets conceived toward the end of estrus will not be as developed as the older fetuses at farrowing. Often, the runt does not survive. If it is viable, the piglet may just need a little extra tender love and care and a warmer environment for a few days. Some farmers are successful at saving the at-risk runt by keeping it in a box in the house and returning it to the sow for feedings throughout the day. Be aware though, it is just as common to lose a runt as it is to save one.
What to do the First Day
Dip Navels – During the first day of life, take care of the navel areas of the piglets. Dipping the navel area in an iodine solution should be done for the entire litter. Alternately, you can use a product such as BluKote or a wound spray on the navel and any other open sores.
Clipping the Wolf Teeth – Piglets are born with very sharp teeth on either side of their jaw. These teeth can cause problems with the piglet cutting the sow’s teats or with the piglets hurting each other during play or fighting over a spot at the udder. These small needle sharp teeth can be clipped off soon after birth.
Ear Notching – Ear notching is done to mark the pig’s litter and position in the litter. Ear tags can also be used for this purpose.
Tail Docking – In crowded feedlot conditions, leaving the tails on the feeder pigs may lead to infections and wounds from other piglets biting the tails. In our situation, raising pastured free range pigs, or natural pig farming, we do not dock the tails and haven’t had any problems arise from that decision. We have been very happy with the results from raising piglets on pasture conditions.
Castrating Pigs – The concerns with unneutered male pigs are valid. Aggressiveness can escalate quickly and an un-castrated young male can turn on people or other litter mates. The meat from an older boar will likely be tainted from hormones. If you plan to butcher sooner than five months of age, you might be able to get away without castrating. If you are going to castrate, do it as soon as possible. The young piglets will do better if it is carried out early and quickly.
Iron Injections – The sow’s milk is the perfect food for the piglets but it is not a complete diet. The milk lacks iron and often piglets will become anemic. Giving a 1 cc injection of iron on day one and another at two weeks of age will prevent anemia in most cases.
Heat Lamps and Chilling
Piglets are largely hairless and susceptible to chilling. Using floor warming pads or heat lamps can help with this. Also, a deep bedding of clean straw gives the sow something to layer over her piglets to keep them warm. The use of heat lamps is common but also carries the risk of fire and burns. Set up the lights before putting the sow into the farrowing room or stall. Many farmers will put up a guard of some sort that keeps the sow from being directly under the lamp and overheating but allows the piglets to go under the lights. Keep the light suspended at least two feet above the piglets and the dry bedding. Remember that the sow can stand up and reach things by putting her front feet on the gate or wall. Find the happy medium where the piglets have the warmth of the heat lamp but the set up is out of the way of the sow and does not allow her to become overheated.