It’s that time here in the Midwest! Farrowing Season! One of the most fun times of the year!
We know many of our customers are new to the farrowing process, and in this blog we would like to give you a good idea of what you are about to experience. This may also prove
helpful to those who have been farrowing for years, as it seems new situations come up every year!
The farrowing house is one of my most favorite parts of raising pigs! I just love everything that has to do with these little rascals!
Everyone has their own protocol when it comes to the farrowing house. If you are new to this, you need to come up with your own protocol as well.
Before your sow farrows:
- Have your sows in the correct condition to farrow – Many people mistake that the thicker (fatter) their sow is the healthier it is. WRONG! The most common farrowing problems occur because of overfed sows. Pay attention to your sow’s body score during her pregnancy. She does not need to look like she is going into the show ring right before she farrows. Our gestating sows are fed approximately 4lbs of feed per day. Think of your sow as a Dairy Cow, they should be putting all of their energy into making babies and milk. If they are fattening up then are getting more feed than what is needed. This will also cause the baby pigs to be bigger as well. When they are bigger, it is harder for the sow to farrow. The size of baby pigs when they are born has more to do with the feeding of the sow, than the sire like in cattle. Grandpa Shaffer has always told us if our Duroc sows look good they are too fat. If they look thin with big, baby bellies then they are just in the right condition and you are less likely to have any farrowing problems.
- It is very important for you to disinfect and clean the farrowing house between each farrowing group. Power washing, followed by disinfect in the best way to clean everything.
- Talk to your vet to set up your vaccination program. It is very important that you have this in place before the pigs arrive so you are prepared.
- Come up with a biosecurity plan –Biosecurity is very important, especially in the farrowing house. Baby pigs are just like regular babies, their immune systems need time to develop and they are very susceptible to different illness and diseases. We practice a strict no outside visitors allowed in our farrowing house. If you have been around other outside pigs, you need to shower or at least change your shoes and clothes before going into your farrowing house.
** This year there is a new disease to the U.S. called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus or PEDV. It is DEADLY to nursing pigs! Therefore as fun as it is to have visitors, we strongly recommend keeping your barn closed to all visitors. Here is a website of information about PEDV. http://www.pork.org/filelibrary/PED%20Diagnosis%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
Make sure you have all of your supplies on hand, prior to the beginning of farrowing. We feel that it is better to be safe than sorry!
Here a few of the supplies that we like to have on hand
Medications — Talk to your vet and see what their protocol is as far as shots giving during labor, after labor and to the baby pigs. This way you are prepared before she has her litter
- Oxytocin – It is always good to have this on hand when you are farrowing out sows. This is helpful when yoru sow is in labor.
- Iron Shots – To give to the babies within 24 hours of them being born.
- Other medications suggested by your vets to help with the delivery process and to give the baby pigs.
- Make sure you have the correct syringe and needles on hand. You will not use the same size needle on the sow as you do a baby pig and make sure you have plenty on hand. Talk to your vet on the different sizes of needles to use.
- Make sure you know the withdrawals of all medications that you use as well in case you need to market your sow after farrowing.
Heat Lamps – We place in heat lamp in each of our farrowing pens. You need make sure that they are low enough to where they can feel the warmth of the lamp, but high enough to where they babies can’t reach them. Also make sure the cords cannot be reached by the babies or sows. We do not want these turning into a fire hazard.
Mats – Any kind of rubber mat will do, we place this under the heat lamp to give the babies a warm place to lie. They also make heated pads/mats as well for baby pigs. If you have one of these, then a heat lamp is not necessary.
Baby Pig Standing on a mat under the heat lamp.
Towels – Great to have on hand to clean baby pigs after they born. Make sure you don’t use your Mom’s nice new towels! Any old towels, rags, t-shirts work great for this.
OB Sleeves – If complications would unfortunately arise, sterile OB sleeves would be needed to help assist with delivery if you needed to pull pigs.
Lubrication – If you were to pull a pig, you would need to put lube on your glove.
Baby pig pullers – If are having trouble getting a pig out, there are several different types of pig pullers you could use. We suggest the ones that look like forceps because you are more likely to save the baby pig with these.
Radio – Something to help pass the time while you are waiting on your next litter! We also think it keeps the sows calmer when they are listening to music J
Calendar – It is helpful have a calendar in the barn as well with all of the important dates on it such as breeding dates, farrowing dates, dates your gave shots, etc.
Keeping records of your litter is very important. You are able to keep track of the litter and the medications, feeds, and everything else that you do with the litter. What we do here is each sow has their own breeding card. On this card we have sow’s information along with the date we bred her and to who we bred her too. Once her litter is born, then each litter has their own card that we hang by their pen. We keep track of the litter this way. On our litter card we have the following information: Sow’s identification, sow’s breeding, date of birth of the litter, litter notch, litter sire, # born, # of males born, # of females born. We then have columns with each individual notch of the pigs. Beside each individual number we have sex, underline count, and a notes column. We also keep track of all of the medication and vaccinations given on this paper as well. We have tailored our litter card to fit our farm, you can do the same. We created ours in an excel document.
After we wean the litter, we put all of the litter information in a computer program called Herdsman, however if you just have a few sows, and excel document works great. We then file the paper copy in case we have any questions later. On purebred litters, we would register the litter at this time as well.
Recording information on a litter.
Moving to the farrowing house
A common question we get is when is the right time to move our sow to the farrowing house? This is a very good question. Pigs are like people they have an expected due date, however it is not uncommon for sows to go into labor a day or two early and for gilts to go over a few days. We generally try to have our sows up and in the farrowing house 3 to 5 days before their due date. We like to move them to the farrowing house for a few reasons.
- They can get used to their new environment.
- You can watch over them more closely.
- You are prepared if they farrow early.
In the farrowing house, you need to make sure that your sow or gilt has access to a clean, fresh water supply at all times. Before they farrow we also limit their feed (about 4 lbs a day). This is so after they farrow, they will get up and eat. That way they will produce a good milk supply to feed their babies. If you notice they are not cleaning up their feed, cut about a half pound at a time, until they are finishing all of their food. You will know if they are still hungry.
It is getting close for your sow or gilt to farrow! This is a time when nerves start to run in both us and your momma to be. It is such an exciting time as well!
Signs of Labor
- Milk coming in – some sows can get milk a day or two before they will farrow. However this is great indicator that she will farrow soon. At the same time, some sows do not get their milk before they start labor.
- Discharge from vulva
- Labored breathing
- Going off feed
- Change in behavior
We like for our sows to have their litters unassisted. We are there to help if needed and to clean off baby pigs. Unfortunately we know that when dealing with livestock we never know when something might not go as planned. Each delivery is different. Generally during a normal delivery, she should have a pig about every 20 minutes. There are times when they will have them closer together. If are you pushing 30 minutes without another pig being born, you need to figure out why. Is the pig stuck, did the sow quite pushing, etc. Paying attention to your sow will help you figure out these answers. Pigs are typically born head first. It is not uncommon for them to be born feet first either. So do not be alarmed if they are born both ways. If something would go wrong, you need to have a plan in place. Do not be afraid to pull pigs, however do not go up fishing for babies, that is when infection can happen.
What to do if problems occur:
- Stay Calm
- Call your vet – your vet will know what to do and be able to walk you through what you need to do or come out the farm to help.
- If you have to pull a pig – remember to us the sterile OB glove and lube. This helps keep infection down. Also, the smaller the arm, the better. Go in gently as well. Be cautious if you do have to pull pigs. The more times that you go up, the more likely she will get an infection.
- If a pig is stuck or positioned incorrectly and you have to pull it, make sure you check that the other babies are not backed up behind that one. Usually if one has been stuck for a while, the others will be piled up behind it.
- If the baby is coming feet first and not head first, do not try to turn the baby around. Feet first babies are sometimes easier to pull.
When she is done farrowing, she will pass after birth. Mother Nature should kick right in and she will know what to do. You will notice that grunts a certain way when she wants the babies to nurse and when she wants them to leave her alone. She should also go back to eating after delivering as well. You can start to increase her feed after she farrows. We slowly increase the sow’s feed each day. We want them to each as much food as they can so they will produce a good supply of milk. We keep increasing their food until we reach the point to where they are not cleaning it all up. Then the next feeding we bump it down a half of a pound. A few days later if they are wanting more to eat, you can increase it again. Each sow is different and eating 12 + pounds a day while they are lactating is not uncommon.
We hope that this is helpful for you! Our next blog we are going to talk about the environment of the farrowing house!