Pregnancy and Farrowing
After breeding is done, circle the calendar day 114 days away (3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days). With luck she'll have babies then. Since there's no way to know if she's pregnant until she delivers, you now have to wait to find out for sure, although you can usually tell by around the 80-day-point. As she gets farther along she'll get a larger belly and milk coming in. Failure to show heat signs suggests pregnancy but doesn't prove it. Pregnancy usually goes well.
Housing for Mom and Piglets: Your choice is a "farrowing crate" or a natural pen with plenty of straw for bedding, large enough for her to get some exercise, and to teach cleanliness, rooting, etc., to her babies. The "farrowing crate" is used by commercial producers—it's easy to work around because of its smallness, it protects the babies from being laid down on because of its special side structure, and it makes it easy to give shots, take a temperature, and take out and work with piglets. The bad things about a farrowing crate are that mom will be unable to make the traditional nest that her instinct is urging her to make, she can't exercise, and she can't teach her babies anything. A major argument for the farrowing crate is that it reduces losses from "overlaying," which is when piglets are unintentionally smashed by a reclining big mama. However, if you provide heaps and heaps of straw for her nesting instinct, she'll make such a deep nest that a squirmy little piglet can make its way safely out from under her through all of it. In cold weather a heat lamp that offers a 70-80°F area is nice for crated babies. In a natural pen situation, a heat lamp could provide it, but the piglets are likely to ignore your efforts and instead cuddle up to Mom for warmth. The Farrowing Countdown
1. Right before nest building, her mammary glands ("udders") become distended with milk. If you squeeze a teat, milk will squirt. She shows signs of nest-building. If she isn't there already, move her to where you want her to birth and live with her babies. Wash her.
2. In the 24-48 hours before birth the mother-to-be gets restless, tries to build a nest. Provide plenty of clean straw, which she will work hard biting into small pieces and piling up.
3. Labor begins. She is breathing faster. Her temperature rises. She discharges a little mucous and blood.
4. Before 2 hours the birthing of her sequence of piglets begins. It may take 30 minutes to as long as 5 hours, depending on how many piglets there are. She'll be delivering a piglet about every quarter hour. An average sow has 10-12 babies, usually no more than 14. A gilt in her first birthing is likely to produce fewer—maybe 6.
5. It's good for somebody to be there. The piglet comes out with a covering of thin individual placental skin. You can wipe it clean and dry or let it dry naturally. The wiping especially helps if the membrane or mucous are around the piglet's nose or mouth. Piglet birth survival rate is better with this human attention. Problems with the delivery itself are more likely if she's overweight, or if a baby gets caught in the delivery route. If that happens, pull on a rubber glove, lubricate it, and reach in and help. Most sows in labor will scarcely pay attention to what you're doing. (However, the occasional exception to that rule can be dangerous. Make her into sausage; don't pass on that trait!)
6. After she has delivered the very last piglet, the afterbirth will come out. Get it out of there.
7. Stephen: "Standard operating procedure is to cut and treat the umbilical cord, cut out the baby teeth, give each piglet an iron shot, castrate the boar piglets, and dock the tails." They dip the umbilical stub into a container of iodine. They may also weigh the piglet. (See below.) A shot of deworming medicine is another option for this stage. However, some family growers skip all this and have fine piglets.
8. The babies will naturally find her teats and begin to nurse. It's important that all the babies get some of the first few days' milk production—the colostrum.
9. A "runt" is any piglet born weighing under 2 lb. Not all the mother's teats are equal in milk supply. Those nearest to her head give more milk. A runt or weak piglet who is always pushed back to a hind tit by more husky siblings is going to fall even farther behind in growth. In fact, 60 percent of runts die. It can help a runt to give bottle supplements, but some don't make it anyway—or they live but remain smaller than average in size.
10. The piglets need iron or they'll get anemia. If you have a natural pen with an outside run (real dirt), mom will soon take them out to the dirt. They'll scamper and play there, and they'll instinctively get their needed iron by eating dirt. Piglets raised without access to dirt have to get iron in a shot or as a feed supplement, or you can give them nice, clean dirt several times a week. Another system is to paint an iron solution on the sow's udder—if she'll lie still for that. NOTE: Mother will be protective of her babies, and come worriedly running if one hollers—possibly with a dangerous attitude. Be careful! To take piglets from a pen wear heavy boots and thick gloves, and act quickly. Raising Orphaned Piglets: if you get orphaned piggies you can raise them in the house. Spread some straw in your basement and provide some dirt in a box the same way you would for a kitty A pig will use his litter box just the way he's supposed to. Start out feeding the piglet with teaspoons of milk thickened with a little farina and sweetened with a little light corn syrup. Soon the baby can move on to cream of wheat and oatmeal. If your little pig isn't doing well on this diet, or if you have a sick one, the best special diet of all for little pigs is eggs—just plain shelled eggs in a bowl—anywhere from 2 eggs on up to 7 or so. Offer them 3 times a day. If you want to bottle-feed a pig, use any quart bottle with a lamb nipple, less for a smaller pig. But a plain milk will tend to make them sick. They really need some grain mixed in.
Margie Stroupe from Weingarten, MO, wrote: "... our mother sow had 15, came down with milk fever and almost died. She squashed nine because she couldn't handle herself and before I got nerve enough to get in with her and take the 6 living ones. Andy was down on his back and all he could do was storm because he was afraid she'd get me. But she couldn't even get to her feet. We called the vet and spent $15 for the sow's shot and the vet said if she wasn't better by morning to knock her in the head and put her on a brush pile. Well, his medicine did her no good and we wound up giving her 7 ccs. Combiotic [animal antibiotic] night and morning for 4 days. She got well, we fed her out, and on May 11, 1974, she butchered out 306 lb. without head, feet, skin and the like. So though we hated to do without a brood sow, she wound up feeding us almost a year. The baby pigs, well, that's another story. The milk I fed them wasn't the right formula and I lost 4 with scours [diarrhea] and getting them too hot."
But you don't want to keep pigs in the house too long. The lady who used to own this house told me how once she had an orphaned litter of 6 pigs living in the basement. One day a salesman came to call upstairs at the front door. She rushed up the stairs to let him in and forgot to shut the basement door behind her. The now-not-so-little pigs charged up the stairs behind her. When the door opened and the salesman saw her, and the 6 pigs charging up behind her, he looked really worried and sputtered, "Oh, I must have the wrong house," and literally ran away. You've got to be made of tough stuff to work door-to-door in the country!
A weaner-sized pig now needs other foods besides milk to be okay. Straight milk can cause them to bloat and die. Feed Supplements for Piglets: Piglets can start eating supplementary "starter mash" at 1-2 weeks of age, but they'll never get a chance at it unless you use a creep feeder—a set-up where there's a hole to the starter mash supply big enough for piglets to "creep" through, but not big enough for mom to come and hog it—which she will if she can. Note: Commercial starter mash for piglets typically contains the antibiotic, sulfa. Pigs for slaughter fed the same thing would be condemned for sulfa residues.
for underweight, hind-teat types. So, first wean the biggest few piglets of the litter and let smaller ones continue nursing and growing. Don't wean piglets who are under 12 lb.!
weaning Age: It varies. Piglets would naturally nurse for about 12 weeks, or more, if allowed, but mom won't come into heat again while she's nursing, so commercial operations prefer to wean at 3-6 weeks. Early weaning can be hard, if not life-threatening, for young piglets, especially
Continue reading here: Pig Vetting
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