Expecting Piglets? How To Care For The Sow And Her Babies

Newborn piglets nursing

Expecting piglets is so exciting! The little guys are so cute and amazingly capable in the first few hours of life.

The first few days are a critical period in the life of the sow and her new piglets, they bond with their mom and get off to a running start, or not!

A sow and her litter need a clean, spacious pen with plenty of bedding material for her to build a nest. She will need a lactation ration, water and a quiet, comfortable environment.

This is completely dependent upon what you have set up for them and how you manage these last few days of pregnancy and first few days after the sow farrows (gives birth).

Ready For Piglets? goes over the things you need to have planned out and ready before your first litters are born!

Sow gestation is 114 days

The gestation (pregnancy) period for a sow is 114 days.

The easy way to figure out when the piglets are due is to remember 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days.

This won’t be as exact as counting out the 114 but it will be close and give you a good idea of when you need to be getting things ready.

As with all animals, the gestation length is just an average of all pigs, of all breeds.

Some breeds will tend to be a bit on the shorter end of things and some on the longer side.

This is a natural process that will follow it’s own time schedule. A few days early or late is actually very normal.

Last days of pregnancy show udder development

Your sow will be looking pretty big by now and she should have some udder development.

From what we have seen, sows tend to act completely normally until a day or two before the birth. They tend to act just as they always have, being part of the group.

Then the sow will decide that she needs to be somewhere else.

If you have a really large pen she might be fine with staking a claim to her favorite corner, she just wants to be by herself now.

If she is still in with other pigs that are not due at the same time as her, she needs to be moved out of that pen.

She needs to be by herself to feel comfortable when giving birth, this is instinctive.

Sows want to build a nest for the babies

Along with wanting to be by herself, is also the need to build a nest.

Your sow will want to burrow into a pile of straw or under the side of a round bale where she can make a shelter for herself and her babies.

Even if she is in a building, she still wants to make a special nesting area.

Pigs are amazingly versatile and can use all manner of material for the nest.

Don’t worry too much about what the nesting material is, just that she has something to work with.

If she is outside, she could even build her nest out of dirt, just digging around and hollowing out a spot that suits her.

Keep sow’s feed the same until farrowing

Up until this point she should still be getting her gestation feed, whatever you have been giving her keep with it. Now is not the time to switch feeds!

How Many Pigs On 5 Acres? goes over pig numbers, both adults and growing pigs.

Sows need plenty of fresh water

She will also need plenty of water. When I have a pig by herself I use a rubber feed pan for the waterer.

If you have a spare actual waterer go for it, but we only have one and it is in with the feeder pigs for now.

Since the feeder pigs would drink more in a day than the sow, I just water her in a pan.

How do you know if she’s had enough to drink?

Is there water still left in the pan from last watering? If so she is getting enough, if not she needs more frequent waterings or another pan.

Happy, Healthy Pigs shows the things you need to have to keep your pigs happy.

A sow gives birth on laying her side

A sow or gilt gives birth on her side. She will lay down and seemingly zone out for the entire process.

It’s almost like she is in a coma, which is probably not what you are expecting to see, but completely natural and normal.

Small Scale Pig Keeping has a wonderful series on pigs, this one is about farrowing. Click through and read all of them, it’s well worth your time.

During labor, your job is to be quiet

Your job while the sow is in labor? Your job is to keep quiet and leave her in peace.

You can quietly pop in to the farrowing area and see how things are going and if any piglets are born yet, but stay quiet and let her work.

As of now, she is on her own. You can only distract or even annoy her, so give her the space and time she needs to birth those babies!

I keep a pan of water near her, but really once labor starts she is not getting up for a drink.

At this point she should not have any feed in the pen, just water.

Newborn piglets cuddling with their mom.
Whitney with her piglets snuggled up to stay warm.

Give the sow water only the first day

You still need to be quiet and respect her space. She will need water, as much as she wants but no feed.

Start feeding her the second day, not the first. This gives her body time to recover from birth, without the energy drag of digestion.

Only keep well mannered sows

A caution: Some sows can be mean. Most of the sows we have had over the years are not, but we have had a two really aggressive ones.

If you are grabbing up piglets and they are screaming bloody murder (a bad idea, to begin with) then she will definitely be concerned.

This protection of her babies is normal and her being a good mom.

Sell any sow with aggressive tendencies

If you just showing up has her whipping around in the pen to get you, that is not normal. A mean sow should not be kept, sell her.

I don’t care how many babies she has, if she is trying to hurt you she needs to be gone! As soon as you can wean the litter, that sow has to go.

Mean sow we have now-a little story

The gilt we bred and kept for a friend is turning out to be mean. I call her Golda and she just farrowed a few days ago.

She’s very aggressive towards my husband, as in chasing him down and biting him.

The only reason I can think of is he shows up and “bad” things happen, like we grab her piglets, but just me means feed and water.

Either way, there is no reason to hurt a person, so she’s gone as soon as the piglets are weaning age. She’s just not safe to have around.

piglets on grass
These are Golda’s cute babies. Nice little piglets, not nice mom.

Good attitude on the part of the sow is mandatory for small producers

In the interest of giving you complete information, keeping the sows away from people (in gestation crates) would have prevented this.

If she’s stuck in a pipe jail barely big enough to get up and lay down in, then she’s sure not able to chase either one of us.

We don’t think that type of sow environment (pipe jail gestation crates) is an acceptable way to treat sows.

That means good attitude on the part of the sow is mandatory.

When we have a sow or gilt (or even the boar) that will not behave appropriately it has to be sold for slaughter.

It is not safe to keep mean animals around. There are plenty of great pigs that have good attitudes. Sell your meanie and get something well behaved.

Increasing the sow’s daily feed

As of the second day, your sow will need a lactation (milking) ration.

She needs to eat enough to maintain her body, recover from birth and make the milk to feed all those piglets!

The lactation ration will be a higher protein percentage than what she was eating before labor.

A common lactation ration will be 17.8% protein.

Your sow will need 6 pounds as a base amount then .5 pounds for every piglet that she is feeding. Golda is getting 12 pounds total, 6 pound twice a day.

6 pounds for the sow + 4 pounds at .5 pounds x 8 piglets = 12 pounds total feed per day

I weighed a scoop of feed using a kitchen type scale to know how much she is getting and adjusted from there.

For her, it is a scoop chuck full of feed to equal 6 pounds.

You should be gradually working up to this amount of feed so that by a week or so you are up to the full amount.

Dumping all that feed to her during her first few days as a new mom is hard on her digestive system.

I explain the amount of feed your sow should be getting and talk about how to increase her up to the pounds of feed she needs now that she is milking.

Feeding the sow in pans vs. bulk feeder

You could set up a bulk feeder and just let her eat whatever she wants, but then it is all too easy to not check on her!

I give the feed twice a day in the rubber pans.

This way I can see that she is excited about the feed, a sign that she is healthy, and get a good look at the baby pigs while she is busy eating.

Set up a creep feeder for the piglets

Once the piglets are a few days old they will start doing more exploring.

As soon as they show interest in the sow’s feed you should give them some of their own.

You will need to set up a creep area (baby pigs only, no moms) where you put their feed.

If you just set the pan of piglet feed out in the pen, the sow will eat it as well as her own feed!

The piglets will stay with their mom until weaning, which is can be as early as 30 days, but we prefer more like 8-10 weeks.

Staying with their mom longer makes the switch to eating on their own easier and less stressful.

You’ll need to castrate the piglets

This is a hot topic for a few reasons, one is the humane treatment side, the other is does it even need to be done? We’ll tackle these issues separately.

Regarding castration as being inhumane, I’m not sure of that.

And here’s why-if you have spent any time with pigs and specifically piglets they are screamers. Pigs are very vocal for all kinds of reasons. Pick one up to hold it and you’ll hear exactly what I mean!

No matter the reason why you would pick it up, a piglet will scream bloody murder until you put it back down again. This is normal.

In the case of castration, or any other time you grab a piglet, like for shots or deworming, they squeal, loudly.

Judging castration as inhumane based on a pig squealing is not logical, a piglet squeals just as loudly when you pick it up to pet it.

Second, do you even have to castrate male piglets? Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm has written some interesting articles about this subject.

He has done some research and found certain lines of pigs have the “boar taint” (a smell in the meat that is fixed with castration) and other lines and breeds do not.

He doesn’t castrate any of his male piglets, because he has the genetics and customers to do so. Check it out-very interesting information.

We do not direct market pork, we sell through the auctions. All of our pigs need to be castrated in order to get market hog vs boar prices, a difference of $80-100 per pig!

Castration can be done early, at 3-6 days or later when the piglets are weaned. We do it early, it’s fast to do, fast to heal and less stressful for the piglets than castrating when they are bigger.

Castrating weaned pigs, 50-60 pounds is doable but harder. It’s a two person job, one holds, one cuts, and that size pig is hard to hold on to.

You could have the vet out to castrate for you, or just have a friend show you how. It’s not hard, but can easily be put off until they are big, and then it will be hard, at least harder on you!

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