Giving your sow or gilt (a female pig that has not been a mom yet) a happy life before she has her babies will be better for all, her, the babies and you. Pigs are very capable animals, if given the opportunity they will get what they need.
Before a sow has babies she needs exercise, a low stress environment and nutritionally appropriate feed.
What do I mean? Your soon to be a mom pig will find a place that suits her to farrow (give birth) her piglets. If you give her choices, she will naturally pick an area that is best for her.
The pig we are caring for just had her first litter of piglets!
Golda just had her first litter of piglets yesterday morning. As I am writing this article they are just about 24 hours old and doing well. She is a friend’s gilt that we are caring for. She came over here about 4 months ago to be bred to our boar.
Since he only has one pig, it was just as easy for us to keep her with our two (Toby the Berkshire boar and Whitney a white cross bred sow that had her first litter at the end of March).
You might be asking what is with the story? Here’s the point-for the last few days Golda has been looking around the barn yarn for the best place to have her babies.
How does the pig know what she needs?
She’s a new mom so how does she know that? Pigs, and most animals if given the chance to behave in accordance with their instincts, naturally knows that she needs to build a nest. We didn’t tell her that or give her any of the material, she did it all herself.
She found a spot in a small open sided barn that has a few broken bales of old hay and that is where she finally decided to build the nest. She scoped out lots of places first, even in the barn where she was supposed to be in a pen beside the other two pigs.
Most pigs that are due to have piglets soon will get out of their pen, at least for us. I moved her to the pen beside the other two but she moved herself completely out of that barn and into what she felt was a more suitable spot.
So how do you take care of your sow or gilt before the big day? The rest of this article will give you the scoop on easy and effective sow care.
Living area for your sow
Your sow needs to be in a comfortable environment. This could be a deeply bedded pack, a spacious pen or out on pasture. She needs to live a calm, low stress life to do her best in the demanding days to come-birth and motherhood.
This is actually one of the easier things to figure out, just look around. Would you like to sit here in her pen? Sure it’s not as clean as your house, but if you sit do your pants get stained? If so, she needs a new place to live or you need to manage that pen differently, starting with more bedding.
Observe how the other pigs treat her and how she acts. If she has scrape marks and other pigs are chasing her around then get her out of there!
Be sure to consider air movement when thinking of where to keep your sow. Fresh air makes for a better place to live, a stuffy barn is not comfortable and hard on their lungs, just like it would be for you.
Plenty of bedding material keeps her busy
If you do not have your pigs outside, give her something to do. Pigs of all ages love to have bedding to play with, they like to move it around and play in it. Pigs like to be doing something, keeping busy. It’s in your best interest to give her somewhere to focus her attention, otherwise she will be busy doing something you probably won’t like.
Nutritional needs of your sow
The nutritional needs of the sow or bred gilt are different than the needs of the fast growing market hogs, or her own needs once she has piglets. You need to give her the feed to supply all of her nutrient requirements yet not get her fat. A fat sow or gilt will have more trouble with birth, be harder to keep comfortable and have more metabolic issues when starting to milk.
Sows can be fed a ground feed just like you would give to any other age of pig. The gestation ration would be of a lower protein value to keep them from getting fat. Weigh out what you are giving them! Keeping her at the right body weight is important!
We feed shelled corn and sow cubes as a gestation ration
We feed sow cubes and shelled corn. Sow cubes are a big pellet that is given one pound per head per day as a gestation ration. The cubes have all of the protein, vitamins and minerals that the gestating sow or gilt needs for a healthy pregnancy. Along with the sow cubes each adult gets 4 pounds of shelled corn, once per day.
I like feeding the sow cubes because it means we don’t need a feeder for the sows and boar, he can eat this ration as well. I just throw in the cubes and shelled corn and they eat it off the floor. Obviously, this means the floor of their pen is nice, dry place to get their food,
While you don’t eat off of the floor (except for the 5 second rule, of course!), pigs naturally do eat from the ground. If the floor of your sow’s pen is poopy, you need to change your ways and definitely do not throw the feed in there!
Have your sow or gilt out on pasture? You still need to give her feed, or some other way to get the calories and nutrients she needs. She can not get enough to eat on grass alone.
Peer group for your sow
Since pigs are a herd animal, they like to be with other pigs. But if the other pigs are beating her up, she (and the other pigs in the pen) need more space. Crowding is stressful and leads to more behavior problems including fighting.
If a big pen/area with plenty of space for all doesn’t work she needs to be moved. It could be as simple as moving her to the pen just on the other side of the gate from where she used to live. Either way figure it out, that stress is bad for her.
Since we just have three adult pigs right now everyone is in the same pen until one of the sows is close to farrowing. While a pig wants buddies when for most of her activities, giving birth is a time when she want to be by herself. This is what she would do on her own.
Getting ready for the piglets
Your mom to be pig will want to arrange her area to her liking, this means building a nest. She wants to have a comfortable place to lay and birth the babies. The sow will build an oblong nest in some sort of bedding material. Or she will just hollow out a pile of bedding to the shape she needs (an oval big enough for her to lay in).
Most modern pigs would not have the option to make a nest and fulfill the deeply instinctive need to be ready for her babies. Being unable to do all of the pig type things she needs to do before the babies are born will cause her stress at a time when you need her to be calm.
The majority of pigs born in this country are born on a confinement farm, no nesting material in site. Obviously, it can be done, but why stress your sow? Let her express all of her natural behaviors and be calm and happy.