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Back in January, we artificially inseminated our friendly, easygoing sow, Boo. The process was relatively simple and straightforward and while I wouldn’t call it a barrel of laughs, it wasn’t not enjoyable, either. It was incredibly interesting to see the natural processes at work.
For those who might be wondering, we decided not to keep a boar to impregnate Boo because of space concerns. This was our first year keeping a pig for breeding purposes, and because we weren’t entirely sure what keeping a pig through sub-zero winters would entail, we held off. In addition, the cost of feeding a boar throughout the winter was cost-prohibitive, so AI breeding was definitely the way to go.
Later on, I’ll upload a post about how the entire AI breeding process works. For now, I thought it would be beneficial for those of you breeding pigs for the first time to read more about how to tell if your pig is pregnant.
Why do you need to know, you might ask? It’s simple. Pigs are not difficult to care for by any means, but as with any pregnant animal, you need to take special care in feeding, housing, and handling. We are lucky in that Boo is the most gracious, the most friendliest, basically the best pig we have ever raised (which was part of why we decided to make her our first-ever Momma Pig). However, when she was in heat and in the few days leading up to it, she was an entirely different animal – she was a wild woman. As a pregnant lady, she has an entirely different temperament, too. We had to be alert to signs of pregnancy so that we would know how to feed her, how to act around her, how to bed her, and, of course, whether the first attempt had failed and she needed to be bred again.
I spent weeks researching the signs of pig pregnancy, and luckily, we were able to determine that she was pregnant without having to invest in expensive testing. Here are some telltale signs that your pig is pregnant. Know that just one of these by itself may not indicate pregnancy, but if you run through this checklist and find that more of them apply to your sow than not, you might have an expectant mama on your hands.
1. Know Your Timeline
Knowing how a pig’s reproductive cycle works is the most important factor in determining whether your pig is pregnant. Pigs can become pregnant at around 18 months of age or older – when we bred Boo, she was just around this age. Still-births and other reproductive problems are common in younger sows, so while we know we currently have a successful pregnancy on our hands, we are a bit nervous about birthing day. Since this is her first time, we don’t know what to expect. You should also know that pigs show very few physical signs of pregnancy in the early stages, and you need to be ultra-vigilant in order to determine whether your sow is pregnant.
A pig’s gestation period is easy to remember – 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days (approximately). Your pig will undergo subtle changes during the early stages, but most signs of pregnancy won’t appear until very late in the pregnancy – at which point you may be late, as you need to be providing extra food and attention during the early stages of pregnancy, too. We were nervous about breeding our pig, because we know that while there was only a small window for failure (pigs are known for becoming pregnant easily, with a success rate between 75 and 90 percent), this was our first time AI breeding and we wanted to make sure we did it correctly.
2. Reproductive Changes
Once your sow becomes pregnant, she will have no interest in reproductive behavior. If you have a boar, she will reject him and pay him little attention. She will also stop making any courtship-related sounds and gestures. Now- and this is a bit graphic – there are some other reproductive signs you need to pay attention to as well. One of the first observable signs of a pregnant pig (and one of the first ones that we actually noticed) is a directional change in her clitoris. When a sow is pregnant, this organ will change. Instead of pointing downward, it will move upward as her internal organs increase and pull the reproductive system downward. Her clitoris will tilt against the extra weight.
3. Weight Gain
Weight gain may be subtle in the first hundred days, but keep an eye for any signs that your pig is growing. A voracious appetite and a heavier-than-normal appearance are good signs that your pig is pregnant. Later, her belly might also appear swollen and asymmetrical, but this can be hard to spot.
4. Swollen Teats and Belly
This is an obvious sign of pregnancy but is unfortunately not usually apparent until around three months of gestation. Your sow will develop a rounded abdomen, having a more pot-bellied appearance. At this time, her udders will also swell. You might have some concern that the rest of your pig seems to be losing weight as her abdomen distended more and more, but don’t worry – she is converting fat for milk and all of her resources are going to her babies. She may look like she is losing weight, but she is likely just redistributing it.
5. Changes in Heartbeat
Eventually, your sow’s heartbeat will change. This one can be tough to detect if you aren’t in the habit of regularly monitoring your pig’s vital signs. Commercial breeders often use heartbeat to measure gestation, but you can do it, too, if you have the time and means.
6. Failure to Return to Estrous Cycle
The easiest way to tell if your pig is pregnant? She won’t return to her estrous cycle after mating. Generally, if your pig has not cycled again 17 to 21 days after being bred, there’s a good chance she is pregnant. And if you’re wondering, yes, you should be able to tell by whether or not she has menstruation. She will also not be terribly interested in mating again. If you have a boar, she will reject his advances and generally stay far away from him.
We hemmed and hawed over this one for a while. Without a boar present, it was pretty difficult to determine whether or not she was interested in mating. But after she failed to return to a standing heat again, we realized she was probably pregnant.
7. Increased Appetite
You may not notice a drastically heightened appetite during the early stages of your pig’s pregnancy, but as it draws to a close, she will become ravenous. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, your sow’s body will stop producing most fat as her existing fat is converted into milk for her young.
While you should be upping your sow’s feed throughout the pregnancy, the last few weeks are vital. Make sure you give her lots of healthy foods, and introduce vitamins and minerals to her diet, too. Vitamin A is crucial, and can be given to her in the form of fruits and vegetables. Now’s The time to clean out the refrigerator for her!
The period right before your piglets are born is known as farrowing. At this time, in the few days before birth, your sow will succumb to her natural instincts and begin gathering up straw or whatever you use for bedding. She will use her mouth to gather dry materials and to create a nest as she prepares to give birth, so at this time it’s crucial you make her as comfortable as possible.
Restlessness in this time is incredibly common, as is a bit of blood, discharge, and expressions of discomfort. She may make a lot of groaning or whining noises, but remember – this doesn’t indicate that anything bad or unhealthy is going on. She’s just getting ready! When she is ready to give birth, she’ll lie down and stop all other activities completely.
9. Pregnancy Testing
Now, none of these signs in themselves are indicators that your pig is definitely pregnant. In fact, there are certain illnesses that can mimic pregnancy symptoms. For example, abdominal swelling can indicate serious health problems like porcine enteropathy and intestinal torsion. Reproductive changes can signal problems with the cervix or rectum.
Therefore, if you’re not sure your sow is pregnant and you want to give her the best care possible, have a veterinarian come to the farm and conduct some simple tests. These are generally not terribly expensive and will help your vet become better acquainted with your animal’s health in case you need to call him or her to the farm to help your pig with birthing problems.
There are also pregnancy tests you can purchase online. These tests are best used between 18 and 35 days after breeding. While we did not use them for Boo, I did a lot of research on which ones would be best in case we needed to invest in one.
We are only about a month and a half away from new piglets – and we can’t wait. While I’ll be sure to update you all in how the rest of the pregancy and birth go, I’d love to hear from you about what you view as tell-tale signs of pregnancy in your pigs. Any tips on dealing with a pregnant sow?
Make sure you follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for regular updates and photos! And thanks, as always, for reading.