**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **It’s almost time – farrowing time, that is!
With less than two months to go before Big Boo’s due date, we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first-ever family of piglets here on the farm.
While we are going into this relatively (okay, totally) blind, we’ve done enough research to know that there are a few things we need to do in order to prepare for D-Day – delivery day.
Follow this handy guide as you prepare to welcome your first (or next!) batch of piglets on your farm, and you’ll be relaxed and ready to go (okay, as relaxed and ready to go as possible!) when your sow goes into labor.
1. Make sure Mama is comfortable and ready to go
This is the first and most obvious step in ensuring a successful birth. Make sure your sow is actually ready to give birth! In most cases, she’ll go into labor on her own. In some limited cases, you may need to induce – this should be a limited practice that does not take place any earlier than Day 114 of the gestation cycle. Inducing a pig too early can cause low-viability among your pigs.
Keep in mind that gilts tend to have shorter gestation periods. There is also some variation in due dates depending on the herd, breed, litter size, environment, and time of year.
Once your pig is ready to give birth, she will start displaying some telltale signs. For example, she will stand up and lie back down repeatedly, and she will also begin to make a nest with any available straw. There might be a slight mucous discharge from her vulva, and you may also notice the secretion of small amounts of milk about twelve hours before delivery of the piglets.
2. Have your tools and first aid kit ready to go
There are several tools you should never be missing on a farrowing day. For starters, you need to make sure you have plenty of OB lube and sleeves, along with some towels, calcium, and drying powder.
The reasoning for the lube and sleeves should go without saying, but the nice way of putting it is that these two items will help you assist any piglets that might have trouble getting out. If they cannot make it out on their own, you may need to assist – and you should never, under any circumstances, try to help out with an unlubricated hand or tool.
Know that you may need to intervene if there is a stillbirth. Usually, this is indicated by the passage of more than thirty minutes without the birth of a live pig. Unfortunately, while you can’t do anything to revive a stillborn piglet, you can do your best to mitigate any harm to the mother by removing stillborn individuals.
You can get by without drying powder if you are positive you can get any and all moisture off your piglets with a towel. Drying powder helps dry a piglet off ASAP and also helps reduce any additional heat loss while you are working to get them dry.
Calcium is another helpful tool, as you can feed it to your sow as she is laboring as well as immediately after. It can help remedy contracting muscles and make it easier for her to get back up when she is ready.
Finally, make sure you have ear notchers and scalpels on hand for tending to your piglets. If you need to castrate, you will need to do this relatively soon after farrowing. It’s also a good idea to keep the phone number of your local veterinarian on hand in case you run into any problems.
3. Ensure that you dress the part, too
This is less important to the success of your farrowing but important to note nonetheless. Make sure you have a bag packed in the weeks before your farrowing so that you are ready to assist as soon as your pig goes into labor. Set aside clothes you don’t mind ruining and that won’t scratch or hurt the pigs in any way. Warm layers are best and don’t forget a scrub cap to keep your hair out of your face.
This isn’t just important for looks. You need to make sure you are as clean and hygienic as possible so that any role you play in helping to deliver the new piglets does not end up being your own ultimate downfall.
4. Make sure your area is dry and warm
You can’t control every aspect of the piglets’ birth, but you can make sure you are set up to succeed as soon as they are born. For starters, make sure the area in which the piglets will be born is nice and clean, as well as bone-dry.
As soon as your piglet is born, you must dry him or her off. A drying powder, as I already mentioned, will help absorb moisture immediately, while a towel will take care of the rest. Hand drying is important, even if you use a drying powder because it will help stimulate his blood flow and wake him up so that he is ready to nurse – after all, there’s nothing like a good massage!
You can also use a sprinkle of powder after you’ve cleaned and towel-dried your piglet, too. This will help soak up any residual moisture.
Heat is also important. If you can, preheat any surfaces the piglets will come into contact with. At the very least put up a heat lamp so that there is some supplemental warmth, no matter where your sow goes into labor.
Drying your piglets immediately after they are born can help reduce heat loss, but you also need to get them to a warm spot immediately. If you use a heat lamp, set it to around ninety degrees, ideally with black mats underneath to help absorb the heat and give the piglets a nice, toasty, cushiony area to lay upon. You need to warm the area in advance of the piglets’ arrival so that you can be sure you are ready to go as soon as they are.
Newborn piglets already have enough to worry about when they are born – make sure they are not exposed to any unnecessary dampness or drafts within the first few hours of their lives.
5. Arrange your schedule so you can be there during the birth
Many (most) farmers work full-time in addition to the daily work on a farm. And frankly, farrowing isn’t something that you’re going to be able to block into your schedule.
However, being present for the birth of your piglets is important, as it will allow you to troubleshoot any problems that Momma or the piglets might be having. While you can’t always control when your sow decides to farrow, you can do your best to be available when she does. If you can’t be there, don’t panic – remember that animals have been giving birth for a very long time, and your pigs can likely handle this process without any assistance from you.
6. Encourage suckling ASAP
The need to eat may seem obvious (she writes as she eats another cracker) but is not so obvious to a newborn piglet. Although every piglet will have an instinctive suckling reflex and will nurse if given the opportunity, you may need to help guide your piglet toward a teat so that he knows exactly what to do.
This needs to be done immediately, as your piglets need access to colostrum. Colostrum is expressed from a sow just a short amount of time after she has given birth. This contains vital proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, antibodies, and carbohydrates that will help guard your piglets against diseases, viruses, and bacteria.
After your piglets are born, guide each one to the teat and gently encourage him or her to nurse. In some cases, you may need to splash a bit of milk into the piglet’s mouth so that he knows exactly what he’s looking for.
Monitor your piglets after they have farrowed to make sure they all get a good dose of colostrum. A good practice is to mark the heads of the piglets that you see nursing as they are doing it so that later on you will be able to keep track of which ones have successfully nursed.
7. Be ready to take notes
Keep an eye on your piglets in the first few weeks of life, as you should always. Piglets are especially vulnerable in the first few days of life. By engaging in regular, consistent observation, you should be able to rule out any potential problems and treat them accordingly.
How are the piglets lying? Are they clustered together or very close to their mom? If so, they might be cold. Are the pigs lying on top of their mother? She might be unwell. Take notes whenever possible, and if you notice a problem, act immediately to avoid any potential harm to your pigs.
Keeping an eye on your pigs will also help you to evaluate and treat any potential health conditions. You can ensure your pigs are comfortable by watching and listening to the pigs and ensure optimal cleanliness by scraping the pen once a day.
You may also need to divide your piglets up, particularly if you have too many piglets to nurse on one pig. This should be avoided whenever possible, as movement and the stress of separation can harm your piglets.
Ideally, you should take the time to observe your pigs every day. If you see that one or more piglets are struggling, take immediate action to help them out, using nurse sows or other methods to ensure their vitality. You also need to keep an eye on Momma, making sure she is eating, sleeping, and drinking in a healthy manner.
The best tip for ensuring a successful farrowing? Make sure you relax! At some point, instinct and intuition will take over, and your sow (or gilt) will be able to handle the rest.
What other tips do you have for farrowing? Be sure to weigh in by leaving a comment, and subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!