Signs Your Pig is Having Trouble Farrowing

Farrowing is one of the most beautiful and exciting times on the farm. There’s nothing quite like watching a gilt or sow deliver a litter of healthy, squirming piglets. 

Unfortunately, as with all matters of nature, things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes, there are farrowing problems that you, as the farmer, have to deal with. 

If you aren’t familiar with many of the common signs of farrowing difficulties, you may struggle to act in a timely fashion. Any kind of hesitation or delay on your part can be detrimental to the health of your sow and her piglets, so it’s important to brush up on common farrowing problems before they arise.

Here’s what you should watch out for. 

pig farrowing problems

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The Normal Farrowing Process

pig farrowing problems

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about how to tell if your pig is pregnant and another about what you should do to prepare for farrowing. If you haven’t already read those, I highly recommend giving them a look!

Otherwise, the normal farrowing process is relatively straightforward. Once you’ve assisted a sow through farrowing a few times, you’ll have a good idea of what to look for and the process will become mostly second-nature, both for you and for her. 

Do Pigs Need Help Giving Birth?

Luckily, difficult farrowing is not common in most pigs. You will only need to intervene about 1% of the time, but it’s important that you’re on standby just in case. 

How Long Does it Take for a Sow to Farrow?

You should observe your sow every 30 to 60 minutes and acquaint yourself with the normal farrowing process so you are prepared. 

Signs of farrowing should emerge about ten days before farrowing occurs. You may notice that her teats enlarge and become firmer. Her vulva may begin to swell and you might notice that her mammary glands begin to secrete a clear fluid about two days before farrowing. This will switch to milk as you get closer. 

About twelve to twenty-four hours before farrowing, your sow will begin to show nesting behavior, like rearranging her bedding and behaving in a generally restless fashion. 

Milk production will increase dramatically six hours before arrowing, and a couple of hours later, you might notice that hse begins to breathe more rapidly. 

An hour before farrowing (sometimes a bit less), your show will get very quiet and lie down on her side. Then, farrowing will begin with some straining and the passage of some meconium and blood-tinged fluid. 

Unlike other animals, pigs can be presented either head-first or tail first.  You might notice mild straining, but either way, pigs are generally for about 15 minutes apart. 

How Do You Know When a Sow is Done Farrowing?

The placenta and all other fetal membranes are delivered no more than four hours after the last pig. There usually isn’t a ton of discharge.

Signs of Farrowing Problems 

pig farrowing problems

There are several signs to be aware of if you think your sow might be struggling during farrowing. 

Here are some of the most common:

  • Your so what’s gone off feed prior to gestation
  • Gestation lasts more than 116 days 
  • Time between the birth of individual pigs lasts more than an hour
  • There is a foul discharge (usually brown or gray)
  • Red eyes
  • Weakness, inability to rise 
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Blood-tinged fluid is discharged with no signs of straining
  • Straining with a failure to delivery pigs 

Any signs of farrowing problems should be dealt with in an expedient fashion. If you don’t treat your sow when she is having trouble, piglets could die and infection could result. Your sow could die, too. 

What Causes Your Sow to Struggle During Farrowing? 

pig farrowing problems

There are some conditions that make it more difficult to cause your sow to have trouble delivering her piglets. These include:

  • A very large litter and inertia of the womb
  • Large piglets and a small pelvis
  • Rotation of the womb
  • Sow illness
  • Dead or mummified pigs inside the womb
  • Two pigs presented in the birth canal at the same time
  • Failure of the womb to contract 
  • Sow distress or nervousness
  • Overfat sow 

Often, you can remove many of the causative factors that can influence farrowing problems long before the day arises. 

One common issue has to do with genetics. This is very common in show pigs. Often, the lines that are used to produce fine-looking show pigs aren’t the best for producing good mothers. This is especially true with Duroc, Pietrain, and Hampshire pics, which tend to have smaller frames. Selecting a sow with a larger frame than average can help prevent farrowing problems, as she will have more desirable “birthing” characteristics.

Note that I said “frame” and not size – and overfat sows will always have more trouble farrowing. 

Stay on top of your nutrition when it comes to preparing for farrowing. Make sure her diet has the appropriate levels of protein, amino acids, and energy, in addition to a higher level of phosphorus, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals.

You will also need to supply additional fiber during the final stages of growth. 

Overfeeding is one of the most common issues related to farrowing problems. It’s important that sows farrow on an empty stomach, so you may want to reduce feed intake before and after the day of farrowing. Get a good idea of a properly conditioned sow before you farrow to make sure she is not overfat, too. 

Make sure your sow is of proper breeding age, too. You should never breed females that are smaller than 300 lbs or less than eight months of age. You should let her cycle twice before breeding – at least twice.

What to Do If Your Sow is Having Trouble Farrowing 

pig farrowing problems

First, make certain that your sow is actually having trouble before you intervene. The need for intervention is rare – most of the time, your sow can handle the delivery on her own. 

However, one of the most common reasons to have to intervene during farrowing is that the time of birth has exceeded an hour. 

If that’s the case, be extremely gentle. It is very easy for you to tear or bruise the tissues of the birth canal, which can lead to swelling, infection, hemorrhage, and death  -both of the sow and of her litter. It may make sense to consult with a vet before intervening, too, as doing so can often negate the possibility of a cesarean section if needed. 

Before intervening, make sure you are familiar with the anatomy of a sow’s reproductive tract. Begin by cleaning the vaginal and rectal area of the sow with water and gentle soap. Make sure your own arm and hand are also cleaned. 

Put on a pair of elbow-length gloves (I recommend these) and make sure you apply some lube. Then, cup your hand, like a cone, and gently insert your hand into the birth canal. Move slowly and again – be very gentle. It’s easiest to do an inspection if the sow is lying down on her side. 

Use the hand that corresponds with the side the sow is laying on. For example, if she is lying on her left side, use your left hand. 

If your sow is not ready to farrow, it’s important to note that the forward-facing portion of the canal will be closed. Otherwise, you should be able to feel the pelvis below and on the side of your hand. You can move it forward into the uterus, which slopes down and has two sides. 

Examine the birth canal for potential damage, like bruises, and tears, and see if you can figure out the cause of delayed farrowing. 

Common Farrowing Problems

pig farrowing problems

Difficult Presentation

This is one of the most common causes of difficulty in farrowing. Often, usually in gilts engaging in first-time farrowing, a large piglet will be presented but sometimes, difficult presentations can be related to one or more piglets presented at the same time in the birth canal, a pig that’s upside down, or a piglet that’s backward.

Luckily, you can easily remove the piglet with some gentle intervention. 

Most people do this by using a piece of cord and looping it around the end of your third finger. 

Using plenty of lubricant, pass it into the vagina, just beyond the head of the piglet. You can place it behind the left and right ears and twist it lightly beneath the piglet’s chin. Then, use traction, moving downward, to remove the piglet. 

Uterine Inertia or Deviation of the Uterus 

Uterine inertia is when the womb fails to contract. Often, there are two or more piglets waiting beyond the cervix. You will need to make sure the sow is dilated but if she is, you will need to proceed to remove the obstruction that is getting in the way of the contractions. 

If the piglet is facing head-first, put your hand over the head of the piglet, with your first and second fingers gently placed on the nape of its neck. If the piglet is backward, lift both hind legs and clamp your hand around. Use your first and second fingers to get leverage around the hock to remove the piglet.

You might need to administer oxytocin to the sow after such a traumatic birth and to stimulate further contractions. However, sometimes the light pressure of your arm will stimulate contractions to begin again on their own. Once piglets start to wean, this can also initiate contractions.

If you do administer oxytocin, generally, .5 ml is recommended. If you don’t have oxytocin on hand, try gently massaging the teats and udder of your pig to mimic this effect. 

Failure of a Piglet to Breathe 

After a piglet has been born, even in a non-traumatic birth, it might have trouble breathing. Use a clean piece of straw and insert it gently into the nose. This will usually elicit a cough in a reflex response and can drain the mucus that is blocking the windpipe.

Rotation of Womb Horns 

When large litters are present, it is very common for one horn of the womb to cross over the other. It distorts the cervix in such a way that piglets can’t get through and then form a pouch just below the cervix. Many can be presented backward.

To address this, pass your hand into the cervix and see if you can feel the piglets. You may need to bring all of the piglets up to remove them. 

Once the piglets are out, try to get your show to stand. Use a closed hand on the side of the abdomen and try to realign the horns of the uterus and the piglets. If she doesn’t proceed to pass more piglets within half an hour, you will need to reevaluate. 

Hymen Constriction

This is a condition that is common in gilts. You may need to manually dilate your sow or sever the hymen with scissors.

Cervical, Bladder, or Vaginal Prolapse 

In any case of prolapse, call a veterinarian.

Sow Hysteria 

Many times, difficulty during farrowing is caused by a panicky sow. You may need to give her a tranquilizer (prescribed by a veterinarian) or oxytocin to stimulate contractions. Get any piglets out of the way to prevent them from being injured and causing more distress. Wait until she is quiet and has finished farrowing before you return them. 

Full Bladder/Constipation 

This sounds like a relatively simple problem, and luckily, it’s easy to fix – but still is one that can cause major problems during farrowing.

Preventing a full bladder or constipation starts with making sure your sow gets ample exercise before she farrows. If she suffers from this during farrowing, try to get her up and exercising. 

Otherwise, you can remedy the issue by providing a warm soap water enema or by manually removing the impacted matter. You may also need to administer oxytocin. In extreme cases, you may need to call a vet to catheterize her bladder. 

Retained Placenta 

If the placenta is retained long after farrowing (a rare condition) you will need to call a veterinarian. It usually indicates that at least one piglet is still present. 


If your sow begins to hemorrhage after farrowing, don’t delay. Call a veterinarian or you’ll be risking your sow’s life.

What to Do After Difficult Farrowing  

pig farrowing problems

It is important that you care for your piglets and sow properly after farrowing. In the case of the piglets, it’s vital that you ensure they have a safe environment, as sows who experienced difficult farrowing are going to be more likely to roll on their piglets. They won’t be as aware of their surroundings and are more apt to roll and crush their piglets during delivery of later piglets. 

This is why many pig farmers have their shows delivered in farrowing crates. There are plenty of people who advocate against using farrowing crates, arguing that they are inhumane, but also plenty of reasons to consider using them, particularly when the lives of piglets are on the line. 

You will also want to monitor your sow carefully to make sure she is allowing her piglets to nurse. If any of your piglets survive after difficult farrowing, make sure they have all nursed and gained access to colostrum before you leave them alone for the first time. Otherwise, they could get chilled and starve to death.

In some cases, you may need to give your sow an injection of antibiotics after difficult farrowing. This can prevent any infection that may arise from the trauma of the birth or your intention. Most vets recommend an injection of long-acting penicillin. 

Monitor your sow carefully over the next few days, particularly the next 12-24 hours. Make sure no infection has developed and that the placenta has been expelled. 

Tips for Successful Farrowing

pig farrowing problems

For starters, make sure you are familiar with the common farrowing timeline and know what to do in case a problem arises. Have a vet’s number on hand in case of an emergency, and make sure you document everything just in case. 

Provide your sow with the best possible care prior to farrowing. Again, check out my article about pig pregnancy for more tips on what you should be doing in the three months, three weeks, and three days prior to parturition.

About five days before the anticipated farrowing date (in my experience, pigs are usually pretty spot-on with their due dates, so keeping track on a calendar or a pig farrowing chart can help), move your sow to the farrowing location. Make sure this environment is clean and dry and give her plenty of bedding and fresh water and feed. She’ll take care of the rest! 

When to Call a Vet During Farrowing

pig farrowing problems

It should go without saying that all of the tips and advice given in this article are not meant to be substitutions for sound veterinarian advice. I’m not a vet, after all, and I firmly believe that any questions about issues with farrowing should be directed to your veterinarian instead. 

Getting the advice of a vet is always recommended, but I also understand that it might not be practical in all situations. In some circumstances, though, getting help from a vet is absolutely essential. It’s also important to note that you should never administer oxytocin unless you are positive that this is what the situation warrants. 

If you notice that your sow has a too-small pelvis or a complete cervical or vaginal prolapse, call a vet. If the placenta is retained, there is pus or blood in the discharge, the birth canal prolapses, or the uterus twists, again – call a vet. Any hemorrhaging also warrants veterinary intervention as does a sow that is vomiting or not eating after farrowing. 

As always, if you don’t feel comfortable intervening, again – call a vet! It’s not worth putting your sow through prolonged suffering if you can get the right professionals on your side to help. 

Have you ever experienced any difficulties with your sow during farrowing? Let me know in the comments! 

Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Rebekah PierceI'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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