Gordon King, Animal Science, University of Guelph, Canada
Piglets can be born outside, in huts, in pens or in
crates but proper attention is necessary
throughout the farrowing interval to insure health
of sows and survival of piglets. Under any
improved husbandry conditions, sows or gilts
should be placed in the farrowing area a few days
before they are due. This allows the dam to settle
into her new environment and adjust to the new
management routine. In most total confinement
systems, farrowing usually occurs in crates or
stalls. Farrowing environment design is a
continuing process so new systems and
modifications appear regularly. Although there are many models on the market today, none are
perfect so producers should be continually seeking improvement.
Even the best the farrowing area is a compromise
between what is the best environment for sows
and for piglets. Crates or pens require guards to
prevent the sow from suddenly lying down and
crushing piglets. A proper farrowing
environment provides a special, heated area for
the newborn piglets with temperature reduced
gradually during the first 7-10 days as piglet
grows. This is necessary since the uterine
temperature is around 39.5 C and piglets exit
quickly into a much cooler world. Since neonatal
piglets have very little fat or glycogen, they are
poorly equipped to adapt to the lower temperature. Their reserves are depleted quickly if piglets
must metabolize glycogen in an attempt to stay warm. This leads to piglets becoming
hypoglycemic and inactive. Some may die from chilling but many are lost from crushing since they
are too lethargic to escape when the sow lies down.
The usually quoted figure for stillborn piglets is 5-7 %, but only about a small proportion of these
are actually dead when parturition begins. Some piglets become anoxic from compression or
premature rupture of their umbilical cords during parturition.
Proper facilities and the presence of competent attendants during farrowing can increase piglet
survival by 0.5 to 1 piglet per litter. Attention should be directed at the following:
- Quick attention can save many weak piglets through vigorous rubbing, shaking or even
- Even out litters by transferring from larger to smaller groups. The largest piglets should be
moved within 24 hours of birth. (See cross-fostering below)
- A little time spent with each litter in during the first two days can identify the weakest piglets.
If these are allowed to nurse four or five times without competition from siblings, they may
recover enough to compete on their own.
Birth Weight and Survival
- Mean about 1.2 kg, range 0.4 - 2 kg, live range .6 - 2 kg;
- The smaller the piglet - the greater the risk of stillbirth or neonatal disease;
- Increasing prolificacy may slightly reduce birth weight;
- Raising all piglets in larger litters is an added challenge;
- May be able to select for uniformity within litters;
- Can cross-foster from larger to smaller litters, see later;
- Allow piglets to get colostrum before moving.
Birth Order and Survival
- Later born piglets disadvantaged, increased stillbirths, crushing and neonatal disease;
- Probably related to O2 deprivation during birth since pigs from oviductal end have greater
distance to travel during birth process;
- Last born must compete with siblings that have already nursed one or more times.
- Middle teats are best since they produce the most milk and piglets nursing them are protected
from sow's limb movements.
- Earliest born piglets imprint on best teats and are difficult to dislodge so they get the best start.
- Ideally, one teat per piglet plus several spares.
- Select for at least 14 nipples in gilts and boars.
- A method for evening out litters.
- Simplified with batch-farrowing.
- Adjust litter size to match sow's nursing potential.
- Transfer largest piglets early, but only after they received colostrum from their original dam.
- Even if not cross-fostering, attendant can remove largest, most vigorous pigs for a short time
at the start of a suckling period to give smaller littermates a better chance.
- Farrowing is usually completed in 2 - 3 hours with approximately a 15 to 20 minute interval
between piglets. Attendant should be around to give assistance if required.
- Most common problem is two piglets reaching the cervix at same time.
- Many producers administer parturition enhancing drugs with little regard for need. Most of the
time these are unnecessary.
Feeding Parturient Sows
- Sow usually won't eat in the first 12 hours after parturition;
- Body temperature is also elevated above normal in all sows at this time;
- Normally 16% protein nursing ration, fed to appetite if very large litter;
- Maintenance about 2.5 kg plus 0.25 kg/piglet;
- Two feedings daily;
- Some increase feed gradually from 1 - 2 weeks but can full-feed right from farrowing.
- See that each piglet nurses soon after birth to get colostrum and a good start.
- Piglets get ample nutrients, except iron, from milk for first 1 - 2 weeks.
- Should have creep feed available after 7 days or earlier if weaning before 14 days.
- Feed little and often if possible.
- Creep feed is expensive ($85/100 kg) but only 20 - 30 kg/litter is needed. This gives piglets an
excellent start for transition to totally solid diet at weaning
- A lactating sow needs lots of water (1 -3 L/kg dry matter)
- There is some indication that milk production and piglet growth are positively correlated with
the sow's water intake.
- May see methods to increase consumption in future.
- Piglets start drinking at 2 - 3 days if given opportunity.
- Nipples are preferred over bowls for both sows and piglets since they provide less opportunity
- See that smallest piglets nurse regularly without competition for several feeding in first two
days. Cross-foster as necessary.
- Disinfect navels, identify, clip needle teeth, dock tails, castrate and inject iron within the first
- It is possible to revive some apparently stillborn piglets if an attendant is present during
- Anytime between 7 or 8 to 48 days.
- Split weaning - remove largest piglets one day and others 2- 3 days later.
- Some operators reduce sow's feed prior to weaning while others stop water right after
weaning. Neither practice is necessary. Regardless of feed or water intake, milk secretion stops
when intra-udder pressure reaches a certain threshold. Deprivation of feed and water has little
or no influence on mammary involution.
- Sows do not need any feed for the first 12 to 24 hours after weaning but should have access to
- Many sows and gilts lose weight during lactation and need all the opportunity possible to gain
this back so they return quickly to estrus and start on their next pregnancy.
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Go to Considerations at Weaning