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A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Piglets: From Farrowing to Weaning

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As a passionate observer of the animal kingdom, newborns never fail to captivate my attention. Amongst all the adorable creatures, the playful antics of goat kids and the endearing charm of lambs initially stole my heart.

However, if I am to be completely truthful, the piglets reign supreme in my affection. When I embarked on the journey of pig breeding, I was astounded by the scarcity of comprehensive information on the delicate process of farrowing and the subsequent care of piglets.

Countless resources exist on raising chickens, which, let’s face it, can be rather mundane compared to these delightful oinkers. Yet, there is a glaring absence of knowledge regarding pigs, the beloved canines of the corral, and astonishingly anatomically similar to humans.

The few fragments of information that do exist are scattered across various sources. Frankly, I find this perplexing.

Consequently, I have made it my mission to saturate my blog with abundant pig-related content. I aspire for this platform to become a beacon of guidance for individuals encountering the same struggles I faced due to information scarcity.

While I cannot claim expertise, my experiences have given me firsthand knowledge. Sharing insights on how to care for piglets should have been a priority long ago, but being human, I am occasionally prone to delay. Nonetheless, the adage “better late than never” holds.

Once the farrowing process concludes, a litter of piglets remains, demanding our utmost attention. I recall hearing someone say that the true test of a livestock breeder lies in their handling of farrowing.

Reflecting on my own experiences, I must admit that there is merit to this claim. If one is fortunate enough to have a sow of exceptional quality (worth her weight in gold, no less), many problematic aspects that may arise after birth become less daunting.

Big Marie, my most nurturing, cautious, and attentive mother, fits this description perfectly. Even though she has slimmed to a mere 900 pounds, she demonstrates remarkable care in each step and exhibits caution when settling down to avoid inadvertently harming a piglet.

However, accidents occur, and they are an inherent part of the farrowing process. This is precisely why pigs produce such large litters—to ensure the survival of some offspring. Curiously, it deviates from the behavior typically associated with mammals.

Unfortunately, there are also instances where mothers exhibit little concern and fail to acknowledge their newborns, or worse yet, display aggression towards their offspring. Thus, I reiterate that a good sow is truly invaluable.

While we can attribute much responsibility to the sow, humans also play a crucial role. After the piglets are born, there are specific tasks we must undertake and a general timeline to follow to raise a healthy litter with minimal losses.

Expertly Caring for Newborn Piglets

Once the piglets are born, their initial care closely mirrors that of goats. As with any animal we raise, there is a standard post-birthing sequence I adhere to drying, warming, dipping, and providing colostrum. This routine is generally applicable unless there are specific circumstances or abnormal births.

Depending on the season and your presence during the farrowing process, the drying phase may or may not be necessary. In colder climates, expediting the drying process for piglets is crucial.

Instead of using traditional methods like towels or rags, I keep a bucket of mistral powder nearby. This mineral-based antibacterial absorbent is sprinkled on the piglets and rubbed all over their bodies. It efficiently absorbs moisture, facilitating a faster warming process.

The mistral powder effectively eliminates excess moisture from their bodies. Once the piglets are coated with mistral, I promptly hold them against my chest, trim their umbilical cords if needed, and administer a generous spray of iodine.

A few pumps of Nutri Drench follow this into their mouths. Providing some Nutri Drench to the sow is also beneficial, boosting her energy levels and ensuring she remains healthy.

I make it a point to sprinkle mistral powder on each piglet as they are born. The subsequent steps of dipping and drenching are performed individually for each piglet once we have a few on the ground and after confirming they have received some colostrum.

Like goats, sheep, or any other mammal, colostrum plays a vital role. From this stage onward, closely observing the piglets, ensuring they are nursing and not excessively cuddling with their mother.

Read more about A Guide to Livestock Umbilical Care for a Healthy Start to Life

Depending on where your sow chooses to farrow, the piglets may need assistance initially finding their designated creep space. If necessary, I place each piglet in the designated area after being nursed.

This allows them to familiarize themselves with the location and understand that it is a warm area where they will seek comfort.

Following these meticulous steps, you can provide the utmost care for your newborn piglets, setting them on the path to healthy development.

Expertly Caring for Newborn Piglets
Credit: biomin

Expert Guidelines for the Post-Farrowing Period

During the days following farrowing, the well-being of piglets requires special attention, particularly regarding their iron levels. Piglets are born with a limited reserve of iron, and given their rapid growth, they require additional iron for proper tissue development and blood production.

The initial iron stores are sufficient to sustain them for only 3-4 days before they become anemic.

When raised outdoors, piglets can obtain supplemental iron from natural sources like soil. However, in indoor settings or during the winter when the ground is frozen, the iron must be administered through injections.

In cases where piglets have no access to natural sources of iron, it is recommended to administer a 2ml injection (or follow the dosage specified on the bottle) of injectable iron with a 1/2″ 20-gauge needle to the neck of each piglet.

If piglets have outdoor access, rooting through the soil or ingesting soil from the sow’s udder while nursing should compensate for the iron deficiency.

How can you determine if piglets have received enough iron? Anemia in piglets is relatively easy to identify.

Lethargy, a pale or jaundiced appearance, pale eyelids (similar to the FAMANCHA method used for goats), rapid breathing, and diarrhea (scours) are all signs of iron deficiency and indicate the need for supplementation.

Within the first week of life, piglets are highly susceptible to scours due to immature digestive systems. While the consistency and color of their feces naturally change as the sow’s milk transitions from colostrum to regular milk, it is essential to monitor for excessive diarrhea.

Discover Helpful Tips For Managing an Orphaned or Rejected Lamb

It can result from innocent and temporary causes such as overconsumption of milk or more serious and persistent factors like E. coli or rotavirus infections.

Should excessive or concerning scours occur, swift action is crucial, and oral solutions like Spectoguard should be administered promptly to address the issue.

By diligently monitoring and addressing piglets’ iron requirements and digestive health during this critical post-farrowing period, you can ensure their overall well-being and foster their healthy development.

Expert Strategies for Managing Piglets Under 2 Weeks of Age

When piglets reach around one week old, it’s time to introduce creep feed into their diet. Creep feed simply refers to grain or feed that has been soaked. Soaking the feed thoroughly enhances its palatability and digestibility for piglets at this stage.

While they will still eagerly nurse from the sow, they begin to transition to nibbling on solid feed during this period. To make the feed more enticing, I soak it with goat’s milk or whey, although regular milk or water can work equally well.

Placing the soaked feed in a large shallow pan within their designated creep space away from the mother allows them to nibble on it comfortably. Remember that soaked feed spoils quickly, so any uneaten portions should be discarded after 24 hours.

Start with a small amount initially to minimize waste, gradually increasing the quantity as they become more accustomed to eating and reducing the sloppiness of the feed.

Within the first two weeks, unless you intend to keep a male piglet for breeding purposes, this is the ideal time for castration. Admittedly, this is the most challenging and least enjoyable task.

The general rule is to castrate males as early as possible. If the testes are visible, castration can be performed. We aim to do our practices by the maximum age of one week. Performing the procedure at a younger age offers several advantages.

Not only are the piglets physically smaller, making them easier to handle, but there is less bleeding, faster healing due to the antibodies in the sow’s milk, minimal risk of hernia when done correctly, and reduced nerve development, resulting in less pain. Pig skin has remarkable healing abilities, especially at a young age.

The castration process involves the following steps:

  1. Sterilize the area with iodine.
  2. Make small incisions over the exposed testes using a sharp scalpel or side cutters (the incision size is not critical).
  3. Pop out the testes and allow the spermatic cord to tear naturally rather than cutting it. This method is faster and promotes quicker healing. Pulling more of the spermatic cord is better.
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  4. Repeat the procedure with the other testis and ensure no hanging spermatic cord is left. Trim it at the site of the incision if necessary.
  5. Spray the area with a diluted chlorhexidine solution and allow the piglet to resume its activities.

After castration, piglets will quickly resume their normal activities, and the healing process will begin, with scabbing occurring as early as the following day.

Within the first two weeks, depending on the climate, you can adjust the timing or raise the height of heat lamps and mats for warmth.

Newborn piglets require an exceptionally warm environment, ideally between 80°F and 90°F, as they lack sufficient body fat to regulate their temperature. Studies have shown that the initial environmental temperature directly correlates with piglet mortality.

The warmer the conditions, the greater the chances of survival and achieving a larger size at weaning. As piglets grow, their heat requirements decrease, which can be observed through their behavior.

Read more about Caring for Your Young Livestock: Preventing Dehydration and Ensuring Health

If they are huddled, piling up, or shivering, it indicates that the temperature is too cold, and adjustments should be made by lowering the heat lamps or adding additional ones.

Conversely, if they are lying next to each other comfortably and appear content, the temperature is likely suitable. Remember that optimal conditions vary depending on the time of year and climate, and piglet behavior is the best indicator of acceptable environmental conditions.

Expert Strategies for Managing Piglets Under 2 Weeks of Age
Credit: Trouw Nutrition

Expert Tips for Managing Piglets at Two Weeks Old and Beyond

Once piglets reach the two-week mark, their care primarily involves basic maintenance. This includes gradually reducing supplemental heat or turning it off completely while increasing the creep feed provided.

At around two to three weeks of age, when they become more adventurous and resilient to the elements, we initiate training them on our electric netting system.

During this period until weaning, piglets will continue to nurse from the sow, but their interest in and desire for supplemental feed will naturally grow.

We physically separate the sow from the piglets once they reach the appropriate size and age. The piglets we sell go to their new homes, while the remaining ones are kept for raising as meat.

Our approach strives to raise our pigs as naturally as possible, considering our climate and land conditions. Our piglets have access to the outdoors from day one and are raised entirely outdoors from weaning until the time of butchering.

Due to the ample space, they have to move and roam, we find it unnecessary to dock their tails or cut their needle teeth.

Our pigs rely on their tails to fend off flies during the summer, and we have never encountered any issues with needle teeth, whether as newborns or adults. If these procedures are important to you, consider them in your timeline.

Additionally, vaccination protocols should be discussed with your veterinarian, considering your specific geographical location. Since I am not adequately knowledgeable in this area, I refrain from offering advice on vaccinations.

This general timeline aligns well with our own needs and setup. However, every situation is unique. Perhaps you reside in a region with scorching heat rather than battling cold temperatures.

Alternatively, even in the same climate, you may have a completely different setup and system. As with any livestock, it’s crucial to customize your approach to suit your circumstances and the well-being of your animals.

While this timeline has proven effective for the piglets we raise, I encourage you to explore my other posts for more comprehensive information on pigs in general and the farrowing process.

Caring for Piglets: Essential Tips for Success

Raising piglets requires distinct care and knowledge compared to other baby animals. In my experience, piglets are less resilient when separated from their mothers than chicks, baby goats, or calves.

This is likely because piglets are born in large litters and rely on each other for warmth and companionship. The term “pig pile” accurately depicts their cuddling habits.

Furthermore, finding reliable information online or in books tailored to homesteaders or small-scale farmers can be challenging, as most resources focus on commercial hog production.

As a fellow pig farmer, I aim to provide valuable insights into the roles and responsibilities involved in raising piglets.

Ensuring Adequate Warmth

Creating a warm and dry environment is crucial for newborn piglets. Maintaining a temperature of around 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the first few days and sustained warmth for a few weeks is vital.

Gradually reducing the ambient temperature by 3 degrees each week, as suggested by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, helps acclimate the piglets.

Position a heat lamp approximately 1 to 2 feet away from the piglets’ pen, ensuring it’s safely isolated from flammable objects. Eliminating drafts and preventing exposure to cold surfaces, such as tile floors or chilly outdoor areas, is essential for their survival.

Chilling is a common cause of piglet mortality, so vigilance is crucial. After a week or two, you’ll notice that the piglets become stronger and more resilient.

Bedding for Comfort

Providing suitable bedding is key. Straw or hay serves as excellent bedding material, with wood chips underneath for absorption. Piglets enjoy chewing and rooting through the hay, creating cozy nests. Deep bedding also helps retain warmth and provides comfort.

Proper Feeding Practices

Ideally, piglets should receive colostrum from the sow. Colostrum is vital in protecting them against diseases and enhancing their growth rates. While it’s possible to milk the sow to obtain colostrum, this process can be time-consuming.

Gently squirt the colostrum into a small dish using your fingertips. It may require patience, but the benefits for piglet health are worth the effort.

If sow’s milk isn’t accessible, consider contacting a local goat dairy for goat colostrum. Farmers have found goat’s milk to be a suitable milk replacer. Alternatively, you can use a sow or calf milk replacer, although their effectiveness is lower than raw goat’s milk.

Warm the milk slightly above human body temperature to mimic the mother’s milk and prevent piglets from getting too cold. Initially, bottle-feeding might require gently forcing the piglet’s mouth open.

They may squeal initially but quickly learn to latch onto the bottle. Wrapping the piglet in a towel, affectionately called a “piglet burrito,” helps control their movement during feeding. Be cautious of their sharp teeth, as they are present from day one.

While it’s possible to teach piglets to eat from a dish instead of using a bottle, be aware that pigs love to root and may upturn the dish, causing milk to spill.

It may take several attempts for them to grasp the concept of drinking from a dish instead of sucking on a teat, which is their instinct when hungry. Feed piglets frequently when young, gradually spacing out the feedings after a week or two.

Frequent daytime feedings will reduce the need to wake up during the night. Typically, we feed piglets every 4 to 6 hours when they are young, but feedings can occur every 30 minutes to an hour during the day.

As piglets grow older, their interest in solid food increases. Around one to two months old, they are usually ready for weaning if you choose to do so.

Piglets will naturally nurse until the sow no longer allows it. So, if you prefer a more natural approach, you can continue providing milk until the piglet naturally stops drinking it.

Diarrhea in piglets can indicate dehydration or an imbalance of gut bacteria, which may require veterinary attention and possibly antibiotics.

During the first few days, piglet stool should be yellow, orange, or clear, transitioning from the initial black stool passed at birth. Regularly check the piglet’s anus to ensure it is not constipated.

Learn more about How to Bottle Feed a Lamb: A Guide to Raising Hair Sheep

Managing Rooting Behavior

At our farm, we believe in allowing animals to engage in their natural behaviors, including rooting. Rooting is how piglets explore their environment and search for food. However, some farmers use nose rings after the piglets reach one month to discourage rooting.

Young pigs receive temporary nose rings, while older ones have permanent rings. Nose ring providers can offer specific instructions on administering them based on piglet age.

Remember that if you aim to achieve Animal Welfare Approved certification, nose rings are prohibited, except in cases where rooting could harm soil structure, pollute the environment, or jeopardize piglet health.

Parasite Control

In our outdoor farming setup with regular land rotation, parasites are typically not a significant concern.

However, if your pig will remain in one area for extended periods, administering a dewormer might be necessary. Consult with a veterinarian for guidance on the appropriate deworming practices.

Anemia Prevention

Some veterinarians recommend iron shots to prevent anemia in piglets, although these can lead to diarrhea and other side effects. Alternatively, some farmers choose to allow piglets to root in the dirt, as it provides them with iron.

While goat’s milk has the highest iron uptake among animal milk, it may still be insufficient. On our farm, we utilize the dirt rooting method.

Other practices common in large-scale pig operations include docking tails, clipping needle teeth, and castrating boars. If you are considering these practices, further research is advisable to determine their suitability for your farm.

Two excellent resources that I highly recommend are “Raising the Homestead Hog” by Jerome D. Belanger (Rodale Press, 1977) and “Small-Scale Pig Raising” by Dirk Van Loon (Storey Publishing, 1978).

By following these expert guidelines, you will be well-equipped to provide effective care for your piglets. Remember, each farm and situation is unique, so adapt these practices to suit your needs.

Raising piglets can be a rewarding experience, and I hope these insights help you on your journey as a pig farmer.

Caring for Piglets: Essential Tips for Success

Lessons Learned from an Accidental Pig Farmer

Becoming a pig farmer was never my initial intention, but sometimes life takes unexpected turns. It all began with a small garden I started during college, eventually leading to a passion for farming and a desire to connect with my family’s agricultural heritage.

After years of honing my gardening skills, my wife and I decided to take the leap and establish our homestead, complete with chickens and a flourishing garden.

However, our journey took an unexpected twist when a friend offered us two Berkshire piglets from her organic farm.

Intrigued by the idea, we embarked on a six-hour journey with the piglets snugly secured in the back of our car. Little did we know that this would begin our foray into pig farming.

As we watched the piglets grow, we became captivated by the process and eventually transported them to a processor. The result was an abundance of high-quality pork that quickly gained popularity at the local farmers’ market.

This venture turned us into accidental pig farmers, and we soon learned the ins and outs of pig breeding.

While we no longer breed and raise piglets, our experience as market farmers left us with valuable knowledge in pig farming. Here are three essential considerations to ponder before embarking on your pig farming journey:

  1. Plan Your Season: Pigs have a precise gestation period of 115 days, followed by a growth period of approximately six months to reach the ideal processing weight. Carefully consider when to breed your pigs to ensure they are born during favorable weather conditions, avoiding harsh winter months that require extra care. Plan your breeding schedule to align with the market season and ensure a sufficient meat supply for customers and personal use throughout the year.
  2. Meat Matters: Before diving into pig farming, think about the meat you want to produce. Different pig breeds offer distinct flavors and characteristics. If you have a specific breed in mind, be prepared to educate your customers and cater to their preferences. Alternatively, raising mixed or heritage breeds can create an appealing variety for pasture-raised pork enthusiasts.
  3. Breeding or Buying Baby Pigs: Decide whether you want to breed your pigs or establish a relationship with a reputable breeder. Breeding offers cost advantages but requires careful consideration of feed expenses and investment in a suitable farrowing setup. On the other hand, buying baby pigs eliminates the uncertainties and losses associated with breeding but comes at a higher initial cost. Choose the approach that aligns with your goals and resources.

Raising baby pigs can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and planning and considering these factors will help you make the most of your journey with these delightful creatures.

Though our pig farming days are behind us, the lessons we learned continue to shape our farming endeavors.

Related post: A Beginner’s Guide to Livestock Breeds: Our Top Picks for Your Farm

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