This is my view on how to care for newborn piglets’ and although a lot will depend on the breed and genetics the basic principles are going to be the same. I have seen sows having between 2 and 29 piglets’ at one time and although this is rare it is not uncommon to see sows having over 20 piglets’ on a modern pig unit although the average born alive is more likely to be around 15 again depending on the genetics they are using. More traditional outdoor breeds are more likely to have around 8 to 10 on average.
Generally the higher the litter size the more likely it will be that you may run into problems and you will also need to do more to keep them all alive and healthy. The sows gestation diet and curve are very important during the pregnancy period as are vaccines for parvo and erysipelas and possibly ecol i to help prevent scour along with other methods like back feeding or in short collecting faeces or scour from newly weaned piglets’ and placing it in the pen where pregnant sows are kept to help her built up immunity to the strain of ecol i affecting piglets’ on your farm. She then can pass the antibodies onto her own unborn piglets’ and after they are born through her milk.
The diet and feed quantity or curve are also important we had a very good nutritionist called Karsten Rasmussen who worked with Vilofoss and he explained to me a gradual change over from a gestation diet to a lactation diet before the piglets’ are born help in keeping the sows digestive system right and in turn have better quality colostrum. If you can get the sow right and the colostrum right you are well on your way to getting the piglets right but get this part wrong and you’re fighting an uphill battle with looking after piglets’ after that.
Gilts should be placed together and be feed around 20% less than sows before farrowing as they are smaller animals and will eat less to begin with. As farrowing day approaches the amount of feed should be cut and probably turned off on the day they are about to give birth. Water is probably more important than food at that stage as they can become constipated quite easily and will lose a lot of fluids between giving birth and producing milk.
Hygine is another very important thing before piglets’ are born and during their first few days in particular. Not only should houses be thoroughly washed and disinfected but when dry a powered disinfectant like staliston f should be placed on area piglets’ will be lying like the heated pad and behind the sow and after piglets’ are born try to do it twice daily.
There are other drying agents on the market too but I have found using a powder with a disinfectant properties like staliston f to be the most effective on trials carried out. The build up of dung behind the pregnant sow should also be monitored and if possible removed before farrowing. Try to avoid having newborn piglets’ being born onto wet sow dung and dragging their navel cord across it as I believe they can absorb bugs in through their navel cords. At least try to put some shredded paper behind and at sides of the sow and sprinkle some staliston f over the paper so when the piglets’ are born this can help dry and disinfect the piglets’ navel cords.
You should be thinking of the farrowing rooms as like a maternity ward in a hospital at least until piglets’ are around 4 or 5 days old. That also means disinfectant baths at the door and a change of shoes. That might seem a bit overboard with the amount of other work to be done but I am just talking about the house where newborn piglets’ are being born. Over 90% of piglet deaths will probably be in the first week so that is where you can really make the difference.
During the birthing process most sows should farrow themselves but gilts and sows having over 5th litter can be more troublesome. You should try not to keep old sows because like any farm animal the old ones are the ones you are most likely to get into trouble with during the birthing process. If the sow is not having a piglet on average one every 15 minutes it could be a sign that she might need assistance. Wearing a long glove and some gel to put a hand in the sow I would try to get two fingers around the knuckle of the piglets’ back legs if possible and if you can only reach the front of the piglet then try to get too fingers behind the piglets’ ears but this is a bit of a learning process through trial and error.
When the sow has finished farrowing and passed the afterbirth as with all baby animals the single most important thing to them is good quality colostrum and the sooner the better. If the sow was fed properly during the gestation period and had a gradual change over to a lactation diet then the quality of the colostrum should be good once the sow is healthy.
The size of the piglets’ in the litter varies a lot and the bigger piglets’ tend to suckle fairly quickly after birth so its important to look after the small ones as soon as possible. This can be done by a process of split suckling which is putting the bigger piglets’ into a box while letting the smaller piglets’ suckle the sow. The smaller piglets’ may also benefit from piglet booster at this stage which is basically an oral piglet dose which will give them energy to suckle. By allowing the smaller ones to suckle for an hour or more uninterrupted by their bigger siblings will help the whole litter and the condition of the sow.
If possible split suckling should be done twice a day for the first two days of life but at the very least do it for the newborn piglets’ once as getting colostrum in the first 30 hours is critical. A weak piglet who has not got a first drink of colostrum will not have antibodies and have a weakened immunity system. They will also be the first ones to pick up an infection like ecoli or scour and then spread it to every other piglet in the herd.
Some people might suggest to euthanize the small weaker piglets’ but I wouldn’t believe in killing any animal because someone is too lazy to look after it properly. If animal is suffering or unable to walk its understandable the need to not let it suffer or spread an illness to healthy animals but I believe if it is walking and has a chance the person caring for it should give it that chance. It is also easier to keep piglets’ healthy if you do it right from the start and that includes quality colostrum for every piglet.
Once split suckling is done the next job should be having even numbers under the sows. As their would be a big variation in litter sizes it is important that every sow has the number of piglets’ that she can rear and that does not mean the same number under every sow. You need to know how many working nipples the sow has and give her that many piglets’ maybe +1 if you have to. It would also be good practice to select breeding gilts with 16 nipples or more if possible but going into selecting gilts could be written about in a whole other article.
I would also grade piglets’ according to size and put the weaker piglets’ under a second litter sow as i think they have good quality milk and good rearing abilities. For surplus piglets’ I would pick the strongest and put them under a good foster mother that has farrowed around 5 days. A sow who’s piglets’ are ready to be weaned could in turn be brought back to rear the 5-day-old piglets’. When fostering piglets’ care should also be taken to see how many piglets’ a foster sow can rear. Getting it right the first time can reduce the workload of having to do extra fostering for weak piglets’ after a few days.
Once all piglets’ have gotten their first milk and fostering is done their tips of their teeth can be clipped or grinded. Having done trials on this I feel it is better for the welfare of the piglets’ and the sow to take the points off their teeth as they do cause nipple damage to the sow and facial scaring to other piglets’. Navel cords could also be sprayed with iodine and piglet booster given at that stage if you had the time.
If you get that much right in my view it should prevent scour which is one of the main problems in piglets’, other causes can be draughts so correct ventilation and temperature are also important factors.
The second highest cause of pre weaning mortality in piglets’ is that they are being crushed by their mother which is usually when the sow gets up to eat or drink. Sows can be lazy and many will not get up again if they sit or lye on their piglets’ therefore it would be important to have the feeding time for sows at a time when you are in that room especially where piglets’ are under a week old after that most piglets’ get enough sense to move out the way as their mother sits down.
Most sow crates can also be adjusted somewhat so that the sows lie down slower and opened up more after a few days but if you can at all try to arrange your work in that room with the youngest piglets’ to coincide with the sows feeding time. Sows with older piglets’ can be fed at another time if you want to watch them and they can be on a different feed curve anyway and will not require as much water in their feed and would be reduced from a mix ratio of around 3.5:1 to 3:1
At around 2 days of age water and some form of electrolyte can be given to the piglets’ as for the first two days all they should drink is colostrum from their mother, At around 3 days they should get an iron injection and if tail docking needs to be done on the unit this is the time to do it but that depends on the type of system you have for older pigs for example outdoor pigs might not have the same issues with tail biting as indoor pigs.
Piglets should be checked daily for any signs of hunger or runts of the litter that may be falling behind others these piglets’ should be pulled out and placed together under a foster sow. This could be a sow that has her piglets’ reared and might be due to go to the factory.
After the first week piglets’ should be getting stronger and at this stage some small amount of piglet starter feed can be added to a piglet feeder and I mean a small amount. Someone once told me like giving water to piglets’ if you need to spill it out in the morning to give them fresh feed or water then you are giving them too much. At the start they only need the smell and taste of it. Think of it like feeding kittens a saucer of water and a few crumbs of fresh feed you can always add more if they eat the first bit. Little and often is better than too much at once and that goes for feeding all types of pigs.
From that point onward once the sow is looked after she will look after the piglets’. The sow should have clean fresh feed every day too and troughs should be cleaned out daily while feeding the sow as much as she will eat. If the sow can eat more she will pass that onto her piglets’ in her milk. It is also important not to overfeed her or leave old food in her trough but if she wants more and can eat it you will have larger piglets’ at weaning.
The piglets’ starter feed should be increased as they eat more too and feed up to 3 times per day before weaning when they could even be introduced to wet feed at that stage if possible. There is probably a lot more I could go into on this subject but if you can follow the basic steps I mentioned here you should be onto a good start. When I worked with a woman from the Czech republic in the farrowing house that is the system we followed and consistently had under 5% pre weaning mortality and were weaning over 100kgs of piglets’ per sow.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me or leave a comment in the box below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. While working in the farrowing house with piglets’ can be challenging it can also be rewarding when you get it right. I wrote a short piece about rearing pigs for meat here which is somewhat easier and more geared for outdoor or backyard rearing of pigs.