We thought we’d jot down a few tricks of the trade to share with our farming friends....you know; the little hacks that only those who have tried-and-failed-and-tried-again can attest to.
So here goes. Let’s start with the “before”, and then the “during”, and end with the “after”. Simplistic. Who doesn’t love simple basics.
Move that Mama. Tuck her in a stall, corner, hut, pen....somewhere all her own. This somewhere should be clean (feel free to scrub it down), dry (dust with DE as a base layer), and freshly bedded (try a cushion of pine shavings with a generous pile of straw in the corner you’d like her to favor for nesting). Your farrowing quarters should include a safety zone with proper heating. Our Mamas move two weeks before delivery....
Treat Mama. Bath her. (weather permitting) Brush her. We give a shot of BO-SE (selenium compound). And occasionally a shot of B complex if we feel a pick-me-up is needed (especially during long dreary winter months). Two weeks before farrowing is ideal.
Watch Mama. By the time your sow is established in her farrowing quarters she should have a noticeable milk line and a loose vulva. Time to check daily for milk to come in and for nesting to begin...especially in bigger herds where group breeding is practiced and an exact due date is unknown.
Mamas nesting. The first sign! Nesting can include restlessness (up-and-down, back-and-forth), pawing, and of course, “building” a nest. Once true nesting has begun your sow will be very focused on her task at hand. She may nap but will be restless and fidgety. Some sows will begin to drip milk. Nesting can go on for hours and hours but farrowing is now imminent and WILL commence! I listen closely as my sows breathing patterns change as a sure sign of labor intensifying. There is NO normal. Each sow will have her own experience.
In our piggery, we let the Mamas do the work. They know their business. And nature knows best. Our role is simply oversight. Our watchful eye ensures that the piglets are able to sputter and squirm themselves dry and find the way to the milk bar. If Mama has an up-and-down-sort of labor we may tuck babies away under the lamp to give her some space and keep them out from under foot. Once piglets begin to arrive you can expect them to arrive at regular intervals. If all at once you run into a large laps of time without a delivery or afterbirth (signaling the end of farrowing) your sow should be assessed for distress. Unproductive pushing, heightened agitation, extreme heavy breathing...time to check on things. Inserting a finger or two into her vulva to see if a snout or hooves present themselves. If so, you can assist in pulling the piglet by hooking your thumb inside the mouth and up into the groove of the upper jaw. Pinch down on the snout with your other fingers and gently but steadily pull.... If no snout or feet present themselves it’s time to call your veterinarian or experienced mentor. As the sow prepares to pass her afterbirth she usually begins to shiver and quake. Afterbirth signals the end, or near end of farrowing. In our breeding herd we rarely ever see a piglet born after the afterbirth has been delivered. This is not the case in all herds however.... Once afterbirth has presented Mama should appear calm and content to nurse her young. At this point we feel comfortable leaving the new litter under Mama’s supervision.
Your sow should receive half rations for the first feeding after delivery. Fresh water should be available at all times but take care that water bowls are tall enough that piglets cannot fall in. We take this time to pamper our sows. With eight weeks of nursing ahead of them every little bit of extra nutrition is of benefit to both them and their litter. Waters can be spiked with apple cider vinegar and/or molasses. Our Mamas are brewed our signature Nursing Tea (nettle-utica dioica, blessed thistle-cnicus benedictus, fenugreek-trigonella foenum-graecum, and garlic cloves) which is used as a top dress over their daily rations for the first month of nursing. No need to strain their herbs after steeping, simply include them along with the tea. Hot oatmeal in the winter is also a favorite treat.
Piglets at the BVF piggery receive 1cc of StressMate concentrated bioactive orally within 24 hours of birth, iron shots at 48 hours of age, and vitamin B complex at three days of age. Piglets are closely monitored to ensure all are thriving and receiving equal advantage at the udder--especially in large litters. In cases where litters are large and fighting is taking place we do trim needle teeth to ensure Mama does not suffer from biting. Another option for large litters is to remove one or two of the piglets and place them with another lactating sow nursing a smaller litter. This practice is most successful if the piglet is placed with the surrogate mother within a few hours of birth. In group farrowing situations it is essential to ensure that older piglets (even by a day or so) do not nose out newly born piglets and thus “rob” them of their colostrum.
New litters are trained to the heat lamp in colder weather by placing them regularly under the lamp. Your sow will call to them when she’s ready to nurse. Watch as they find their way to her and ensure no one is left behind. With 24 hours our piglets have learned how to navigate from the safety zone to the udder without assistance. Our barn checks are every 3-4 hours for the first 48 hours. After 72 hours we rarely see any losses due to squishing. Training piglets to the safety zone in warmer weather is more difficult as there is no “warmth” appeal.... In very warm weather a fan can/should be hung to ensure sows do not overheat. Take care to keep the safety zone draft free so that piglets do not take chill and suffer from respiratory illness. During and after labor in warmer climates a spray bottle of cool water can be used to wet down ears and udder to keep Mamas more comfortable.
And there you have it. Farrowing according to the Black Valley Piggery.