Whether you are buying piglets or have a pregnant sow, there are essential points to get right.
Prepare for piglets by ensuring a dry, clean, wind-free nesting area and a piglet-proof pen. If buying piglets, have the appropriate feeds ready to go. Young piglets away from their mother may need supplemental heat. If raised with the mother, make sure they have enough shelter space.
Buying piglets brings a very different challenge than having a litter of pigs. Let’s cover them, both.
What to do Before Your Sow Gives Birth.
Knowing the expected birthing, or farrowing, date and providing a sheltered area with nesting material are the most important steps of preparation for a litter of pigs. Dry straw is the best nesting material for pigs in cold weather. The nesting material should be in-place 5 days before the expected birthing date.
My preferred material for a piglet-proof open is hog panels. They are short enough for me to step over, plenty strong enough, and have spacings too small for even the smaller brees piglets to get through. Piglets will run right through a cattle or horse fence and they are very hard to get back.
I don’t provide heat for our piglets even on the coldest winter days. In a good shelter, they will be fine. A litter is usually 6-14 piglets. At first, the mother is their primary source of heat. She will not leave the nest much during the first few days.
I have noticed that for about 2 weeks, the sow will leave the nest only to eat, drink, and do her business, then get right back in. It’s usually 5 minutes max. She keeps them warm. the piglets also keep each other warm with their body heat. They literally pile ontop of each other to sleep.
Piglets may venture out of the nest after about a week but the sows put them back, or grunt at them and they run back in. As long as the nest is dry, out of the wind, and full of straw, I don’t need any heat here in snowy Michigan.
When it comes to birthing piglets, that’s more the sow’s job than it is yours. Complications in birthing are fairly rare, so there’s not generally a good reason to be involved in the process. When it’s time and the sow begins to look stressed or not want to get up, leave her alone.
It’s my opinion, and that of many professionals, that interfering with the birthing process can cause extra stress to the sow and negatively impact the hormones which cause good mothering instinct. A sow should clean the piglets and tuck them in the nest as they come. Birthing can take about 12 hours.
When I know it’s within a few days, I just peek my head in the shelter to look for piglets or check to see if the sow has lost her momma belly. When I see that the piglets came, I’ll leave them alone and check on them the next day, when the sow is out of the nest eating, to get a head count.
Caring for piglets With a Sow
The momma will usually take very good care of her piglets if she is not stressed, has a spacious, clean environment, and is well cared for herself. Caring for newborn piglets is more about caring for the sow beforehand.
I don’t separate the piglets from the sow until they are weaned, about 2 months old. A good sow will nurse them and care for them better than I can. By about 2 weeks the piglets usually start nibbling on feed. That’s fine. The sow should have a high-protein feed to help her nurse during that time.
Make sure that the piglets are able to access the feed as soon as they want it. Sometimes they can’t get into a feed trough because they’re soo small. Consider lowering a trough or using a shallow bowl during this time. When piglets are 5 weeks old, they are usually eating a good bit of solid feed.
So basically, piglets come and not much changes until they are weaned and treated like older pigs.
How to Wean Piglets
Sows usually slow down milk production by 5 weeks and start to avoid feeding as much. She’s weaning the piglets naturally. Generally, by 6 weeks you could separate them from their mother because she’s about done with them and they can really pester her while trying to sneak a little more milk.
Most farmers separate piglets from the sow between 6 and 8 weeks. I prefer 8 weeks for smaller litters and maybe a bit less for a litter of 12 or more. When they are weaned, they need a good feed.
When you do separate them, be sure the pen is piglet-proof. If you have a large pig pasture, you probably don’t need to separate them. But, separating them helps the sow gain her strength back and she will be ready to have another litter sooner that way.
Weaning-age pigs can benefit from special feeds. Creep feed is a high-protein feed with dry milk. it’s easy for the piglets to digest. Fermented grains are also great for piglets. Fermented corn and oats have been shown to increase the health and growth of young piglets and are easy on their stomachs.
We feed fermented grains to our older pigs and the piglets start eating that at their pleasure.
The industry standard dictates that a high-protein feed (usually 18 percent protein) is recommended for the first month, then you can go down approximately 1 percent a month up to 6 months old. That usually looks something like this.
- 2 -3 months, 18% protein feed
- 3-4 months, 16% protein feed
- 4-5 months, 15% protein feed
- 5-6 Months, 14% protein feed.
Pigs are usually butchered at about 6 months old. Pigs older than 6 months don’t benefit from extra protein.
If you do have a sow that did a poor job, see if someone can come out and look at your methods and the way you are raising your animals. It could be that you are doing something wrong. Here are some factors that lead to birthing problems.
- Poor feed
- A wet nesting area
- Narrow hips of the sow
If a sow does a poor job, you may not want to breed her again. I would probably give her one more chance, but that’s two strikes you’re out. Some animals are genetically disposed to have problems. That’s how
Caring for Piglets Without a Sow
Piglets without a sow may need supplemental heat. They need extra care since they don’t have a momma looking after them. Before weaning age, piglets should have a milk-based feed or a liquid milk replacer, depending on age. Dry feed should be available by 2-3 weeks old.
After weaning, they are no longer piglets but are feeder pigs. A young feeder pig should not need supplemental heat unless raised alone or in very cold environments. Young feeder pigs raised in groups or 4 or more probably don’t need heat, but keep an eye on them just in case.
That’s really the biggest difference of raising piglets without a sow, they often need a little heat at first. That, and the different feeding techniques. After all, you are now taking on the role of the sow who would have fed them herself. You should not but piglets that are not at least a few days old.
They need the first day or two with their mother to get a proper start. After that, they can be fed a milk replacer from a bottle or a shallow bowl. Bowl feeding is easy, but you may have a hard time trying to help them get the idea.
Farm supply stores sell bottles and nipples for pigs. Newborn piglets can be started on a syringe, like what comes with children’s medicine, if you are in an emergency. It takes four or five minutes to nurse a piglet. Young piglets need it more often. Here’s a feeding schedule for piglets.
- 1-7 days, every 4 hours
- 7-14 days, every 6 hours
- 14-21 days, every 8 hours
You can probably get them drinking milk out of a bowl no problem by 2 weeks old. when bottle feeding, don’t force them to eat more than they want to. It can lead to stomach problems. Just feed them until they don’t really want any more.
Do Piglets Need to be Inside?
Piglets don’t need to be raised inside but it can help them in cold weather, especially if they are raised without their mother. In warm weather, piglets will keep warm outdoors a good shelter. If predation is a concern in your area, raising indoors at first may be a good idea for you.
I am a huge proponent of raising in the open outdoors as much as feasibly possible. We don’t have any barn or shed here so our pigs are raised completely outdoors 24/7, with waterproofed pallet shelters. Fresh air and sunshine go a long ways to helping pigs be happy and healthy.
If I had a barn, I might use it for birthing in cold weather, but what we are doing now seems to be working just fine. We keep the piglets with their momma until naturally weaned. She helps keep them safe and warm, and will chase away predators that may get into the pen.