If you have pigs on your farm, odds are that you (at some point) will be expecting piglets. If that’s the case, then you will find yourself with a pregnant gilt or sow as well. I’m going to dive in to what you can expect with pig pregnancy.
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It can be a little overwhelming to think about the birthing process and pregnancy of a different species.
Pig pregnancy is no different. I know, we have pigs! Being a pig momma can be stressful at times, especially if something unexpected happens.
I don’t want it to be stressful for you though. I want to answer all of your pig pregnancy questions up front (or most of them) before you start stressing yourself out. To help, I’ve created a list of the most common pig pregnancy questions and their answers that you can download here:
Pig Pregnancy Questions Answered
1. How long are pigs pregnant?
This is a really common question that I hear regarding pig pregnancy. It’s also probably one of the simplest to answer.
Remember the rule of 3’s.
Pigs are pregnant right around 114 days. An easy way to remember this is with the rule of 3’s: 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days. Pigs will usually give birth with this time frame. Many pigs will give birth exactly 114 days after the onset of pregnancy.
Pig birthing dates are very predictable unlike some of the other livestock species. If you know the date that your pig was bred, you can use a simple calculator like this one or this one to approximate when she will give birth.
2. What is a ‘piggy sow’?
If you talk to someone that raises pigs, you may hear the term ‘piggy sow’. I mentioned above that pigs are pregnant for close to four months. However, not much about their appearance changes until they are about three months pregnant.
Once sows are about three months pregnant, they start to show. They will start to look more pot-bellied and round in the middle. Think pot bellied pig. That’s where the term ‘piggy sow’ came from. A nonpregnant pig will look more trim and flat down the sides.
So, a piggy sow is a sow (or gilt) that is far along enough in her pregnancy that she is starting to show. A piggy sow will actually look pregnant.
3. What does the word farrowing mean?
This is another really common question that I answer. Scientists love to give weird names to processes, especially animal processes. Livestock are no exception to that rule.
When cows give birth, we say that they are calving, or have calved (past tense). When horses give birth, they are foaling. Goats that are giving birth are kidding (no, that’s really what it’s called). Pretty simple rule to follow when naming the birthing process.
Pigs however don’t follow the same rule. We don’t say that a sow is ‘pigging’. When sows (or gilts) are giving birth, we say that they are farrowing. Fancy name for the messy process.
4. While we are talking about farrowing, what is a farrowing crate?
Many breeds of pigs are notorious for being careless mothers. This is especially true for many of the breeds that have excellent meat quality. That being said, most of the commercial pigs raised for meat in the U.S. have a chance of being careless mothers.
Why does that matter?
Consider this. A typical sow may weigh 400 pounds. When she gives birth, the piglets may only weigh a couple of pounds a piece. And she may have 13 or so piglets. Pigs love to be lazy and lay down. When she gets up to eat or drink, the piglets move around her. When she gets ready to lay down, she may lay on top of some of the piglets. A small piglet doesn’t stand a chance under a large sow.
Many sows will crush their piglets on accident by laying on them. The piglets need to stay warm, especially when they are young. This is unfortunately the same time that they are smallest and most vulnerable. To combat this, animal scientists came up with the farrowing crate as an option for keeping piglets safe.
The farrowing crate is a narrow cage that restricts the space that the sow has to move around. On either sides of the crate, there are heating pads and lamps. The heating pads and lamps give the piglets a warm place to lay, without getting to close to the sow. They can still reach her to nurse and can lay next to her if they want to.
The sow is given a cooler area to lay in the middle of the crate. This helps her stay cool as pigs can’t sweat and are more likely to overheat than other livestock species. A farrowing crate can help lower the number of piglet deaths tremendously if used properly.
5. How many piglets will my pig have?
This is a question that is difficult to answer.
There are many variables that go into answering this question. For example, usually pigs will have larger litters as the get older (to a certain point then they start to become less productive). This happens for a couple of different reasons. As the pig’s body becomes used to maintaining pregnancy, the reproductive organs become better adapted to pregnancy. The uterus becomes slightly larger and able to hold more piglets. The sow’s body also releases more eggs for fertilization.
A typical litter in U.S. breeds is 8-13 piglets. I would consider 13 piglets to be an excellent sized litter. Pigs today can have upwards of 22 piglets per litter but many of these piglets are born small and very weak. 13 seems to be the ideal goal to shoot for as many sows can raise 13 piglets without an issue.
Many Chinese breeds of pigs, such as the Meishan, are known for being extremely prolific and have litters consistently over 20 piglets. If you want more information about the Meishan and other breeds of pigs, read my post on the breeds of pigs.
6. Do I need to feed my pig differently while she is pregnant?
Yes! The nutritional needs of pregnant pigs are going to be different from that of nonpregnant pigs.
A good rule of thumb is to plan on feeding her an extra two pounds of food per day starting at day 100 of her pregnancy. She starts needing extra calories around day 100. The extra feed will not only give her the extra calories she will need to grow all of her babies, but it will also give her some extra fat to put on.
She will need the extra fat once she starts nursing her pigs. The last thing you want her to do is lose too much weight after she gives birth. This is especially true if you plan on breeding her again soon after she weans her piglets.
If you have a sow that seems underweight during pregnancy, plan on increasing her feed more. You can check out this extension article about feeding pregnant pigs. It goes into more depth about feeding pregnant pigs. Also, if you aren’t sure, you can always contact your local livestock veterinarian to get more advice on feeding your sow.
7. Should I look for anything specific in a pig to breed?
If you’re looking at a pig that you like, there are a few things that you can look for to get an idea of how she will be as a mother. If you are going to spend the time and money to breed a pig, you want to spend it on one that will be as productive as possible.
The first thing that I check is the pig’s underline. In other words, I look at her abdomen. When I look at her abdomen, I’m doing one thing. I count how many teats she has.
I mentioned above that a good litter will have about 13 piglets. If the pig has 13 babies, but only has 10 teats to nurse, then odds are that she will only raise 10 piglets to weaning age. The more teats she has, the better. More teats can also mean that she will give birth to more piglets.
I also make sure that the teats are fully developed and look normal.
The next thing that I check is her rear end. You want to check her vulva. The vulva is the external female reproductive organs. A normal pig’s vulva looks like an upside down tear drop. The tip should point straight down to the ground. Occasionally you will see a pig that has a vulva that points out horizontally. Research has actually linked these vulvas to reproductive issues. Avoid pigs with a vulva that points any direction other than straight down.
8. Will my pig show any outward signs of pregnancy?
I mentioned above that pigs will start to look pregnant about 100 days into pregnancy. That’s great and all, but that’s a long time to wait if you are trying to determine if you pig is pregnant. There are a few hints that can help you figure out if she is pregnant or not.
One of the best ways to determine if she is pregnant is to monitor her heat cycle. If you think she is pregnant, then she shouldn’t come back into heat. If she comes back into heat, she either lost the pregnancy or she wasn’t pregnant to begin with. Pigs come into heat about every 21-30 days. You can start watching her three weeks after you think she was bred to see if she comes into heat.
Some farmers will check the ‘pregnancy indicator’.
Remember when I said the vulva should point down towards the ground? When a pig is pregnant, the vulva tip may gradually start to rotate and point up more. This isn’t a 100% accurate test and can vary among individual pigs. It does make sense though. As the piglets get larger and weigh more, they start to pull on the pig’s reproductive tract, which pulls on the pig’s vulva, causing it to tip up.
The fastest, most accurate way to determine pregnancy is to have a veterinarian perform a pregnancy test.
You can purchase small home ultrasound machines for a couple hundred bucks and look at the pigs yourself if you know what you’re looking at.
There are a number of pig pregnancy detection devices available online.
9. Will she show signs of farrowing before she farrows?
There are a few things that you can look for that will give you a heads up to when your pig is getting close. Keep in mind that all pigs are going to be a little different and that you’ll need to learn the normal process for your pig.
Also, remember that one of the best indicators is going to be the farrowing date that you calculated from the calculators above.
10-14 days before farrowing, the sow’s vulva and/or mammary glands may swell.
Usually sows that have had litters before will get milk before farrowing. Many gilts that haven’t farrowed before will not get milk in until they farrow.
Pig pregnancy is similar in that way to human or other mammal pregnancy. It’s pretty normal for new mommas to not get milk until right before the birthing process. Older animals that have given birth will tend to get milk in sooner because their body knows how to prepare.
You can also check to see if the veins around the teats show up more than normal. This is easier to see in light pigs than dark pigs. If you can see the veins more than normal, that means her body is bringing more blood and nutrients to the mammary glands to start producing milk.
Sows may become more restless than normal closer to farrowing. They may seem unable to get comfortable. It’s normal for them to move around, get up, lay down and even try to chew bedding before farrowing.
There may also be a mucous discharge from the vulva before farrowing. If the pig has milk, you can check to see if you can express any milk. If you can, farrowing isn’t far away.
10. What can I expect when she gives birth?
Just like pig pregnancy itself, there is some variance to what you can expect when your sow gives birth.
The farrowing process is generally going to take anywhere from three to eight hours. Gilts that haven’t had litters yet may take longer than sows with experience giving birth. The amount of time it takes also depends on how many piglets there are.
When the sow is getting ready to give birth, she will lay on her side. You may be able to see contractions. Right before a piglet is born, she will raise her leg up and may twitch her tail.
Usually the first piglet is born and then there is a wait before the second pig is born.
This pause in births can be as much as an hour. After the second piglet, the births usually happen pretty quickly. As she is giving birth, make sure that you monitor the piglets and that everything is going smoothly.
It’s a good idea to have the veterinarian’s number close in case you need to call him/her.
The first few pigs are usually born headfirst. The pigs born later in the litter may be born backwards. This is normal and not an emergency.
The sow is most likely done when she acts peaceful, isn’t shivering or acting uncomfortable. She will begin talking to the piglets. After the piglets are all born, she will pass the placenta. The placenta usually takes one to four hours to be passed.
You need to monitor the sow closely the first 24 hours after farrowing. Make sure that she isn’t showing signs of infection.
She will have bloody discharge for a few days, which is normal and expected. As long as she is eating, acting normal and comfortable, then she is most likely fine.
Occasionally, germs will get into the vagina and uterus during birth. These germs can cause an infection that requires antibiotics.
11. What are some problems that my sow can have during birth?
Pig pregnancy and birthing is not without its problems. There are a few things that you need to be on the lookout for when your pig is giving birth.
When the sow is giving birth, she may have a stillborn pig. If she does, continue to monitor her. Take note of the piglet(s) that were stillborn. This is important for future litters.
As long as the pig is old enough and large enough, you shouldn’t have problems with piglets that are too large.
If your pig is smaller framed and she was bred to a large boar, then you may have piglets that are too big to fit through the birth canal. This is called dystocia and can result in stillborn piglets and death of the mother.
This is an emergency situation and requires either an experienced breeder or a veterinarian to help pull the piglet.
Occasionally a piglet will be born not breathing.
This is commonly due to mucous in the nose. You can take a small piece of string or straw and tickle inside the nose to make the piglet sneeze or cough.
This will remove the mucous, allowing the piglet to breathe. If the piglet isn’t breathing and doesn’t have a pulse, it may be stillborn.
Last Piece of Advice
If you’re a first time pig momma, the best thing I can tell you is to relax. Keep your veterinarian’s phone number close by just to make yourself feel more comfortable. Odds are that everything is going to work out.
If there is an unexpected issue or it seems that the pregnancy or farrowing isn’t going as planned, call your vet! Call even if it’s after hours. He/she will probably be able to tell you over the phone if it is an actual emergency situation or if it is something that will work itself out.
Grab your FREE Pig Pregnancy Questions Answer Sheet here!