Raising Piglets. How to Raise Piglets. How to Care for Piglets.
Are you raising piglets at home? Raising healthy piglets is a crucial part to raising healthy pigs.
Learn everything that you need to know in order to get your piglets off to a strong start.
To make it easier on you, I’ve put together a checklist of everything that you need to do the first day with your new piglets.
Does the sow need help giving birth?
Raising healthy piglets actually starts with the sow. Make sure that your sow is healthy during her pregnancy and isn’t lacking for proper nutrition.
When it comes time for her to farrow (have her piglets), keep an eye on her if you can. Sometimes sows will have piglets in the middle of the night and you may not be able to monitor her if she does that.
For gilts that haven’t farrowed before or sows that have had problems farrowing in the past, you’ll want to make sure that she doesn’t need any help from you. Once her labor begins, try to monitor the labor to make sure that she’s making good progress.
Monitoring the farrowing process
You can usually tell when a gilt or sow is going into labor. She will start nesting. She will become restless and may attempt to make a nest out of any bedding that she has.
This can happen up to a day or two before her labor actually begins. She’ll probably also go off of her feed. Nesting and going off of feed are considered the first stage of labor. Once your gilt or sow starts showing these behaviors, it won’t be long before piglets start to arrive.
The second stage of labor is when she will actually give birth. Normally labor takes somewhere between 2-3 hours. You can expect piglets to be born every 15-20 minutes.
In gilts, labor can take a little bit longer. The amount of time between the first and second piglet is usually the longest. Piglets born towards the end of the litter usually come at faster intervals.
Intervals of 30-45 minutes between piglets can mean problems for your sow and the piglets. You may want to see if she needs help if they are taking a long time to arrive.
Checking the sow
If you think the sow is taking too long, then you’ll want to evaluate her and see if she needs help.
The first thing you’ll need to do is determine if there is a piglet in the birth canal. Sometimes piglets can get turned or stuck in the birth canal, which can be harmful to both the sow and the piglets.
To check the birth canal, you’ll need to reach into it and feel around. Before you reach into the birth canal, make sure that your hand isn’t too large. You don’t want to damage your sow or gilt. This is especially crucial if you have a gilt since they usually have a smaller birth canal.
Clean the vulva well with mild detergent and water. You don’t want to introduce dirt or bacteria into the birth canal.
Next, put a shoulder-length OB glove on your hand. Generously coat the glove with OB lube. Make your hand into a cone shape and gently reach into the birth canal. Piglets will feel small and hard.
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Decide if the piglet can be delivered
Once you feel a piglet, decide if it feels normal sized. If so, feel around and make sure that there is only one piglet there. Sometimes a stuck piglet will back up the birth canal and another piglet can squeeze on top of it like a traffic jam.
If there’s only one piglet, you may need to maneuver it to help it come out. See if you can grab either the feet or the head to help it out. You may need to use a snare or similar device to pull the piglet out of the birth canal.
Grab the piglet’s feet with your fingers above the knees or hocks. If you can’t grab the feet, grab the head with your index and middle fingers behind the ears. Gently pull the piglet towards you and out of the birth canal.
Once out, break the umbilical cord by gently pulling the piglet away from the sow. Try to leave it about 3 inches long. Clean any membranes or mucus off of the nose and mouth so that the piglet can breathe.
Monitor the rest of the birth. Hopefully removing the one difficult piglet will solve your problem and the rest of the labor will continue smoothly.
If you don’t feel any piglets or the sow still appears to be in extreme discomfort, then you may want to contact a veterinarian. A hard labor can damage her reproductive tract and cause her to become infertile later. Piglets that are stuck in the birth canal can also become injured or die if they aren’t born.
It’s hard not to fall in love with a runt, although the runt’s siblings would probably disagree. Runts are often the last to eat and may not get to eat much or at all. They’re also run over and bullied by their larger siblings, so how can you make sure that they make it?
Most litters will have at least one runt. Most pigs have been bred to produce larger numbers of piglets in the litter. Not all of these piglets get the nutrition needed to reach full size.
There are a few ways that you can manage runts. If you have multiple sows giving birth at the same time, it’s possible to rearrange litters based on piglet size. This is a common practice in commercial sow production, but you can make the same concept work for you if you have as little as 2 litters born around the same time.
Simply rearrange the two litters, mixing the piglets up to create two more uniform litters. Take the larger piglets from one litter and put them with one sow and place the smaller piglets with the other sow. You’ll have a larger litter and a smaller litter. This gives the smaller piglets a better chance since they aren’t being pushed around by larger siblings.
If you only have one sow, the next best thing to do is to try to isolate the runt and save it. Keep in mind that not all runts will survive and some just aren’t as viable and strong as others. But, to give it a fighting chance, you can bring it inside in a warm box and feed it by hand. Sometimes you can catch it up to the other piglets and reintroduce it to the litter later.
What to Do the First Day with Piglets
Most of the work with piglets should be done the first day. It’s been proven over and over that preventative care during day one of the piglet’s life will increase their chances of survival and make them much more productive as they get older.
Don’t skip these tasks on day one. The longer that you wait to do them, the harder they’ll be and the more likely your piglets will get sick or die. Just bite the bullet and get them over with while the piglets are small and easy to handle.
If you’re present for the birth or soon after, you’ll want to dip your piglet’s navels.
Dip the navels in an iodine solution. Each piglet will likely have umbilical cord hanging from them for a few days. The umbilical cord will drag the ground and can get pretty nasty. It’s an open track for bacteria and other disease-causing organisms to get into the piglet.
Dipping the navels in iodine solution can help prevent bacteria and disease from getting into your piglets.
If you don’t have iodine on hand, the next best thing is BluKote or a topical wound treatment safe for pigs. Treat or dip all of the navels of all piglets. If you only dip a few, you may have one or two piglets that develop illness and pass it on to your piglets that have dipped navels.
Clipping Wolf Teeth
Piglets are born with sharp teeth on either side of their jaw. These wolf teeth can be clipped to prevent injury to the sow or other piglets in the litter. It’s an optional procedure, but one that you may want to read up on. If you’re going to clip the needle teeth, do it on day one.
Most commercial producers clip wolf teeth to prevent injury to the sow and fellow piglets. If you’re raising pigs in your backyard, you may not want to clip the wolf teeth.
If you choose not to clip them, make sure that the sow’s teats and udders aren’t becoming injured. Also, make sure that any aggressive piglets aren’t causing harm to siblings in the litter. The wolf teeth can cause deep cuts that can become infected and cause future problems for sows.
Piglets that are causing harm with their needle teeth can be weaned early to reduce damage to the siblings or the mother.
This is another procedure that is common in the commercial swine industry and is optional. If you’re raising pigs for yourself, it may not make sense to notch ears. However, if you’re raising a bunch of pigs, notching ears is a permanent way to easily identify pigs.
Pigs and ear tags don’t always get along. Ear tags can be ripped out, making it hard to identify which pigs are which. Ear tattoos are another option, but require you to get really close to a pig to see who it is.
Ear notching creates a pattern on the pigs ears that correspond to numbers. Since the ears have notches in them, there isn’t anything that can get pulled out (like an ear tag). You’ll be able to easily identify pigs even from a distance.
The ear notches in the right ear let you know which litter the piglets came from. So, all siblings within a litter will have the same notches in the right ear.
Ear notches in the left ear are given to identify individual pigs in a litter. When you look at a pig with ear notches, you’ll be able to identify the individual pig and the litter that it came from. Ear notching piglets is easiest the first day. This is a task that gets considerably harder both mentally and physically as piglets get older so it’s best to do it when they are small and easily handled.
If you’ve ever seen show pigs or commercial pigs, you may have noticed their lack of a curly tail that you picture on pigs. There’s a reason for this.
Piglets are bad about chewing on each other’s tails. To prevent injury and infection, many pig producers will clip the tails when the piglets are first born. Piglets are more likely to chew on their siblings tails after they are several days old.
Clipping the tails removes the ‘chew toy’ early. If you clip tails, the tail stub will have healed before the siblings take interest in it. Sometimes tail chewing can turn into more severe cannibalism, causing serious injury to a pig’s hind end.
It’s a procedure that is optional and many backyard breeders don’t have problems with tail chewing. If you notice a piglet that chews tails, you may want to avoid breeding it. You might also want to consider docking the tails of future piglets related to a tail chewer since it could be genetic.
Raising pigs for meat is one of the most common reasons for raising pigs. If you’re raising pigs strictly for meat, then you’ll want to castrate male pigs as soon as possible.
Uncastrated male pigs will produce massive amounts of testosterone. This is a reproductive hormone that you would want your male pigs to produce if you were breeding them, but if you’re eating them, it’s a completely different story.
Male pigs that aren’t castrated and are slaughtered for meat will develop a condition called ‘boar taint’. Boar taint causes bitter flavoring of meat. The flavor comes from the large amounts of testosterone present in the muscle tissues of uncastrated male pigs.
Pigs produce more testosterone than other livestock, which is why you don’t hear about the same issue in bulls, rams or bucks.
The sooner you can castrate male pigs, the better. It’s easiest the first day when piglets are small and easy to handle. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re trying to castrate a 100 pound boar. Trust me, we’ve done it and won’t be doing it again any time soon!
The video below does an amazing job of showing how to quickly clip wolf teeth, notch ears and castrate male piglets.
This is one of the most important, must-do items on the list. If you don’t do anything else when piglets are born, give them iron shots.
Most piglets are born with an iron deficiency. If it’s not treated, the piglets can die. In fact, before researchers knew this, about 30% of piglets died in litters. The high death rate is mostly due to the iron deficiency.
You can buy iron for injections over the counter and significantly reduce the amount of death in your litters.
It’s also been proven that piglets which are given an iron injection are more vigorous and have faster growth rates and reduced health problems later in life.
Each piglet will need a dose of 100-200 mg. Research has shown that 200mg is the most effective dose and provides the longest-lasting benefits. A dose of 100mg will prevent pigs from developing anemia early on, but they may need a booster later. The lower dose doesn’t produce the faster growth rates that a larger dose does.
Iron injections are given into the muscle of pigs and can be given between day 1- day 3 for the best results.
This is a topic that has been hotly debated lately. Antibiotics are usually given to piglets as a preventative measure to reduce the instance of disease. It’s a common practice in commercial pig production where there are large amounts of pigs living in a small space.
Raising pigs in your backyard usually means that you’ve got a small number of pigs. In this case, disease is less likely to occur. It’s not completely off of the table though, so you may want to do your research about the pros and cons of giving your pigs antibiotics.
Do you frequently bring new pigs onto your property? Then you’ll likely be better off by giving antibiotics as a preventative. If your herd is closed, meaning you don’t bring new pigs in frequently and all of your pigs are healthy, then you may be able to raise piglets without the same amount of antibiotics.
It’s always a good idea to speak to a swine veterinarian about your antibiotic use. They can help you determine whether it’s something that is necessary for you and decide which antibiotics would be most beneficial for your pigs.
MY FREE DAY ONE WITH PIGLETS CHEATSHEET
Keeping Piglets Warm and Safe
Piglets are born small and need to be kept warm and safe. Piglets will grow exceptionally fast. Their fast growth rate means that their bodies put a ton of energy into growing, leaving less energy to keep them warm.
There are two very different views about piglets and keeping them warm and some of it has to do with the type of pigs that you are raising.
In a commercial setting, pigs are raised in a climate controlled house. These fast-growing pigs usually don’t have the same amount of fat that their heritage cousins have. Commercial meat breeds like the Yorkshire, Hampshire and Landrace are leaner pigs, making it harder for them to stay warm. The same applies to their piglets.
In a commercial swine barn, sows prefer to be kept cool while the piglets prefer temperatures of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to accomplish this, producers will keep the barn itself cooler and provide heating pads for the piglets to lay on to keep their body temperatures up. The sows don’t lay on the heating pad, which also reduces the instances of crushing (a common problem in the swine industry).
Raising pigs in your backyard is a little different. You may not have access to a farrowing crate, the device designed to prevent large sows from laying on their piglets and crushing them. You may also be raising heritage pigs, which tend to be a little better suited to surviving without as much intervention from us.
Heritage breed piglets usually have more fat on them and don’t require as much additional warmth to survive. Heritage breed mothers are often better mothers and can keep their piglets warm without laying on them and crushing them the same way that commercial breeds do.
Keeping your piglets warm is easiest if you have a warm place for them to escape. A three sided shed or a barn with deep bedding can help keep your piglets nice and cozy. You can always add heating pads if you need to.
Don’t attempt to heat an area with bedding using a heat lamp. Heat lamps are the most common cause of fires on farms in the winter time. If you need to add heat, opt for a heating pad rather than a heat lamp dangling over deep, flammable bedding.
If you walk into a large swine commercial swine barn that houses hundreds or thousands of pigs, you might be surprised that it’s very quiet. Pigs aren’t loud unless they’re upset and they are very social animals.
Your piglets will start to develop their social hierarchy within a couple of hours of being born. It’s uncommon for them to fight if they are well-fed and healthy. Piglets that are constantly loud may have problems going on that need to be addressed (wrong temperature, not enough feed, bullying, etc).
Pigs in the wild will spend a lot of time rooting and foraging for food. This instinct is something that domestic pigs still have. You’ll notice your piglets rooting around from a young age, even if they are raised on concrete and there’s nothing for them to actually root in.
Pigs are very intelligent and are curious. If you notice bad behaviors, like cannibalism or bullying in your pigs, you may want to provide them with some entertainment. A bale of straw is a perfect way to encourage rooting in pigs.
Of course, pigs that are allowed out of the barn and into pasture will entertain themselves naturally.
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Do you raise piglets? How do you care for your piglets? Let me know below!