Check out this detailed farrowing guide from my best friend and Day One Farrowing expert, Erin Brenneman. I’ve asked Erin to share with us the tools she uses to get brand new piglets off to a great start. She’s a former city girl, turned farm maven and has assisted in thousands of farrowings (piglet births) in her experience on the family farm. She says, “In the past twelve years I’ve been responsible for making sure every piglet born on our 29,000 sow farm has all its needs met for a healthy start in life, every day.” If you are an avid 4H-er looking for new tips on giving piglets a great start or even if you don’t live on a farm at all, you will enjoy learning about the steps this Iowa farmer and her crew takes to make sure the piglets born on their farm are well cared for.
Erin has helped me out numerous times with our small purebred seedstock farm, by giving me these same tips and beneficial knowledge that has also helped many of my friends too. She’s organized this guide for me to share with my “Owned Bred Born and Raised Project” (4H Swine participants in our county who farrow their own sows and raise their own show pigs) 4H-ers and I want to share it with you too. I’m always thankful for all of the people in the pork industry who are so committed to caring for their pigs and willing to share their experience and wisdom to help other farmers, big or small. We all have different farm types and skill levels, but with the tools and expert advice provided in this guide, we hope you find something that may enhance your farrowing experience and make it more successful.
Find Erin on social media under the handle @sowmomma or on her family farm’s Facebook page, Brenneman Pork, or on Snapchat: @spookgal, where you can learn a lot about modern pig farming. (After her favorite horse, Spook.)
Also, check out the EXTRA! tip #8 for a SPECIAL OFFER from our friends at “The Hat Cottage” where we purchase the scrub caps we wear in the barn!
Manage your environment.
Be sure you are set up for success well before the first pig hits the ground. Make sure your area is squeaky clean, dry as can be, and preheated so that the surfaces are warm. We are asking a lot out of these newborn piglets; let’s make sure we give them all that we can at their most vulnerable hour. Also take additional steps to ensure the comfort of your sows as well.
Be prepared with the appropriate tools.
There are a few tried and true tools that I would never go without in a farrowing situation. They are: OB lube and OB sleeves, drying powder, a hand towel, and calcium. The lube and sleeves help with assisting any “trouble pigs”, who may be in a compromising position inside of the sow and unable to make an entrance on their own. These two items also help maintain a clean environment for the handler, and the sow. Drying powder is the absolute must in order to quickly dry off that piglet and reduce any additional heat loss. We like to use the “Mistral” brand. The hand towel assists removing the moisture off of the pig. Every pig born on our farm is hand dried. Calcium is a wonderful tool in the farrowing house. It helps to restore the potential imbalance of calcium in a farrowing sow’s body. Contracting muscles require a lot of calcium. If she is standing up then lying down repeatedly, only laying on her belly or just plain uneasy, calcium may work well for her. (Consult your veterinarian for regarding the use and administration of calcium.)
Make sure your piglets are warm.
The moment that piglet is born he is entering quite a temperature change. It is an absolute must to dry your pigs off immediately after birth and get them to a warm spot to ensure a healthy start. Make sure you have a heat lamp, turned on and that it has had enough time to warm that specific surface to a desirable temperature (90-95 degrees is best). We place black rubber mats under the heat lamp to absorb the heat and give the piglets a nice surface to lay on. Inside the barn, a temperature range from 70-73 degrees is beneficial to keep sows comfortable. It is crucial to ensure the space where the piglets go under the heat lamp is well warmed in advance of their arrival. Note: Infrared thermometers are an inexpensive way to check surface temperatures in the barn.
A dry piglet, is a warmer piglet.
The next is the physical drying of the pig. Every second after that pig is born he is losing body heat at a rapid rate. The act of drying him off will preserve his body heat. Use a drying powder (“Mistral”, see photo) to absorb the moisture off of the pig and use a towel to wipe it away. Any old towel will work for this; actually old towels work the best! Once he is cleaned off and dry, an additional sprinkle of powder to absorb any residual moisture is beneficial as well. The “hand drying” process makes a huge difference in the vigor and future health of these pigs. Not only are you warming him up, but the drying action stimulates his blood flow and wakes him up to get ready to nurse.
Get his belly full of milk.
This one seems obvious, but it is not so obvious to a newborn pig. Almost every healthy pig that is born has an instinctive suckling reflex and will be ready and willing to nurse if he finds the place to do it. The longer he goes without finding a teat the harder it will be for him to nurse effectively and receive that highly important “liquid gold” milk, colostrum. Colostrum is only expressed from the sow for a short amount of time after birth. After drying, usher each piglet to the teat and encourage him to nurse. It always helps to even splash a little of the milk into the piglets mouth so he gets the taste-they seem to know exactly what to do after that
Try hard to be there when your sow farrows.
Mother Nature doesn’t work on a time schedule. That is the love/hate relationship that we work with every single day as farmers. But it is that which makes us so committed to our animals and our lifestyle. Being present for an animal giving birth is the only way that we are going to be able to accomplish any of the above steps. It is true that animals have done this on their own for a very long time, before we were there watching them. It is that extra edge and assurance that we are making a healthy, thriving animal by being there. I will even let you in on a little secret that we have learned through having a 24-hour care staff for our sow mommas: the majority of your animals will give birth in between 4pm and 11pm. It almost seems like they will wait for the chaos of the day to settle down so that they can relax and carry on with it.
Visit, revisit and take notes.
At the rate that they grow and change, pigs are simply not a “set it and forget it” animal. You absolutely need to be assessing the situation every day for any changes or assistance. Learn to look for signs if the sow is uncomfortable or the pigs. My father-in-law has always taught me to look at the pigs. The pigs will always tell you what they need. Look at how they are laying. Are they piled? Are they spread out? Are they under your heat lamp and close to mom (too cold) or are they making a perfect circle around the outsides of where the heat lamp casts its glow (too hot)? Is mom nursing? Are the pigs lying on top of her? While this may look cute, it is almost always a serious indication that mom is not feeling well. Revisit today, make notes of what you notice, revisit those notes tomorrow. You will begin to learn what works, and what doesn’t. Also, one of the most important relationships is the one you have with your veterinarian, don’t forget this.
*PS: One more thing, for the ladies, or guys with man buns:
EXTRA! About the scrub caps:
I get asked quite often what I’m wearing on my head in the barn. I like to wear scrub caps because they keep my hair out of my face when I’m bending over caring for the pigs. My favorite (and Cristen’s favorite too!) shop is thehatcottage.etsy.com or thehatcottage.net and through February 20th you can use the special code “FARROWING” for a discount on your scrub cap purchase!
Thanks for having me on as your guest blogger today and best of luck farrowing your coming litters! Erin
“Erin has an incredible eye for detail when it comes to day one care and getting that piglet plugged in, nursing and off to a good start. For her, it’s a natural thing. There’s no doubt she’s an expert.” Rob Brenneman, Brenneman Pork
“Erin, aka SowMomma, is the next best thing to a piglet’s mother in the farrowing house.” Jeremy Robertson, Head of Production, Brenneman Pork