Should You Be Present When A Gilt Or Sow Is Farrowing?

I am sometimes asked if you should be present when a gilt or sow is farrowing. Some people believe that you should just let the gilt or sow get on with the farrowing. However if your sow/gilt knows you well then she may not mind you being present. It is useful to be on hand in case the gilt or sow needs assistance or in case the sow becomes aggressive towards the piglets.

If you are present at farrowing time then it is important that you have a pig board and easy access to the door so that you can get away from the sow if she becomes aggressive or is disturbed by your presence. If the gilt or sow is distressed by your presence then you will need to withdraw from the farrowing pen and leave the sow/gilt to farrowing on her own but I would stay close by so you can still monitor if all is going well or if she needs assistance.

My sows farrowed in a barn and usually started farrowing late afternoon and into the evening. I always sat behind the sow so I had easy access to the piglets and was in a position to help the sow if she needed assistance with farrowing the piglets. I would sit with the lights out and the light from the heat lamp would be enough for me to see what was happening.

I also needed to be close by as one of my sows could get aggressive at farrowing time and she has tried to bite and kill the piglets during farrowing.

Being present or close by so you can observe the farrowing process gives you an insight into their farrowing habits and behaviour which is useful information when the sow or gilt farrows again.
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Farrowing Sow’s Breathing

When a sow or gilt is about to farrow (have her piglets) she usually lays down and you can tell when the first piglet is about to be born as the sow or gilts breathing becomes rapid.

Here is a video clip of my pedigree saddleback sow, called Lacy, only minutes away from farrowing. A few minutes after I took this video clip, Lacy started to farrow and her first piglet of 18 was born.

Those of you who are new to keeping and breeding pigs will hopefully find this video clip a useful reference when your sow or gilt is close to farrowing as this will give you an indication of the breathing pattern of a sow or gilt about to farrow.

A useful book for a new pig keeper and breeder is the book Starting With Pigs by Andy Case.

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Why Piglets Born Dead

When I had farrowing gilts on the farm I have always been lucky enough to get live piglets, however sometimes piglets can be born dead but why is that?

“Just wondering I have a gilt that just had her first litter. The first 5 were alive but the next 5 were all dead. This is the second gilt that has had this problem. do you know what might be the reason the second have are dying. Stacey”

I wondered if may be the gilts had an illness but as I am not a vet or had more than 2 years experience with pigs it is hard to know what it could be. I have read that brucellosis and leptospirosis can have the symptoms of still born piglets. Infections or sickness could be the cause.

There are many other factors that could affect the health of the piglets during pregnancy.

If the gilt or sow becomes stressed, has a fight or a knock are factors that could all lead to stillborn piglets.

The health of the gilt or sow can also impact on the health of the piglets. An over weight pig can have difficulty farrowing. A lack of vitamins such as vitamin E and A can affect the birth of piglets.

The pigs diet can affect the health of the piglets and if moldy feed is also given to the gilt or sow then this could make the gilt or sow ill and then affect the piglet.

I have been doing some reading on this subject and I have read that if a piglet dies at the beginning of a pregnancy then when the piglet is born it will be hard and may be starting to deteriorate.

If the piglet dies just prior to birth then the piglet can look normal except it’s eyes may be sunken. One way to tell if a piglet died before birth or just after farrowing is to slice a piece of the piglet’s lung and place it in some water. If the piece of lung floats, it means that the piglet had breathed before death due to the presence of air in the lungs so, it was alive when it emerged.

If you have come across some piglets being born alive and some being born dead in the same farrowing then please let us know what the cause was in that particular case as it may help Stacey to determine why her piglets died.

What To Feed A Pregnant Gilt Or Pregnant Sow

Pregnant sows or gilts can be fed sow breeder pellets, milled barley and vegetables. It is important to increase the amount of feed given to the gilt or sow a few days before she farrows.

Dear Sara
I have a pregnant sow That is due to have little ones this month she just wants to eat corn. I know she needs more of a diet then this what would you recommend for better source of vitamins and minerals? This is my first time with a pregnant sow.

Hi Jeff,
Welcome to farmingfriends and thanks for your question. Give her sow breeder nuts as well and make sure she has plenty of water they need more water when eating dry food.
Also lots of greens is a good idea. Particularly cabbage and broccoli as they helps with milk production. Increase her feed by 2-3lbs a day a few days before farrowing. What breed is your sow? Good luck with the farrowing. it is a joy to watch and the piglets are amazing as soon as they are born they are trying to suckle.
Let me know how she gets on.
Kind regards
Sara @ farmingfriends

What do you feed your pregnamt sows or gilts?

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Saddleback Sow Farrows 16 Piglets

Well on Wednesday night my other saddleback sow Cagney farrowed 16 piglets which did not have to be put in a box as she is the most gentle natured pig you could ever wish to meet and she pigged them without any problems and no aggression.

When I went to feed the sows at tea time I noticed her breathing had got quicker so I knew it would be soon, especially having just seen Lacy pig her piglets the night before. By midnight I was beginning to think that it was a false alarm and decided to come in and do some work on the computer. At 1.30am I went back out and still no sign so decided to go to bed but set my alarm for an hour later. I managed to drag myself out of bed about 3.15am, to find 5 piglets already suckling at Cagney’s teats. I stayed out in the farrowing barn to make sure that she continued to farrow without any problems, which she did and she finally finished about 7am, just as it was time to get up!!!

As you can imagine after two nights of staying up with my pigs I was ready for some sleep, which I have been trying to catch up on.

I am also feeding one of Lacy’s piglets and one of Cagney’s piglets to make sure that they get enough milk as there aren’t enough teats for all the piglets.

Saddleback Sow Has 15 Piglets

Lacy, my saddleback sow has had 15 live piglets this afternoon and evening.

This morning she started to carry straw about and then this afternoon when I went to check on her, she was breathing heavily and when I checked her teats she had milk.

Her first piglet was born just before 4pm and she had her last piglet by 7pm. Not bad going. The only problem is that Lacy gets aggressive when she is farrowing and when she had her last litter she snaffled one of the piglets during farrowing and it only lived for about a week whilst I hand fed it. Whilst Lacy is farrowing I have to put the piglets in a box under the lamp. The only problem is deciding when the piglets can be let loose in the farrowing barn with her as she is sometimes aggressive after farrowing. At the moment the piglets are still in the box as I have attempted to put them in with her once but she seemed to want to snaffle them. I am hoping that she will let them join her soon as they need to get the milk from her and the colostrum from her milk as soon as possible. I’ll let you know in the morning how we get on.

Aggression In Farrowing Sows

It can be very distressing if your sow is aggressive towards the piglets. When my sow bit the piglets I blamed myself for not getting the piglets into the box quick enough but if they had been in the wild the piglets would have to fend for themselves so it is difficult.
I think it is important to keep an eye on a farrowing sow, especially if she is a gilt and farrowing for the first time. You can gauge the mood the sow has if you observe discreetly and then you are on hand if you need to intervene.
I would make sure that I have a lamp already set up and plently of straw in a box for the piglets to be placed in under the lamp if you need to remove them from the sow. The box needs to have tall sides as the piglets are very strong and have a strong instinct to suckle and so wriggle about trying to find the sow.
If you don’t have the sow in a farrowing crate then it is better to try to pen off an area where you can still reach the piglets if you need to and you won’t be attacked by the sow. Sows can be aggressive when they are about to farrow or during farrowing and sometimes afterwards.
I have two sows who are very gentle and placid by nature but one of them does get aggressive towards the piglets and they both do not like me to get too close just after the piglets have farrowed and for the next few days. I keep my sows in a large farrowing crate for a few days and this allows me access to the sows and the piglets but gives me protection.
My sows are used to me and my voice but I have only had the sows from when they were about 15 months old. I have wondered how a sow would react if you have raised the sow from a piglet. I hope to find out one day.
If a sow is a aggressive then you have to decide if you want the sow to raise anymore piglets. My sows are very placid all year round and it is only at farrowing time that they show signs of aggression. One of my sows is very gentle and she even farrowed during the night once and all her piglets were ok. Some people say that a human presence can affect the behaviour of a farrowing sow and that it is best to leave nature to it if you can.

Temperatures In The Farrowing Pen And Creep Area

The temperature in the farrowing pen differs from the temperature in the creep area.

The creep area where the piglets can move away from the sow should be heated to a temperature up to 32 degrees Celsius. Heating can be attained by the use of an overhead heat lamp, a heat pad, underfloor heating or a well bedded area.
The farrowing pen itself where the sow is requires a lower temperature. The temperature in the farrowing room should be around 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. This is important because high temperatures can affect the sows milking ability.

Pregnant Sow

Cliare has a pregnant sow but is unsure when her pig will farrow.

hi sara
 claire here again well its been a while but still no piglets yet.
for the first time one of my pigs started to lose thick creamy discharge today and all day  could u tell me what this means as her teats have not fully dropped yet is this a sign of being due
please help asap as im worryed what this is coming from her
thanks from claire

Hi Claire,
Usually nest building occurs when farrowing is imminent and your gilt may lay down. I have read that a slight discharge in the form of blood and mucus can be discharged an hour or two before the birth so this discharge you mention could be normal, but if you are concerned then I would contact someone you know who knows about breeding/farrowing pigs or if you are very concerned then I would consider contacting a vet although this will be costly if they are called out. You could phone your local vet and describe the symptoms and get a phone consultation. Does the discharge smell? If so I have read that this could be a sign for concern.I have checked all the books I have on keeping pigs and looked at the illness section in all. None of the illnesses mention a thick creamy discharge so it maybe the start of farrowing but if in doubt then I would consult someone.
Hope this information helps. I will keep my fingers crossed for your pig and hope that you get some piglets very soon. Keep me posted.
Kind regards
Sara @ farmingfriends
hi sara
 well no piglets yet but thanks for getting back to me on my questions
well 3rd august and  my girl is swelling around her lady bits and still is swelling today 4th  but she is still eating and no nest building
so how long do u think she’s got with this swelling showing
thanks for any more info
from claire  

If you have any information about pregnant sows then please leave a comment, thanks.

Sow Swelling

Claire emailed me about her pregnant sow who is swelling up. 

hi sara
 well no piglets yet but thanks for getting back to me on my questions. Well 3rd august and my girl is swelling around her lady bits and still is swelling today 4th  but she is still eating and no nest building. So how long do u think she’s got with this swelling showing?
thanks for any more info
from claire

Hi Claire,

I am on tender hooks waiting for news of your pig and her piglets. What is your pig called?
When you say her lady bits are swelling do you mean the teats or around the vulva area.
When the sow is close to farrowing the teats do swell up or bag up as they fill with milk. The milk is released usually on the day or a day or two before farrowing.
The vulva area tends to go loose and saggy before farrowing so watch out for this too. There is alot of bottom watching at this time!!!

I await news of your pig and keep my fingers crossed all is well.
Kind regards
Sara @ farmingfriends

If you have any advice for Claire about her pregnant sow then please leave a comment, thanks.