How to Raise a Piglet

Learn the best practices of baby pig management to keep birth mortality rates low.


| May/June 1977



045-030-01-ear-notching

Follow this illustration to learn the pig ear notching system.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

The instant a newborn piglet slithers out of a sow's moist, warm reproductive tract ... is the instant when the battle against baby pig mortality begins. And a difficult battle it is, too, because the hard, cold statistics indicate that of all piglets born alive at farrowing, one in four will die prior to reaching the age of six weeks.

What can you and I — as small-scale pork producers — do to reverse these statistics? We can start by making sure that our newborn pigs have a safe, warm (90-95 degrees Fahrenheit) place to live for their very first hours of life outside the womb.

Authorities say that the infant pig comes equipped with two very highly developed instincts at birth: [1] the ability to seek warmth, and [2] a driving urge to find food. Unfortunately, however, the hapless infant usually puts instinct [2] ahead of instinct [1], so that — many times — instead of gravitating toward the radiant warmth of the 90-95 degrees hover you've put up to protect him immediately after birth, the just-born young'un will journey across the 70-75 degree sow pen in search of a plump teat to suckle. Our job is to keep this from happening ... at least, until delivery is complete.

Why? Because even the most docile-looking mother sow can (and will) do unexpected things during delivery. For instance, quite often a farrowing sow will draw her legs tightly against her body and then thrust them out straight to expel a pig. If a wobbly-legged infant happens to be in the way when mama extends her legs, the little one can be sent tumbling across the pen floor, badly cut and bruised. Needless to say, our newborn pigs have enough strikes against them when they come into the world without this sort of thing occurring!

To protect your piglets from physical trauma (and thermal shock), then, it's advisable that you grab each infant as it arrives and [1] give the young'un a thorough — but gentle — rubdown with a soft towel (to prevent chilling), [2] apply tamed iodine (which you can buy at any veterinary supply store) to the babe's navel, and [3] tuck the tiny three-pound pig into a nice, warm hover until the sow has finished farrowing. Once delivery is complete — and all the piglets have been dried off and warmed —  then you can allow the little ones to satisfy their craving for food.

You'll want to supervise the first nursing to be certain that every piglet gets its proper share of colostrum. Just how important is this "first milk" to the babies? I think I can safely state that without this life-giving fluid, a piglet's chances of survival would be — to say the least — bad. But to dispel a long-standing myth, colostrum is not the infants' only source of disease-fighting antibodies: A sow will actually continue to furnish her young with immunoglobulins in her milk for approximately three weeks, after which — as the mother's supply of milk begins to wane — Nature triggers the piglets' own immunity systems into action. (Thus, newborn pigs are never without protection, so long as they get some milk each day.)





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