How to Breed Pigs

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[PHOTO 1] Once you've successfully learned how to breed pigs, sights like this one will be common.
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[PHOTO 6] Cool air is vented onto the sow in this farrowing pen to make her comfortable.
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[PHOTO 2] Most swine breeders cut the a tips off a young pig's needle teeth.
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[PHOTO 3] Two white lines mark the incision sites for castration. [PHOTO 4] After making the cuts, pull the testicles out, and snap them off by hand. [PHOTO 5] Treat exposed areas afterward during fly season with a protective dressing.
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[PHOTO 7] Guard rails and a separate heat lamp provide young pigs with a warm and safe resting area.

In a previous article I tried to pass along all the know-how necessary to rear eating-size porkers from weaned
feeder pigs. Of course, a number of folks will want to set
up a year-round breeding operation. If you’re thinking of learning how to breed pigs,
however, you should know right off the bat that rearing
newborn piglets is a somewhat involved and risky
undertaking. In fact, from 30% to 40% of the baby swine born
in the pig-breeding business in this country die shortly
after birth!

But a small scale homesteader is able to provide more
conscientious caretaking than can most large enterprises,
so you should be able to save almost all your curly-tailed
youngsters … and successfully raise an average of 16 hogs
per sow (from two litters) each year. All it takes to
achieve the goal is a lot of tender loving care and some
solid know how.

Mating the Sow

Obviously enough, the first step toward rearing healthy
piglets is making sure the intended mother is mated! A gilt
(a young female hog) should reach sexual maturity at five
or six months of age, and be receptive for two or three
days of each subsequent 21 day cycle. You can be sure that
a sow’s in estrus (heat) if the female has a swollen vulva.
She also may or may not have a slight mucus-like or bloody
vaginal discharge, act restless, urinate
frequently, twitch her tail, hold her ground when
you press down on her hindquarters, or try to “ride”
other sows.

You should mate gilts on their first day of heat and older
“gals” on the second day. (Both young and old sows should
receive a second mating 24 hours after their first.) As for
the male partners in a porcine union, an 8- to 12-month-old
boar can usually service 12 females in pasture or be
“handmated” (matched individually in a barn) with 24 gilts
or sows. A yearling (or older) boar can service 50 sows in
stalls or 35 to 40 pasturing females.

Preparing for the Big Day

The gestation period for your pregnant sow will be
approximately 113 days, or as the old saying goes, three
months, three weeks, and three days. But there are some
important preparations to be made before that magic moment
of birth arrives.

For one thing, you should in advance take steps to help
keep diseases from striking those fragile newborns. So be
sure to worm (for parasites) and spray (for lice) each sow
about two weeks before her due date. You should also
immunize an expectant mother against erysipelas to
strengthen both the sow’s and offspring’s resistance to
this most common–and usually fatal–swine disease. Likewise,
good sanitation is a vital part of preventive health care,
so thoroughly clean the farrowing pen (and keep it clean) … and wash the pregnant porker with a mild detergent and
warm water before you pen her up for delivery.

The Farrowing Pen

Another important prefarrowing job is building a proper
“birthing nest.” Little piglets need a very warm
environment. The baby porkers will thrive at 80° to
90°F… suffer at 60° to 70°F… and die if when the
mercury dips to around 50°. The youngsters’ mother, on
the other hand, probably has three to five solid inches of
insulation (better known as lard) around her middle … so
she’s more likely to suffer from overheating!

The different temperature needs of a swine mother and her
children can create quite a problem. While the little
oinkers will try to cuddle up against Mom to stay warm, the
parent pig will just as likely be trying to cool off by
continually standing up and sitting down. And every time
the mother settles back down, she runs the risk of landing
on and perhaps killing a baby squealer.

To avoid such a calamity, your farrowing pen should
incorporate a separate heat source for the piglets so
they won’t need to scramble up to their mother for warmth.
Most folks use electric or gas-powered heat lamps for this
purpose, although a few innovative individuals have taken
to building solar heated farrowing pens.

Your pen should also have some piglet “guard rails” that
stand 8 to 10 inches off the floor and extend 1 to 12
inches out from the farrowing pen walls. By crawling under
the rails, the little ones can curl up and sleep safely in
their own heated spot, and scramble out after Mother only
at mealtime. 

The Farrowing

A few days before the piglets are due, you’ll want to move
the expectant sow into her new quarters so she can adjust
to the changed surroundings. (Be sure, though, to let her
out for two 10 to 15 minute periods of exercise every day
that she’s in the farrowing pen to help the beast
ward off constipation and nervous stress.)

Around that same time, you’ll need to gather together all
your nursery items (such as iodine, clean rags, and plenty
of bedding). And don’t forget to keep a pitchfork or shovel
around as well, so you can keep the farrowing area “clean
enough to sit in with your Sunday best duds on.”

You’ll know that the sow is ready to bear her young when
she gets restless and tries to make a nest in her farrowing
pen. Once the mother actually starts giving birth, you can
help events proceed smoothly by talking to the sow
reassuringly–or if you feel foolish conversing with a
pig–by giving her a small portion of laxative bran meal.
Then, as each baby is born, dry the new arrival with clean
rags (before it hits the ground, if possible). Also, paint
the piglets’ navels with iodine by either spraying the
disinfectant on each youngster’s severed cord or by firmly
placing the tot over a wide-mouthed bottle of iodine so
that its navel cord hangs down into the container and then
deftly turning both bottle and pig upside down.

It’s probably best to keep the newborn piglets in a heated
corner (or box), away from their mother while she
undergoes her birthing throes. Then, once they’re all born
and you’ve disposed of the afterbirth, make sure each
newcomer has the chance to nurse and obtain some of its
mother’s precious colostrum. This “first milk” is high in
nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies. (You might
even milk some extra colostrum from the sow to store in ice
cube trays in case you later encounter a mother who
won’t allow her piglets to nurse.)

Finally, after you’ve gone on to clean out the soiled
bedding and made sure that both the new mother and her
piglets are comfortable, you can go back to bed and
try to make yourself comfortable. Don’t expect to get much
sleep, though, because farrowing inevitably finishes
just in time for you to begin your morning chores!

Infant Care

A sow’s milk is naturally deficient in iron, so one of your
first piglet caretaking tasks will be “recharging” the
newborns supply of that mineral. If your youngsters are
starting out life on a dirt-floored pen (or if you provide
a boxed supply of soil in the nursery), the little ones may
get all the iron they need by rooting in the earth. But if,
like most folks, you choose to raise the piglets in a more
sanitary environment, you’ll need to give your one- to three- day-old critters either an injection of 150 to 200
milligrams of iron, or a feed that contains about 36
milligrams of iron per pound.

The youngsters’ main diet from birth until they’re weaned
at four to eight weeks of age will, of course, be their
mother’s milk. But you should also provide your growing
oinkers in the first week with an at hand supply of high
quality feed (use a creep feeder so that the sow can’t get
at the goodies) containing at least 18% protein … and all
the essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Most pig raisers will want to remove the tips of their
piglets’ eight needle teeth on the same day the
“swinelings” receive the iron supplements. Simply nip off
the tips of the teeth with wire cutters or with special
tooth clippers designed for the purpose . . . otherwise,
the little pigs can use their tusklike biters to hurt other
youngsters or accidentally harm their momma’s udders.

Any males that are not going to be raised for breeding
stock should also be castrated while young to prevent
uncontrolled mating and to keep their meat from developing
an “off” or “boarish” flavor and odor. If you perform
this operation when the piglets are around two weeks of
age, your task will be relatively easy and non-traumatic for
the young animal.

To castrate a shoat, have a helper hold the piglet up by
its hind legs while you wash the animal’s genital area with
a disinfectant. Then use a sterilized knife (either a
hooked blade castrating tool or a regular scalpel that’s
been outfitted with a No. 12 blade) to make a long, deep
incision over the length of each testicular bulge.

Many novice castrators will make this cut too short or
shallow. Such a failing will not only make testicle removal
more difficult, but also–by not providing adequate drainage
for the wound–cause much more swelling (and pain) for the
pig, and increase the likelihood of infection.

So don’t be shy when you wield the knife! If you make the
incision correctly, the testicles will either fall out of
the scrotum or be easy to press out by hand. Then simply
grab each “mountain oyster” and pull it gently away from
the pig until the connecting artery and cord stretch and
break off. The subsequent snapback will force the artery to
contract and quickly choke off the flow of blood. (Cuffing
the vessel, on the other hand, can cause a lot of
bleeding.)

After you’ve performed the simple cut and pull procedure,
spray or powder the exposed area with an antibiotic, and if
the operation takes place during fly season apply a
protective dressing. Then let the newly castrated male (now
known as a barrow) loose in a cleanly bedded pen. In a few
days the cut will heal, and the little fellow should be as
good … well, almost as good as new. (And by the way, the
leftovers from your work make delicious beer chasers when
washed and fried in an egg batter.)

The Joy of Pig Breeding

Raising pigs “from scratch” definitely takes more
commitment, work, and know-how than simply fattening up
some purchased weaners. Along with careful handling of the
mating, the farrowing, and the infants’ upbringing, you’ll
need to keep complete records on each sow’s productivity
(including the weights of her litters when weaned) so
you can cull the poor producers from your herd and promote
overall breeding efficiency. (Of course, you should also
keep track of vaccination and worming dates and all other
medications used.)

All in all, though, breeding your own pigs can take you one
step closer to true self-sufficiency, provide you with
the opportunity to start a worthwhile homestead
critter-raising business, and give you a heck of a lot
of satisfaction.

More Pig Raising How-To

Two fine books on swine rearing are Dirk van Loon’s
263-page paperback, Small-Scale Pig Raising (Garden
Way) and Jerome D. Belanger’s 226-page hardback, Raising the
Homestead Hog
(Rodale).