Tips for Raising Pigs During Sow Farrowing Time

Learn about farrowing pigs and how to protect your swine from disease.

| March/April 1977

You might have gotten the impression from reading my discussion of farrowing in MOTHER's article "Homestead Hog Management: A to Z," that "pigwifery" is a tricky and hazard-fraught area of amateur pork production. But it usually isn't — and it never has to be — if you're well-armed with the information I'm going to give you right now.

Most of my veterinarian friends agree that trouble-free farrowing begins with a clear understanding of the birth process itself. Before we turn our attention to problems of parturition, then, let's talk a bit about sow physiology and the things that happen in the course of a normal porcine delivery.

Sow Birthing Process

First, it's important to recall that — unlike most large animals — a hog's reproductive system is Y-shaped. At estrus, the gilt or sow deposits a string of 10 or 11 eggs quite similar in appearance to (but smaller than) a string of pearls into each arm of a V-shaped uterus ... and, at farrowing, baby pigs are delivered from either side of the womb into a common birth canal.

During delivery, the mother may expel piglets first from one side of the "V," then the other, then the first side again, etc. Alternatively, the sow's delivery mechanism may — after the first four or five infants arrive — shift to one arm of the uterus, empty it, and shift back. (Also, mama may expel some of her afterbirth during delivery, or save the entire "package" until later.)

Just as unpredictable as the order of their arrival is the head/tail orientation of newborn pigs. Some infants slip out feet first in their slippery, transparent sacks ... while others slide headlong into the world.

Then there's the occasional fat little rascal that's too large for his mother to expel without help regardless of his orientation. This isn't as common an occurrence as you might think (one old-timer I spoke with told me that in 10 years of hog-raising, he's only had to pull one pig), but — in the event that you do find it necessary to assist mama with the delivery of one of her young' uns — here's what you should do:

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