Raising Piglets – Off to a Successful Start

Are You and Your Sow Ready for Farrowing Pigs?

Raising Piglets – Off to a Successful Start

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Your first time raising piglets is about to start. The sow you cared for is ready to farrow. When the sow begins to ready for farrowing pigs, she will stay more to herself. This is an early sign that you should have the birthing area prepared. If you are going to separate her from the rest of your pigs, and you have not done so, now is the time. Make sure she has plenty of dry straw bedding, fresh water and a daily ration of grain. Once the sow starts lactation, she will require lots of calories in order to maintain her weight plus make enough milk for the piglets.

The second sign of a sow about to farrow is in the teats. The glands will become full looking and the teats will possibly leak milk. The actual birth process is over quickly for most sows. The piglets are born one at a time but in quick succession. Soon they have found their way to the milk bar and are happily drunk on milk. Most of our sows have farrowed in the wee hours of the morning. We are greeted by happy satisfied piglets when we go in with the morning feed.

When to Intervene While Raising Piglets

Most times the sow will handle all of the birth process by herself and not require any assistance. Occasionally a piglet may be born with the sac still intact. The sac will need to be removed and the piglet might need to be swung back and forth by its hind legs to empty the secretions from the airway. And it is possible for a piglet to get stuck on its way through the birth canal. If you find that the sow is struggling with contractions and no piglets have been born in the last 20 minutes, it might be time to check. At this point, I would recommend that you refer to a fellow pig farmer or a veterinarian for help. You will need to clean your hands and forearms well and describe what you are seeing to the vet. Inserting your hand into the birth canal to free a piglet might save both the piglet and the sow.

Usually, no complications will occur and your sow will be just fine. The piglets are born with their eyes open and they are able to walk and move to the teats on their own.  Healthy piglets are strong and active from birth. The piglets will try to stay close to the sow to stay warm. The first milk, called colostrum, is vital to the piglet’s immunity. Make sure all of the piglets are nursing.


What About a Runt Piglet?

The litter will most likely have a runt, meaning a very small piglet that is not as well developed as the litter mates. This happens because a sow is able to conceive over a span of time. If she is left with the boar, the matings can continue through her estrus cycle. The piglets conceived toward the end of estrus will not be as developed as the older fetuses at farrowing. Often, the runt does not survive. If it is viable, the piglet may just need a little extra tender love and care and a warmer environment for a few days. Some farmers are successful at saving the at-risk runt by keeping it in a box in the house and returning it to the sow for feedings throughout the day. Be aware though, it is just as common to lose a runt as it is to save one.


What to do the First Day

Feeding the sow, checking for birth defects, runts, teeth, and iron injections should all be carried out during the first day. There are a number of items that should be attended to as soon as possible when raising piglets. This is a list of the most commonly carried out procedures. Not all farmers will do all of the following.

Dip Navels – During the first day of life, take care of the navel areas of the piglets. Dipping the navel area in an iodine solution should be done for the entire litter. Alternately, you can use a product such as BluKote or a wound spray on the navel and any other open sores.

Clipping the Wolf Teeth – Piglets are born with very sharp teeth on either side of their jaw. These teeth can cause problems with the piglet cutting the sow’s teats or with the piglets hurting each other during play or fighting over a spot at the udder. These small needle sharp teeth can be clipped off soon after birth.

Ear Notching – Ear notching is done to mark the pig’s litter and position in the litter. Ear tags can also be used for this purpose.

Tail Docking – In crowded feedlot conditions, leaving the tails on the feeder pigs may lead to infections and wounds from other piglets biting the tails. In our situation, raising pastured free range pigs, or natural pig farming, we do not dock the tails and haven’t had any problems arise from that decision. We have been very happy with the results from raising piglets on pasture conditions.


Castrating Pigs – The concerns with unneutered male pigs are valid. Aggressiveness can escalate quickly and an un-castrated young male can turn on people or other litter mates. The meat from an older boar will likely be tainted from hormones. If you plan to butcher sooner than five months of age, you might be able to get away without castrating.  If you are going to castrate, do it as soon as possible. The young piglets will do better if it is carried out early and quickly.

Iron Injections – The sow’s milk is the perfect food for the piglets but it is not a complete diet. The milk lacks iron and often piglets will become anemic. Giving a 1 cc injection of iron on day one and another at two weeks of age will prevent anemia in most cases.

Antibiotics – As a preventative, many farmers will give a small amount of antibiotics by injection soon after birth. Doing this can stop any navel infections or infected wounds in the piglets. If you are planning on raising piglets without pharmaceuticals, do some research on natural herbs and herbal sprays that are safe for use with piglets.
Raising Piglets

Heat Lamps and Chilling

Piglets are largely hairless and susceptible to chilling. Using floor warming pads or heat lamps can help with this. Also, a deep bedding of clean straw gives the sow something to layer over her piglets to keep them warm. The use of heat lamps is common but also carries the risk of fire and burns. Set up the lights before putting the sow into the farrowing room or stall. Many farmers will put up a guard of some sort that keeps the sow from being directly under the lamp and overheating but allows the piglets to go under the lights. Keep the light suspended at least two feet above the piglets and the dry bedding. Remember that the sow can stand up and reach things by putting her front feet on the gate or wall. Find the happy medium where the piglets have the warmth of the heat lamp but the set up is out of the way of the sow and does not allow her to become overheated.



We have been fortunate, in our pig raising, that we have not had an aggressive sow or boar turn on the piglets. It’s a bit unusual but we have been able to raise the piglets with both the sow and our boar remaining together. This does not always work out and often the boar will turn on the piglets, so proceed cautiously. In addition, always carry a pig board into the stall with you. A pig board is a large square of wood or some other sturdy material with a handle cut out of it. Keep the pig board between the sow and you. This is less threatening to a nervous sow, and protects you if she should lunge.
Pig farming for beginners is a journey and an experience. Raising piglets can be very enjoyable even with the learning curve and occasional heartbreak. Keep in mind that each litter will bring its own challenges and incidents. And remember, every pig farmer started with that first sow farrowing. Learning how to raise a pig for meat starts with raising piglets!
Is this your first spring raising piglets? Let us know how it’s going.

2 thoughts on “Raising Piglets – Off to a Successful Start”
  1. Very good article, thanks 🙂 We are raising our pigs as naturally as possible, they are helping us to clear land as we bought a large woodlot!

    Regarding “boar taint”: I had researched that extensively prior to our first litters, and the information I came across was very mixed. Ultimately, I decided not to castrate any of the piglets, and we did not have difficulty selling most of the intact males as feeders. As far as aggression, we have not experienced this – unless you call the breeding boar being “pushy” at feeding time “aggressive”, lol!

    Anyway, some articles cited differences between breeds being a factor in whether or not the “taint” will be present. Well, we recently sent our breeding boar to freezer camp, and omg… Delicious!!! I can’t stomach any kind of “gamey” flavors, so I can say 100% that this boar had not a lick of the taint! He was over a year old, and had sired two consecutive litters between our two sows (so four litters in total). Once he was done his business with our ladies for their second litters, he went and spent time with another lady elsewhere, and as soon as he was done with her, that’s when we harvested. He was half Berkshire, half Mangalitsa. Idk if it was the breed, the fact that he had spent all his male hormones doing his thing just prior to his “lights out” or a combination of the two, who knows!

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