Weaning Pasture Piglets
When is the Best Time to Wean?
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The time frame for weaning pasture piglets varies from breed to breed. Not all breeds of pasture pigs mature at the same rate. We have experience with both the Idaho Pasture Pigs and the Kunekune pigs. Although both breeds are true grazing pigs, the piglets mature at much different rates. Our Kunekunes are a much slower pig to mature and the piglets are content to play for hours in the sun but have no desire to really eat much other than their mother’s milk for weeks after they are born.
Piglets born on pasture are able to get out and enjoy the sun very early in life. Whether your piglets start eating with their mother from day one or if they wait a couple of weeks, they have been outside watching her graze since a very early age.
The Idaho Pasture pigs are much quicker to get out and start grazing and trying mom’s pig feed. Whether it takes days or weeks for them to begin, it is extremely important to allow them time to get the nutrients that they need to grow properly from their mother’s milk. It is also important to keep an eye on your sow and make sure she isn’t being depleted by the stress of nursing her piglets. If she has a litter of over eight piglets, she is going to more than likely require additional pig feed.
We base our decision of weaning pasture piglets on both the piglets and the sow. I mentioned before that our Idaho Pasture pigs and Kunekune pigs mature at different rates. That is important to recognize when trying to figure out when is the best time to wean.
We feel the piglets are ready to be weaned when:
The piglets are eating well on their own (both grass and pig feed).
Are drinking well on their own.
They are independent and are outside playing, eating, and sunbathing with each other or by themselves.
For our Idaho Pasture piglets, this is usually between four to six weeks of age. For our Kunekune piglets this is around eight weeks of age. If we have a sow that is being severely depleted by a very large litter, we will usually wean the biggest, most independent piglets sooner than the rest, but still not before four weeks of age (unless we feel it is absolutely necessary for the health of the sow).
When weaning pasture piglets, we like to remove a couple of piglets at a time if possible, to prevent mastitis in the sow. If you don’t have any piglets sold or are keeping them all to raise yourself, then this may not be feasible. In that case, when you do wean the piglets, please keep an eye on your sow for a few days to make sure she is losing her milk and drying up without any complications. One good indicator from the sow herself is when she starts to spend more time lying flat on her stomach and preventing the piglets from nursing. She is telling them it is time for them to stop nursing.
When it is time for the sow to leave, we usually move her out of that pen and into a new one. We like to leave the piglets where they are comfortable and secure. We use electric pig fences for all of our pastures including our “maternity ward,” so the piglets have already learned to not touch the fence and rarely do we have any escape artists.
When we move the piglets to a new pasture on our farm before moving the sow away first, we have piglets trying to get back to their comfort zone or original pasture. But, by leaving them in their original pasture for a day or two after the sow has moved out, we allow them time to get used to the new situation and then we are able to move them to new pastures without any problems.
One of the other things we have found is that this works better for us to wean a couple of litters at the same time. In this way, when we combine the litters into new pastures, we can put whole litters in together instead of one or two piglets at a time. The pecking order will still need to be determined, so they will still fight a small amount, but instead of one or two piglets getting ganged up on, there are just so many new piglets that they just settle in nicer and quicker.
When piglets are weaned on our farm, we also like to do all of our castrating and ear tagging on the same day. That isn’t to say it can’t be done at a different time, but that we have found it works very well if we can get it all done in one day. One important reason we do all of this at the same time is that the piglets’ diet does change with the weaning of their mother and they almost always get diarrhea about three days after weaning. This is perfectly normal and usually clears up within a few days. If diarrhea gets worse or does not go away on its own in a few days, then you should consult a veterinarian to determine if anything else is needed. For the most part, the piglets just have a change of diet that causes some diarrhea, but they continue to eat and drink as if nothing is wrong.
Although it is normal, we prefer to not castrate during that time when they have diarrhea. We have also found that castrating at weaning takes any stress that may be associated with this away from the sow. At four to six weeks old, the piglets are at a good size to hold on to do the castration and the testicle is not starting to adhere inside the cavity yet, but is big enough to easily get ahold of to pull out. When we are done castrating, we put the piglets back into the pen with the rest of the group and they go right back to grazing and playing.
Remember, when you wean the piglets they will already be eating and drinking well on their own, so although they will miss their mom for a day or two, they’re still able to eat and drink. Therefore, they will be able to fill up their bellies and be content!
Do you have experience in weaning pasture piglets? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Originally published in Countryside March/April 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy.