Splitting up farming with my parents means I needed to find a different way to farrow. We used a combination of crates and pens in a heated farrowing barn on my parents’ farm. It worked well. Last year we average 10 piglets born alive and 9 piglets weaned per litter.
I was excited to try farrowing in pens, because it’s a new challenge, and because I don’t like crates. Crates do save piglets from crushing, however, so the question is, can I raise enough piglets this way to be economically viable?
Pictured above, I built ten farrowing pens in one of my hoop buildings so each sow and litter could farrow in privacy. I used a combination of round bales of bedding and wire panels. I used the bedding bales to make the pens larger, and to have dry bedding accessible at all times.
I didn’t think it would work very well to farrow in an unheated barn in January. But I didn’t have many due to farrow, so I thought I would try it, so I could learn.
The first gilt farrowed two weeks ago when the temperature was in the 20’s. The air temperature in the hoop building is about ten degrees warmer than outside. She and the piglets did fine. She had eleven born alive and one stillborn. You can see the dead stillborn piglet mixed in with the placenta in the picture below. The gilt laid on four piglets during the first 48 hours. The younger the piglets are, the more vulnerable they are to crushing. The remaining seven piglets are doing well.
The next two gilts farrowed during an extremely cold time. Temps were around zero F with below zero wind chills. Those piglets didn’t do well. 18 out of 20 piglets froze or were crushed in the first few days.
Two more gilts farrowed last night. Temps are in the 30’s. They are doing well.
Pictured below is a behavioral trait I want to select for genetically. Instead of just flopping down and crushing piglets, the gilt scoops out a bowl in the straw with her snout, kneels on her front legs, thereby extending her udder all the way down into the straw, then lies down. Very few piglets will be crushed this way.