Trouble-Spring Farrowing 2013


17 of the first 22 piglets born to my spring litters.  I guess labeling them as spring litters alludes you to my delusions, which the past six days have exposed.

I thought farrowing in a hoop building in January would be the most difficult farrowing I would ever experience.  Farrowing in huts in 30ish F weather in a blizzard followed by over an inch of rain has proven more difficult.  I guess Jude Becker purchased insulated farrowing huts for a reason.

I put one bag of wood shavings in each shelter along with a couple slices of straw.  I thought I could add straw for warmth as needed.  What I didn’t think about was the frozen ground underneath.  Last year farrowing in the hoop building I had the advantage of a bedding pack for warmth, not frozen ground.

On Tuesday a couple of sows acted like they were ready to farrow.  A blizzard was forecast for that night.  I locked one sow up in a shelter and for some reason I can’t remember did not lock up the other one.  At first light I checked on the sows.  The sow who was locked up had four out of twelve piglets alive.  The other sow had one out of ten alive.  The problem was moisture along with cold.  Snow had blown into the shelters, especially the open-door one.  I transferred the lone piglet to the litter with four.  All five piglets are still alive.

I realized I needed more bedding and it needed to be absorbent.  So I started buying wood shavings and have probably put at least four bags of wood shavings in each shelter over the past five days.  I knew the piglets needed to get dry if they were going to resist the cold.

It has been raining the past two days.  Below is a picture of a shelter I abandoned because I didn’t need it.  The rain is not soaking into the frozen ground so instead is pooling.


So I keep adding wood shavings trying to build a little dry hill for the sow and piglets.  It seems to be working.  If a piglet lives the first day, really the first couple of hours, it is staying alive.

This has been another learning experience for me.  Yesterday as the rain fell I despaired, but today I’m back to my optimistic self.  Below is probably the best litter so far.  I’ll let you know how many piglets are weaned from this difficult farrowing group.


7 Responses to Trouble-Spring Farrowing 2013

  1. Andrew says:

    Yikes! That’s too bad about the piglets. My finishers are on straw with a bit of standing water underneath, but there’s enough of it (5-6 bales) to keep the straw on top dry. I had no idea so much straw could fit into such a small space, but between the rooting and the little sharp hooves they managed to tromp it down and make it fit.
    Glad to see that you’ve got the bedding sorted. Are wood chips cheaper where you are? They’re $6/bale up here, straw was $3/bale at the last hay auction.

  2. Andrew, wood shavings are $6 here as well. I even have my own straw and will start using it as soon as I can. I believe the wood shavings are more absorbent and keep the piglets drier. I’m thinking of it as the cost of education.

  3. bruceki says:

    There is nothing that I hate more than losing piglets. I completely understand your feelings. It is very hard to lose them.

    My climate in western washington is rainy; we rarely get below freezing for more than a few hours, with the temperature hovering between 35 and 55 degrees from late fall to late spring (Nov to May)

    With pastured farrowing the big problem that I have is keeping dry bedding; the sows will go out into the rain and come back wet, and even that little moisture over time will make the bedding damp, and then wet. And damp bedding isn’t warm.

    It takes a LOT of bedding to dry it up if the ground outside is not frozen. I don’t know how big the bags are, but to give you an idea I put down 300 cubic yards of bedding in one season (free wood chips from tree service companies and straw and I still lost piglets due to damp and cold.

    So what I’ve done is opposite to you for these conditions; I constructed a hoop barn and filled it with the 300 yards of bedding (avg 3′ deep) and use calf domes inside that (holstein sized, 7′ diameter) for the individual sows during the wet and cold season.

    There’s nothing on the pasture for the sows to eat outside the growing season, so the benefit to the animals is pretty minimal for me. A deep litter system and plenty of room seems to keep them happy, and they’re busy with the pigs.

    From may until september/oct I don’t have the issues that I do during the hard season.

    I confine the sows to the building for the first two-three weeks after farrowing, and then they go out into shelters on the pasture, and that transition usually ends up with a couple of pigs squished, and I wish I had a solution for that.

    I’ve considered just keeping the sows in the barn on the deep litter until the pigs are weaned, and am still considering that — to keep the bedding dry and be able to keep labor costs for caring for them down, but I haven’t done that yet.

  4. bruceki says:

    One other thing; sometimes a loss of most or all of a litter is caused by one of several viruses; the pigs are born stillborn. When you find them in the morning it looks like they died after birth because the sow will sometimes nose them and move them around, or clean them with her tongue.

    You can tell if they drew a breath by extracting a lung and putting it in water. if it floats the pig drew a breath. If it sinks it was stillborn.

  5. Thanks for your comments Bruce. I was starting to think about farrowing in a hoop building. I could start with deep bedding and possibly put the farrowing huts inside.
    I noticed the vigor of the piglets and the mothering abilities of each sow made a big survival difference in these harsh conditions. In a climate controlled building, most of the litters are closer to the mean.

  6. And then there’s always this solution:

    Poor sow who lost all her pigs.

  7. That is just too much for me, Alison!

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