Outdoor Farrowing, 2013 Summary

I had great expectations to improve over 2012’s average weaned per litter of 7.8 piglets.  8 piglets weaned per litter isn’t much of an improvement, but I’ll take it, especially considering the way 2013 farrowing started in a blizzard.  But an average of 8 doesn’t tell the full story as this is a tale of two seasons, difficult spring and easy summer.

2012 was difficult because we started farrowing in January in a hoop barn and lost several piglets when the temperature dropped below zero F.  I thought I could avoid that problem in 2013 by waiting until March to start farrowing.  March 2012 was 80 F and dry, a bad precursor to the drought which would follow, but ideal weather for farrowing.  March 2013 was the opposite, cold and wet, snow, rain, plummeting temps.

I had an idea about how much bedding would be needed in each farrowing hut.  Boy was I wrong.  I didn’t think about the ground under the hut being frozen, so it was extremely cold for the pigs and when the body heat of the sow warmed the ground it became wet.  The first two sows farrowed and 17 of the first 22 piglets froze.  I felt desperate and depressed.

Well, I remembered what Professor Freeman taught me.  Environmental factors are greater for plants than animals for a simple reason: animals can move, animals can modify their environment.  I knew the sows’ instinct to save their piglets was strong, I just needed to give them a chance.

So I started buying truckloads of wood shavings.  I had them slide whole pallets of bagged wood shavings into the back of  my trailer.  I trudged through the snow with a bag on my shoulder and started with two bags for each hut to soak up the wet and cold.  And the sows responded, making dry nests for their piglets.

17 spring litters farrowed 193 live piglets for an average of 11.4 per litter.  They weaned 119 piglets, an average of 7 piglets per litter.  So the preweaning mortality was 38.3%.  Considering how badly they started, I considered it a success to save only 2 out of every 3 piglets born alive.

I let the sows have a long lactation and then weaned all the piglets at once.  Since I didn’t have enough boar power to breed 17 sows, I decided to artificially inseminate, AI.  I was successful the previous fall with AI, settling nearly all the sows, which resulted in these spring litters.  But the spring was a different story as  some of the sows had already started cycling and I was busy with spring work, spending not nearly enough time watching for signs of estrus.  I got exactly 0% of the sows settled with AI.

At this point, I think anyone would say I was in a major swine-farming slump.  A beginning farmer may be thinking swine-farming is not for them.  But my years of experience has taught me that perseverance is what is required, and since I’m my own boss no one gets to decide I fail except for me.

Luckily I had some young boars and gilts which could be used for breeding.  So I put the boars in with the gilts and sold the sows as culls.

The gilts farrowed in July, August, and September.  The first gilt had 14 weak piglets with all but 5 dying quickly and I thought, “oh no, my slump continues,” but thankfully, the next litters were strong and healthy.

The weather was warm and dry.  Many of the gilts farrowed in huts, but some picked their own spots in the woods.  I used very little bedding and did very little work.  It was a joy to experience.

15 gilts farrowed 158 live piglets for an average of 10.5 per litter.  They weaned 138 piglets for an average of 9.2 per litter.  The preweaning mortality on this group was only 12.7%.

The final statistics are 32 sows and gilts farrowed 351 live piglets for an average of 11 per litter.  They weaned 257 piglets for an average of 8 piglets per litter.  Preweaning mortality averaged 27%.

I’m modifying again for 2014.  Sows will start farrowing at the end of February.  I plan on putting huts into a bedded hoop barn and farrowing there for the spring litters.  For the summer litters I’ll continue to just stand back and let them do their thing.

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