I never like the idea of talking about important events before they’ve happened and you’re sure how they will turn out. This definitely applies to our sows when they farrow because there are a multitude of things which could go wrong if you stop to think of the worst.
Although I make sure our sows are handled regularly and familiar with having us close by, once they move into the farrowing shed near the house in preparation for the event I still get concerned that unforeseen problems could come up.
So far I’ve been quite lucky and had mostly problem-free farrowing for all our sows – only rarely does a situation come up which means that the vet needs to be consulted. I like to think that our native rare breed Tamworths are made of strong stuff with a good constitution but I’d still rather be prepared just in case
This latest farrowing for Fifi was one of the smoothest I’ve ever had and, apart from it starting at 2am onwards, it was a real privilege to be there the whole time. It also made a change from the winter farrowings we’ve had because I could happily sit with her in just a t-shirt and jeans instead of the full kit of jumpers, coat, thick socks etc.
By the time the sun was fully up on Weds 14th July, Fifi had delivered 9 live piglets – 5 gilts (girls) and 4 boars (boys) – which is remarkably consistent because her other 2 previous litters were also 9 each time. She did have some piglets that were stillborn this time (despite my best efforts I couldn’t save them) which is tough to take for me but that’s all part of the process and she has enough to keep her fully occupied anyway.
They’ll spend about a week or two in the farrowing shed until they’re strong enough and curious enough to move to our designated piglet pen in the woods. In fact this move will have to wait until I finish preparing that pen but I’ve still got a few days before it’s needed
Right now the farrowing shed is their whole world and that’s more than enough to occupy them as they explore all corners when mum isn’t looking. After some feed which is at least 3 times a day, Fifi does like to go outside for a wander and to make use of the toilet facilities in the woods but I’ll save that treat for the piglets once they’re a little bigger
I’ve now established a fairly reliable procedure to follow in the run-up to farrowing which seems to work for me and more importantly seems to suit the pigs too!
About 5-7 days before the due date, the expectant mother is moved into the farrowing shed – a fancy sounding name but in reality a stone outbuilding nearer the house which is already setup for piglets and also makes my life easier when checking on them.
There is a small “creep” area in this shed which has been partitioned off using wooden sheep hurdles so that only the piglets can get into it. This area has a heat lamp so they keep warm without huddling around their mother rather than potentially being stood on.
Experience has shown that after moving in the sow very quickly settles into a new routine in this shed with regular trips out for exercise. It’s not quite the solitary confinement that it may appear at first glance and they do still get access to fresh air and grass. However the primary goal of using the shed is to ensure the lead-up and actual farrowing are as stress-free for the pig (and me!).
This is also a good time to deal with a worming injection so that the protection that gives can be passed onto the unborn piglets. For this purpose, we use Panomec which is an injectable form of Ivermectin administered subcutaneously. We don’t want (or need) to give any unnecessary medication but this is a good way to get a specific job done with the minimum of fuss – provided the sow is busy eating at the time of course!
Another important step in the preparation is getting a “farrowing kit” ready in advance. It’s always a good idea to have everything you might need easily to hand during the farrowing rather than having to rush around looking for things. This includes the obvious things like iodine spray, cloths and a travel mug to keep my tea warm. It also includes other less obvious items such as some gloves, a marker spray (for identification purposes), a hot water bottle and a handy sized carboard box with straw for any piglets that need some warming up – although that’s perhaps more important in winter than for a July farrowing.
This will be the third litter for Fifi so I’d hope she’s getting the hang of it all now and won’t need any help from me. Her previous litters have both been 9 piglets which is a good litter size for Tamworths at least. Hopefully she can keep these numbers up again but I’ll settle for whatever she gives us just so long as mother and offspring are healthy
I’ve recently reviewed the records I’ve kept on previous litters from all our sows and that indicates an average gestation of 113 days. Based on my calculations from the time Fifi was in season when the boar was visiting, I’m getting ready in plenty of time before Monday 12 July!