Farrowing and care of new-born piglets

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Farrowing is the process where the sow gives birth to piglets. Usually the sow will farrow during the night or evening. Normal pregnancy takes about 115 days after conception. It is important to make early preparations for farrowing because it is crucial for the survival of the piglets. An important step is to estimate the expected farrowing date using the gestation period.

As the farrowing date approaches you should be able to notice the clear signs of imminent birth. Complications are normally few but it is advisable that you be available to take care of problems that might arise.

Preparation for farrowing

Two weeks before the farrowing:

  • Deworm and treat the sow for external pests.
  • Disinfect the furrowing pen and put the sow in her individual pen.
  • Wash her with soap and clean water with disinfectant. Repeat these 2 days before farrowing if the risks of infections are high.

Equip the farrowing pen with a farrowing crate. Put adequate bedding material of the crate. Have enough litter for the sow to make a nest for the piglets if you do not have a farrowing crate.

On the day of farrowing give the sow laxative food such as green fodder instead of the normal feed. This prevents the risk of constipation.


Piglets are presented in the head-to-tail position. Expect a piglet every 15 to 20 minutes although small ones may appear in quick succession. The piglets are born attached to the umbilical cord and you need not interfere because they soon break off on their own.

The sow should expel the afterbirth between 30 minutes and one hour after the birth of the last piglet. But occasionally she may expel some of the afterbirth in between delivering each piglet. It is usual for her to suck blood from the afterbirth to build up her strength.

Most prematurely born piglets do not survive. About one pig in 20 is still-born. Older sows have a higher percentage of still-born piglets.

It is advisable to monitor the processes closely because sows do not pay much attention to their offspring until all the litter has been delivered. However sows do not like the presence of humans therefore you should remain at a safe distance. The sow can crush piglets as she lies down and you should intervene to prevent this. A delivery that takes longer than 8 to 12 hours indicates problems. Of particular importance is the last piglet which may be born in the membrane and could suffocate if not taken out.

Farrowing complications

Help out the first piglet by hand if delivery takes a long time. Thoroughly wash and disinfect your hand and the sow’s rear. Apply Vaseline on the hand and the vagina and navigate the hand slowly into the vagina with a slight rotating movement. The sow will start her contractions and push the piglet out.

Inject the sow with 2 cc of oxytocin (not more) if this does not work. Release the piglet manually if this has no effect after an hour. Give another injection if still no progress is made. Seek the assistance of a veterinarian if none of this works.

A caesarean operation is the only solution if the piglet is too big. Slaughter the sow if there is no veterinarian to assist.

Accidental killing of the piglets by the sow

Immediately after birth it is normal for the mother to do the following:

  • Eat the afterbirth and any still-born piglets which is normal.
  • Become aggressive towards their litters especially the young gilts.
  • Become frightened by the new-born piglets and try to avoid them and start biting.

In this case put piglets and keep them warm in a box or use tranquilizers to cool down the mother.

Common farrowing disorders

The most common are inflammation of the uterus (metritis) or of the udder (mastitis). Sometimes they are found in combination. The sow appears dazed, refuses to get up and to eat, and is feverish.

Metritis is suggested by awhitish-yellow and/or foul-smelling discharge from the vagina. This could be an indication that delivery was not complete. Check and remove if there are any piglets remaining inside.

Mastitis may affect one or more teats hence decreasing milk production and the piglets may starve. Check the temperature of the sow. Treat the sow immediately if temperature is above 39.5°C. Give a 5 cc injection of oxytocin and an antibiotic. Review the treatment after 24 hours if the treatment has no effect.

Constipation is brought about when the sows stop eating shortly before farrowing. The sow become restless and neglects her new-born piglets. Ease constipation by feeding laxatives such as castor oil or Epsom salt dissolved in water. In order to prevent constipation before farrowing, one or two tablespoons of Epsom salts should be mixed with the feed each day and extra leafy green foods should be given.

Keep the hungry piglets warm and feed them with goat or cow’s milk, or sweetened bean meal porridge. In extreme cases put the piglets on another sow or rear artificially.

Care of the new born piglets

Cut the umbilical cord to about 5cm length immediately after birth. Soak the navel of each piglet in iodine solution to prevent inflammation and tetanus.

Carefully rub each piglet dry with a piece of cloth and direct the piglets to the udder. Their groping and sucking encourages the sow to farrow and to let down her milk. Ensure that the piglets suckle the colostrum to protect them against diseases.

Help by holding their hind legs up in the air those piglets that have difficulty in breathing or that appear to have died. Stimulate breathing by rhythmically pressing the chest. You can pour a little cold water over the head and chest but dry off the piglet immediately afterwards.

Trim the piglet’s teeth to prevent them biting the udder.

Give the piglets extra food or transfer to another sow if the mother does not produce enough milk.


The sow’s milk does not contain enough iron to satisfy the piglet’s needs. After two or three weeks they become pale and their rate of growth drops. Inject 3 day old piglets with an iron preparation. 

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