1 day ago
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Notes on using a farrowing crate
I run a pastured animal operation, and for the most part allow the animals to roam pretty freely. In doing this I've had an unacceptably large mortality in my piglets, and I've tried all sorts of things to reduce the number that die.
A farrowing crate is a commonly used device that is custom-designed to reduce piglet mortality, and I'm working with it now after trying all sorts of other things.
I've written about the losses when I allow the sow to pick her own farrowing spot in the pasture or when they've chosen a bad spot here, about my experiences with a farrowing pen (good and bad)
The black pig on the right is an experienced mother; she's had a litter in a farrowing pen, one on the pasture (total loss), and this third litter of hers in the farrowing crate.
Summary of my experiences with the farrowing crate, by sow/gilt:
Big Mamma, 4 year old sow. 14 at birth, 2 currently alive. Farrowing crate. I've lost the last 2 litters from her entirely, so having 2 pigs survive is an improvement, but I need at least 5 piglets per sow to break even on just the feed costs. She's not an economic pig at this time so she's got to go.
BUT... the farrowing crate made this decision easier. Normally I'd find her after she'd given birth somewhere and there'd be dead piglets all over the place, and it was impossible to figure out what had killed them, for the most part. It's easy if she steps on one, but harder if she lays on one. In this case, in the farrowing crate, I was there when she was giving birth, and most came out stillborn. Lucky that I was there, but if I hadn't been there, it would have eliminated her laying on them as a possible cause of death. I don't know what's causing her stillborns -- she's one of my oldest sows and a very friendly girl. I hate to see her go, but I've given her every chance and seen no improvement. She'll go to market after weaning her current 2 piglets. I moved her into a farrowing pen 1 week after birth with 3 live piglets, and she squished one of the 3 that night. the other two have survived so far.
Black Pig: 3 year old sow. 16 live at birth, 6 died within 24 hours. 3 were just tiny, one got kicked by mom, and one had problems in birth, likely brain damage due to suffocation in the birth canal. One died for unknown reasons. She did a pasture farrow last time, and lost her entire litter. In the litter before that she was in a farrowing pen and lost 12 out of 14 pigs there. So the farrowing pen is a clear win (at least so far) for the black pig. She stays.
White faced pig: 250lb 13 month old gilt, first litter. 9 born, 6 alive now, farrowing crate. She had the piglets overnight; temps in the 40s, and they were dead away from the heat, so might have died from that.
The white faced pig is on the left in the photo at top; she's a purebred berkshire, and I moved her in right after I moved big momma out. I'd like to see if the smaller sow has a different experience. So far so good.
Here's big momma in a farrowing pen with her surviving piglets. She's a 500lb sow, and the feed costs are prohibitive to keep a sow that size without any piglet production. That's the difference between a farm and a hobby.
I've talked about the experience from the farmer point of view, and from the sows point of view, but there's really an important party that I need to talk about here. That's the piglets themselves. The piglet experience in the farrowing crate is actually pretty good. There's a warm spot, they're safe, it's unlikely that they'll be squished to death or suffocated, and there's the wall-of-mom, the cliff of goodness as shown in that picture, above. Seeing more live piglets is really my goal in this, and while I feel mixed about confining the sow for a week until her piglets are oriented and able to dodge mom, I hate buckets of dead piglets more, so that's how I got here.
I'm open to questions and comments.