Saturday, January 24, 2009

Farrowing crates and the red and black pig

This is the red-and-black pig. That's her name. She's about 18 months old, and was born on my farm. She's had one litter before, and weaned all of her live births. Well, I should back up and explain that.

Farrowing defined
When a pig gives birth, "farrows", there are three possible outcomes for each piglet. A live, healthy piglet is the most common, but sometimes the piglets die at birth or very soon after, which is the second possible outcome, or they died sometime prior to birth, which is the third.

Three possible piglet outcomes
So when a pig farrows, you usually only count the live births. The other two types get quietly disposed of. The sow will typically eat the afterbirth, but will not eat the piglets, so you have to go and get them and take them away. Even the most protective sows do not seem to notice when you take a dead piglet away.

"Birth Vs Weaned"
After birth, the next interesting time for a farmer is how many pigs a sow weans. That is, how many pigs survived until they're old enough to eat food and make a go of it on their own. That's "weaned". So when I talk to another farmer about my sow, I'll say "She had 13 and weaned 11", which may mean that she actually produced 16, only 13 of which lived, and that 2 more died at some point before they were weaned. But we don't talk about the 3. It's considered normal to lose a few. The two that were born live but died can be from a variety of causes. Predators, mom squashing them if she lays down too fast, someone stepped on them, some sort of birth defect that eventually kills them (like being born with no anus... happens.) or sometimes it's a result of the farmer (me) having some sort of accident. It happens. I try my best, but from time to time I kill a pig before its time.

Farrowing Crates
So this winter has been pretty tough. Its been wet, and very cold, and we flooded. We lost two complete litters of piglets. The main reason we lost them was to the cold, and I've been thinking about that a lot. I hate to lose the piglets, and so do the sows. So for the red-and-black pig I'm going to build and use a farrowing pen. It's a traditional pen that is used just prior to the sow giving birth. It allows the sow to stand up, and lay down, but not to turn around. I know, this sounds terrible, but it's only for one week, and it's to save the piglets lives.

Creep area
When the sow is kept in an area, her piglets can move around her with a much reduced chance of being stepped on, or squished. I can also improve their survival by putting in warm bedding (hay, in my case) and heat lamps so that they have warm spots to go to. I can't do that if mom can get to the heat lamps because she'll eat them. In the summer, mom's body heat is good enough, but in the winter, I think they need more help. The creep area is the area that is fenced off around the farrowing crate that is reserved for the piglets.

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