Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Farrowing pen experiment -- 50% success

well, that's another way to say 50% failure. Here's the story

The temporary stall I built with tall hog panels and plywood didn't really hold the sow in. The day before red n black farrowed, she was very anxious and basically broke out. So I tried a second attempt at a temporary pen. Pigs will go down, under the panel and lift up, and they have a huge amount of muscle behind that lift. So I laid down two 5' hog panels flat on the ground.

This is actually my hay barn that I built to be able to run the tractor in and out of. The round pillars are actually 12" columns with rebar and a 6x6 post mounting bracket on top. The concrete runs up about 6', and then the 6x6 post is bolted on, and the wood post goes up another 12 or 14 feet. Each of these posts is supported on a 4'x4'x6" footing. I farm on the flood plain, so to be sure that the building is there after a flood I make sure that there's plenty of concrete to hold it in place, and big footings to make sure that it doesn't sink in soft ground.

But it turns out that this is pretty handy for making a temporary farrowing stall. So I've put down the two big hog panels, and then using the concrete pillars to anchor the corners I've got a good start. I then used baling twine to lash the "walls" to the "floor", and covered the floor with a good layer of hay. Now when the sow puts her nose down she's lifting her body weight and cannot push the wall up.

Then I put another hog panel down the center to provide two stalls, as big mamma was due to farrow.
Red n black had 10 pigs. 2 were stillborn, 4 died on the first night. I hate picking up dead baby animals, but the dogs really treasure their piglet treats, so it's not a total loss. Dogs are pretty simple creatures of the moment.

To move a sow with piglets, what you usually do is go and quietly and calmly pick up the pickets and put them into a bucket or a milk crate. If the sow trusts you you can usually do this without the piglets squealing. You then RUN AWAY with the bucket of piglets, leaving one suckling on mom. You see, if the piglets start squealing, even the calmest mom will probably respond, and red n black pig was very protective of her last litter.

So after that Andrea grabs the last piglet and slowly draws it away from mom, trying to get it to squeal a little, and it does, and mom doesn't budge. hmmmm...

so we put all the piglets into the cab of the truck with the heater blasting to keep them warm, and got another livestock panel, and a piece of the electric fence rope. You see, the pigs fear the electric fence rope when it's off the ground. So you put the panel around the sow in a C shape open in the direction you're wanting her to go, and then show her the electric fence rope (which isn't attached to anything). She gets up to avoid it, the panel is there to keep her walking, and we walk her across the pasture to the hay barn. We make a big V shaped funnel, that's 60' wide at the opening, and narrows into the pen with sheets of plywood, and she walks into the funnel, and then straight into her pen. Then we give her back her piglets and make sure she settles down before we go get big mamma.
Ok. both pigs in, plywood around the edge to provide a wind block, nice bedding of hay, food, water... all done.

Except that the 34" hog panels aren't tall enough. After doing this, big mamma climbed out over the 34" hog panel, broke a sheet of plywood and bent 2 of the T posts doing so, along with cutting one of her nipples and gashing herself in the front right armpit. I'm not sure that the nipple is going to stay attached. we're still waiting to see.

Red n black is peacefully nursing her litter there, and her remaining 6 piglets are doing well. They're still shivering, but they're protected and we can monitor their progress. In a few days we'll set mom and babies free in the pasture. later i put a piece of plywood over the top of one end of the stall to make a more "cavelike" area. She liked that and moved into it to lay down and be with her piglets. The other pigs come and visit her every day, and they all grunt at each other through the panels.

Summary: For big pigs, you need tall hog panels. 3' hog panels just aren't tall enough. 4' plywood walls aren't tall enough.


Anonymous said...

Bruce King said...

Farrowing crates appear to give you better piglet survival. I can't pin crushing, which is the type of death prevented by a farrowing crate, as the cause of the losses in red n blacks litter; I think it was just too cold and unsheltered where she chose to have her piglets and I couldn't move her as I explained in that blog entry. I did what I could in place, and then moved her as soon as I could. After the move we haven't lost any piglets.

I'd love to have pigs that just took care of it themselves and chose good places to farrow; and in the summer, that works great. But in the winter the climate is just too deadly for piglets, so I'm changing my husbandry and trying different approaches to see what works here.

I've asked walter jefferies directly about his farrowing practices on his blog; his description and my practices were basically identical. So I'm leaning towards climate as being the difference. He's dry cold -- his hay doesn't get wet. I'm wet cold, and I have to change the bedding on the pigs a couple of times a month.

If I can't get results that work for me with stalls I'll go to farrowing crates as a last resort.

Anonymous said...

Picking up a bunch of dead pigs after months of expectation is awful. Watching your herd eat up the dead pigs for breakfast is likewise awful.

Consumers don't get it: if you do what looks good, you'll lose pigs. If you do what looks natural, you'll have unnecessary mortality.

When one understands that modern facilities (e.g. gestation crates and/or farrowing crates) eliminate bullying and allow someone to spot sick sows immediately (when they go off feed), systems that allow bullying and prevent one from spotting sick animals quickly seem callous and cruel.

Good luck finding a system that works for you and your pigs. .

Bruce King said...

I've never had pigs eat other pigs. The sows do eat the afterbirth, like dogs do, but I think that's a sanitary instinct, not oriented around food. Even other members of the herd don't eat the dead piglets. They'd have to be confined and stressed and hungry I think; my herd isn't any of those things.

Anonymous said...

I've seen pastured sows eat dead pigs. If you keep it up, you may get to experience it too.