Monday, March 1, 2010

Assembling the farrowing crates

I've written about my struggles with piglet survival during farrowing, I've talked a lot about the concept of farrowing crates - here and here and here and after agonizing about it for 18 months, I've ordered and recieved two farrowing crates.

The purpose of a farrowing crate is to restrict the movement of the sow so that she doesn't crush the piglets to death by laying on them. My survival rate per litter has been very low; I've lost entire litters, and it averages about 20%. Which means out of a litter of 18 I've had as few as 1 survive to weaning. I HATE buckets of dead piglets. If you were to ask me about the hardest part for me, so far it's been getting out of bed knowing that I was going to find dead piglets. Hoping that this helps. I've tried pasture farrowing, pen farrowing, farrowing huts and all sorts of variations of each of those approaches in the last 4 years.

My plan is to put the sows into the crates for a week or so, to allow the piglets time to get oriented and used to moving around, so they can dodge mom when she lays down, and then move them to a farrowing pen after that initial period. The majority of the piglets that I lose are in the first 3 days after birth.

I purchased these two crates from vittitoe and they made me a deal on them, but as with all things pig related, I had to ship them here from Iowa -- and they weigh 650lbs each, so that added another $500 to the mix.

I'm assembling them in the greenhouse so that I can work out of the rain, but I'll be mounting them on skids and moving them. I'll probably build a farrowing barn later this summer to support my swine operation.

First impression? They are plenty sturdy. They're pretty well thought out, have adjustments for bigger and smaller sows. The assembly instructions suck -- I had to redo one particular piece three times to get it put together right. They are very efficient about their parts packing. DO NOT lose a bolt, nut or washer -- you need every single one.

I've got two pigs that are due to farrow pretty soon here -- and I'm actually glad that I do have two. They'll be able to see each other and keep each other company. Once a sows piglets are born, for the first week or so, they don't move around much -- they'll sleep 18-20 hours a day as the piglets nurse.


Anonymous said...

Did you get the sort of crates that transform into pens? Those are neat, because you can restrict the sow's movements more or less. E.g. have things closed up tight the first few days, and then open it into a pen, so she isn't confined much when the piglets are able to move out of the way.

With standard farrowing crates - the sort I'm guessing you bought - you can't open op the crate.

Bruce King said...

I chose a finger-style farrowing crate based on weaning rates. There are probably 30 different variations of farrowing crates/systems, which represents the market searching for different solutions, when I looked at survival of piglets, which is what I'm after, this type rated highest.

I'm open to looking at other ideas. If you have a link to the type of farrowing crate you're talking about, please post it.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on a small diversified farm in Minnesota and in my memory we always used farrowing crates. They save a lot of piglets and I do not believe that they bother the sows at all. As you said, the sows sleep most of the time the first few days anyway, and they do crush their babies without the crates!

Anonymous said...

The ones I saw were built custom.

Here's some plans for convertible crates:

Basically, if the sides of the crate are on hinges or otherwise removable, it is possible to control how tight it is - making it go from a crate to a pen.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit off topic, but I was reading back to where you've had repeated problems with the dog park, livestock thieves, everything-not-bolted-to-a-structure thieves, etc.

Have you considered some kind of shrubbery? I think you mentioned setting the fences back some 30' from the road, typically, in an effort to obey arcane ordinances. That perhaps leaves you a nice big space for, say, blackberry 'farming'. The tall, big-thorned, nasty kind of blackberry bushes, I mean.

I can imagine there might possibly be an impact on sales if people couldn't see the animals in the field easily from the road, but perhaps extra signs could compensate?

Also, shrubberies are very nice.
--Knights who say 'ni.'