Sunday, April 4, 2010

My pig husbandry practices right now

This is a rundown of what I'm doing to take care of pigs right now, and by doing this I've increased my piglet survival about 100%, going from an average weaned per litter of 4 to an average weaned of 8. I'm still not where I'd like to be; I'd like to be weaning 10 or 12 per litter, but this is a good start. First, the pigs go into the farrowing crate a few days before they're due. The farrowing crate is causing some problems that I don't like at all, related to the last 4 nipples on the sow. ladies, you might not want to read the next few paragraphs or you'll have sympathetic pains. I couldn't get a very good shot of it, but the last two nipples seem to be taking some sort of trauma. I think that they're getting caught in the grating that the sow stands on, and when she stands up they're getting ripped, but I haven't seen it yet. that's just what I suspect. So I've been putting a few handfuls of hay underneath the sows to keep the nipples out of the grating, and this seems to help. The second thing that I've noticed is that the piglets come out with scabs on their knees, which I presume is from the plastic flooring. The flooring is smooth and does not have hard edges, but this is also helped by a thin layer of hay. If you look carefully at the knee of the pink piglet closest to the camera (click on picture for bigger version), you'll see two black patches. Those are scabbed over wounds. The piglet is fine, and getting around and doing piglet things, but I'd rather not see any scratch or mar on the piglets at all. Here's a batch of piglets in the farrowing crate, snoozing on a layer of hay. No marks on their knees. Summary: Farrowing crates prevent the sow from laying on the piglets, but the floor of the crate is hard on the sows last 4 nipples (the last two on either side) and on the piglets knees. A bit of hay, not too much, solves that problem. You do have a bit more maintenance in removing the hay if it gets wet, but that becomes part of the daily routine of checking the food and water and removing poo from the crate.
The sows seem to enjoy the hay too, and will arrange it to suit their needs. We keep the sows in the farrowing crate a week or so after birth. This allows the piglets and the sow to be observed for any post-birth complications, and the piglets get very active -- and much more able to dodge mom when she lays down. After a week, they're moved to farrowing pens.

The farrowing pens are 8x16 foot stalls in an open-air barn. They have a mix of hay and wood chips as bedding, and that's replaced every week or so, or as needed. The sow can move freely around her stall, and can see and talk to and smell the other sows, and generally are pretty happy to lay around and nurse their piglets.
The piglets, on the other hand, spend most of their time sleeping, or messing with the other piglets in adjoining stalls.
(farrowing stalls)

Here the piglets are nosing and playing with the other piglets. After a couple of weeks I'll put all of the sows and their piglets together into a pasture, and then 6-8 weeks after they're born, we'll wean the piglets by removing the sows.

Right now I've got 50 piglets on the ground, all within 2 weeks of each other. It'd be better for me to have a more measured production of piglets. So to do that I'm going to be spreading out the sows breeding. I'll keep them in the nursery paddock, releasing a couple at a time into the boar paddock, spaced a month apart. I'll probably aim to have a bunch farrow in Feb next year (to take advantage of the better piglet prices in the spring).


Dean Smith said...

Good observation! "The best fertilizer is the footsteps of the farmer." Wendel Berry

Anonymous said...

Do you have any gilts or sows that have pouted, gone off feed or just fought the crate for hours on end? That can be a problem.

I would guess the sows stand on their teats and rip them. Their toenails are so sharp.

Now you can see why farmers go to confinements - it is easier to take better care of the pigs when you do it indoors and use things like crates to control the females. It is a lot easier to give pigs iron shots, vaccines and to castrate them indoors than outdoors.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce, glad to see your numbers are coming up. I wanted to pass on some stillborn info to you that I just read. Turns out that a large percentage of stillborns -that are not a result of bacteria -are caused by vitamin A deficiency. Maybe you already know this?

Also to the 2nd comment on this post, I would say that it is way easier not to give iron shots, vaccines or castrate the piglets -indoors or out.

The behaviors that attribute to good mothering are learned and genetic as well. Gilts that are born outdoors will be better mothers outdoors and a farmer can breed for the best outdoor farrowing genetics. It takes time and diligence to unravel the mess that has been created by industrial farming practices. -Jim