With piglet mortality from farrowing to weaning in the 25% range, it\'s important to do everything possible to prevent problems in the farrowing crate. Piglet mortality is mainly due to disease and poor management either before or after birth. Here\'s the basics of farrowing and what you\'ll want to have on hand:
Let\'s start with the sow. Because parasites become a continuous cycle in livestock, you\'ll want to deworm her for internal parasites as well as treating her for lice and mange a couple weeks before farrowing. At the same time, you\'ll want to give her a erysipelas booster, which is one of the most common pig diseases and causes sudden death in piglets between 2-4 weeks of age, and antibodies for it is passed on through the sow\'s colostrum. This will protect the piglets until they reach 40 pounds, at which point they can receive their first vaccine against the disease.
Between 3-5 days before her due date, you should have set up a farrowing pen that is extremely clean, has easy access for you in case of birth problems and keeps the piglets warm and safe. In this case, safe means a place to get out of the way of the sow plopping down for a rest, usually accomplished by setting up a creep, basically a small section of the pen with vertical bars so the piglets can get in but the sow can\'t. Put her in it so that her body can adjust to the different environment before adding the stress of labor. If you can\'t keep the pen at a steady 70-75 degrees F and the creep at 90-95 degrees F, add a couple inches of clean straw to the bottom of the pen.
At this point, you\'ll want to ensure that the sow has access to clean, fresh water at all times, receives 4-5 pounds of 16% protein ration daily and is allowed out to exercise for about 15 minutes each day, as this helps to prevent constipation. Among things to have on hand are pig booster, a bottle and nipple, pig colostrum and milk (either from the farm store or frozen from a previous farrowing), injectable iron, a syringe and needle (or several), alcohol, betadine, oxytocin to induce labor, slow bleeding or let milk down, lubricant, OB gloves and clean towels, rags or drying powder to help dry off the piglets. Scrape the pen twice daily to remove waste and keep the farrowing environment clean.
Image courtesy of Stephan and Claire Farnsworth.