Farrowing 101: During Farrowing - The Sow

  1. CathleenVought
    As the second part in our series on preventing piglet mortality from farrowing to weaning, we\'ll discuss what happens during farrowing and how to get the best possible outcome. Piglet mortality is typically around 25% and is caused mainly by disease or poor husbandry before or following farrowing. Here\'s the basics:
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    It\'s time! Don\'t panic! When you\'ve been waiting months for your piglets to make their appearance, it\'s easy to get flustered. Pigs have been having babies for millennia and they\'ll keep doing so for some time to come. We\'re just there to help when they\'re trouble and maximize the potential outcome.

    For starters, here\'s a great YouTube video showing a sow farrowing; as a caution, the video has sound and is rather graphic, so you may not want to watch it at work or around children, though if they\'re farm kids, they\'ve probably seen a birth already. The video is a great reminder of our place to keep an eye on things, not stress the sow out with too many interventions.

    So how do you know when your sow is getting ready to deliver? Between 10-14 days before hand, the vulva will become swollen and the mammary tissue and teats will develop. In the time immediately before labor starts, she\'ll become restless, standing up and lying down. If straw is available, she may make a nest or bed. Starting about 12 hours prior to the piglets\' birth, she\'ll start to secrete milk into her mammary glands and with a little massage and milking you can excrete the milk. A discharge of mucus will appear on her vulva. If there is a small round pellet of feces in this discharge and the sow is distressed, you should immediately examine her as this typically means the first piglet is presenting breech, or backwards.

    Farrowing typically takes between 3-8 hours with 10-20 minutes between piglets, though that time can vary greatly and there is often as much as 45 minutes between the first and second piglets. Piglets are typically born head first, with a smaller number born backwards near the end of farrowing. Just before birth, the sow will lie on her side and will then shiver, strain, lift her top hind leg or a combination of these as she pushes the piglet out. Her tail will often twitch directly before the piglet is born. It is not unusual for some afterbirth or placental material to pass during this time.

    Following the piglets\' birth, the placenta is delivered, typically 1-4 hours after the last piglet. After this, the sow should be calm and will grunt or call the piglets. If she is still shivering, straining or lifting her back leg, this is an indicator that she still has piglets to deliver. There will be some discharge from the vulva over the next 3-5 days, but if the sow is nursing and eating well, this is normal. If she appears listless, feverish or off her feed, she may have developed endometritis infection that will need to be treated.

    Image courtesy of Gill Thompson.

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