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Be prepared for farrowing
Taking the plunge and breeding from your pig for the first time can be a nerve wracking experience for the novice pig keeper.
However nowadays, unlike a few years ago, there is a wealth of information and equipment out there for the pig keeper to take advantage of. Books such as the recently published Small-Scale Outdoor Pig Breeding by Wendy Scudamore, breeding workshops, forums and articles give perspective breeders up to date information and advice, whilst an array of farrowing equipment, specialised arks, piglet boosters and colostrums means even an inexperienced breeder can begin breeding with confidence.
The most important thing to have in place is of course a suitable shelter in which to farrow. Nowadays there are specialised farrowing arks on the market in all manner of materials. One thing they all have in common is detachable farrowing bars (scaffolding bars) which run along three sides of the ark. These bars sitting about a foot off the sides of the ark gives a piglet breathing space to escape if they find themselves trapped between the sides and the sow. Some farrowing arks also come with a crèche built onto the front of the ark.
These crèches sometimes known as creep fenders are either permanent or detachable depending on the manufacturer. Approximately 4ft by 4ft and around a foot high, this is an absolute godsend for keeping very young piglets in a safe environment, yet at the same time allowing them to come out of the ark.
Arks with crèches can be expensive though, usually £400 plus, so if your budget doesn’t run to purchasing one; a suitable alternative is to use straw bales to keep the piglets from roaming too far. If you are planning on using another type of shelter such as a stable as the farrowing quarters, then you will need to set up a creep area in one corner. A creep area is an area in the farrowing quarters that is only accessible to the piglets. Research has shown that by providing a safe haven for the piglets when they sleep dramatically reduces the chances of them being lain on.
The creep area should be cordoned off with bars which should be screwed firmly into the wall and an infra-red heat lamp hung above to keep the piglets warm. In the past we have used a metal gate but make sure that the gap from the bottom bar to the ground is large enough for the piglets to get through, but not so big as to allow the sow to put her head under. Although the amount of specialist equipment required for the farrowing and after care of the newborn is very little, below is a basic list of items that should be at hand as a matter of course. Iodine For spraying the piglets’ umbilical cord as soon as possible after birth to prevent bacteria from entering, or you can purchase a specialist umbilical spray.
This works on the same principal as the original lamb boosters in that they are a concentrated instant energy source full of vitamins and are useful for weak piglets, normally one or two pumps is all that is needed to help revive the piglet. Pig Colostrums’ and sow milk replacer – Useful for hand reared piglets – small bottle and teat. Iron If your piglets are unlikely to be going outside for a while, they must be injected with iron to prevent them becoming anaemic. Some breeders throw in a sod of earth which the piglets will nuzzle and absorb iron that way, but I would still suggest injecting with iron if your piglets are likely to be kept inside.
Breeding and Service Record Book
Useful for recording service details as well as details of the piglets born. Other useful items that you should have close to hand is a thermometer, towels for rubbing down the piglets if required, bucket and spade or rubber gloves for picking up the afterbirth. A mobile phone is also useful if you are a long way from the house and your vet’s number as well as a torch if the farrowing is taking place at night.
As the piglets grow and depending on your feeding routine you might want to consider buying an ad lib weaner feeder. Even if you are not planning to feed them ad lib you will still require troughs low enough to the ground to allow them to feed comfortably and away from the sow. The Mexican hat troughs are ideal for feeding piglets as they are divided into sections by bars and low to the ground Unfortunately they are also popular with the gardening fraternity who use them as planters which drives up the price. Shop around for a good deal as they do vary considerably in price,
There are many other items on the market geared towards breeding such as heat mats and toys for older piglets and weaners to play with. On the whole however, it is rare to need such equipment for outdoor reared pigs, though if you are looking for something specific; it’s worth taking a look on commercial pig equipment sites rather than companies geared towards the smallholder. Lastly, buy a “tidy” box such as the ones that horse owners use to keep their grooming kit in one place. This way you can keep all the smaller items together and ready for use. The last thing you want is to be searching around for something at a critical time.