The Farrowing Pen

When a sow stands up, or prepares to lay down, her piglets scatter to the walls or flatten themselves into corners so she does not lie on them or stand on them accidentally. Even a good sows is huge and lumbers about looking for food and watching out for danger.  They do not watch their feet, they are not cognitive, they startle easily and piglets are very tiny and die quickly.  (I think this is why they have such big litters).  A clever piglet has a built in alarm when it comes to avoiding being injured by their mothers.

But I do everything I can to help them survive.

The farrowing pen is a work in progress as I learn from observing my sows and their piglets.  But I think I am almost done for this round.

Pig instincts are not designed for square flat spaces, they are designed for the open. So when we force our sows to farrow (give birth) inside (due to cold and predators and lack of forest) we need to design our spaces so the little ones have places that are safe.

My first priority is the creep, with its warm bed under lights. (above). Initially it is small and cosy and draft free. My favourite first bed is this old rubbish bin that was squashed flat on one side. This lays flat, is lined with sheeps wool and light hay and has a light at its mouth and a light above that warms the metal.

After a week I take this out and replace it with a plastic dog crate. Piglets are like the fish in that childrens book – endlessly changing vessels as they grow super fast.

When I remove those bales I also have room to place their feed and water. It is not long before they need these also and we don’t want Mum scarfing the lot.

The creep is a mother free space.

The second line of defence in the safety of the little ones is in the walls of the big pen. When you watch the piglets scarper, (from fright) they flatten themselves up against the walls and in the corners. They watch their mother intently from these safe positions, waiting. Because of this I build indents into the walls so they can easily find something to pause under. Do you see where Molly’s head is? That wall is unfinished. (This is where the entrance to the creep is too). I will place a strong metal pole across there today, so this whole wall will have safe zones right along its length.

Now she cannot lie hard up against the wall, the design forces her a little away from the wall so she cannot flatten a slow piglet against a wall.

Just past her head and out of sight is the hole through the wall for the piglets to enter their creep where all the heat lamps are. I found Molly sleeping with her whole head through the hole yesterday – she remembers that it is warm on the other side! Another reason to get the strong pole in place. Her big head blocks the entrance and she will not realise that her babies cannot get out to feed. Pigs are not as intelligent as people think – they run on instinct. They are canny with good memories. Her instinct will be to get as close to the heat and be where she can see her babies. She will not realise she is blocking their door and while she is asleep there they cannot get out to feed.

She did this to me last time, I kept having to move her out and this was really scary with hungry piglets gushing out of their doorway  – this is why I am changing the entrance so she can get close but not block it.  The less interference from me the better.

She will have a heat lamp (though placed high as she is a tall pig) on her side of the hole as well, for the first few days the babies like the warmth but also need to be closer to Mum for frequent feedings.

As the days go along I am in there shooing them through their little entrance and closing their door so I can clean in the pen without worrying about scaring any babies under the sows feet. This also trains them to their own bed. They quickly learn where their safest warmest spot is.

The hay that you see on the floor now will be gone in the next few days and replaced by woodchips. I have seen piglets sleep under the hay and be stepped on by their mothers, so for the first few weeks while the piglets learn to avoid the feet of their mother I have a clear flat floor. For warmth they will go to their creep.

Many farmers put their sows into crates to keep the piglets safe. They do not do this out of cruelty – usually from fear for the babies plus multiple farrowings. . But I have lots of room and only one sow farrows at a time so I  can spoil my mothers.

Plus I like my mothers to move around and get outside for their health, and attitude, training babies to eat grass and where to go to the toilet. And I have had friends who report that their mothers can still lay on the babies or attack and kill  the babies or step on them, while crated –  if she is that kind of mother. The crate mitigates the problem but does not solve it. I believe that having a clever, friendly trustworthy mother with good maternal instincts is best. They also tend to have calm sensible babies. I cull the aggressive mothers or problem sows – I do not breed them again.  Clever, gentle sows generally breed and train clever, gentle piglets.

By the look of Molly we have at least ten days to go – her udder is still high. We still have a few cold nights ahead so I hope she will wait for the warm up to farrow.

Though we need to keep in mind that Poppy is probably in the last month of her pregnancy now too.

After the rain cleared yesterday it got warmer and I could almost SEE the grass growing. So could Mr Flowers. The peafowl have stepped up their patrols of the vegetable gardens. Soon I will come under real pressure from Our John to put them back into the Peacock Palace. I try to hold out as long as I can by covering the plants. This year the first plantings will be at the West barn, that should hold him for a while.

Mr Flowers.

Geraldine is the worst in the garden – not  because she eats the seedlings (which she does) but because she follows me everywhere and the moment I reach down to the soil she will peck at my hand. Even wearing gloves this is annoying.

Below are my essentials.  I know farmers usually have knives but for years I have found this old pair of heavy electrical scissors never let me down. They are shiny from living in my pocket. In fact I find it hard to leave this pair of scissors at home when I travel. As well as the baling twine on hay bales they will cut light chicken wire, electric fence strings, strip plastic off wires. etc. There are a myriad of daily jobs these blades are engaged in.

They are slim, small and heavy and sit nicely in my pocket with my phone.

It is nice that now it is warmer I can wear the work gloves by themselves without warm mittens on top of them.

I hope you have a lovely day.



32 Comments on “The Farrowing Pen

  1. Molly is a very pretty lady. Much darker than her mom. It just seems like yesterday you were working with the her last babies! Time is moving so fast.

  2. The farrowing pen looks great! It’s so true about mamas stepping on their babies. Even with the ledge in our farrowing house in the field, last year Ellie Mae stepped on one of hers. We now need to enlarge the farrowing house, and adding a creep in a smart idea!

  3. Will you keep any of the big little pigs to breed or will they all be sold this year? I’m in a constant wonder about the logistics of planning for next year with this what you have this year. Even with the coming restaurant, how do you KNOW how many pigs or cows or zucchini?

  4. I sit here chuckling at myself because the main point of your post is about pigs and while I find the information fascinating, I’m immediately drawn to your description of the piglets like the fish in the children’s book, which is “A Fish Out of Water.” It was one of Naomi’s favorite books. She would frequently request that we check that book out from the library. It hasn’t been read in quite some time, so I now sit here wondering if I ever made it a permanent addition to her personal library and must check later.

  5. Great preparations and descriptions of the piglets’ survival behaviours. I like that you give the sow freedom to move, while still providing safety zones. You are kept busy ensuring the safety of animals and gardens. Best of luck for a healthy spring.

  6. Mr. Flowers’ white feathers look like exclamation points!!

  7. Molly and her big head…sticking it where it shouldn’t be. I hope you get to take a moment today to watch the grass grow.

    • Can you remind me who Molly’s father is? For some reason, this question is niggling at my brain this morning. Could be worse, as far as nigglers go, I suppose. Thx.

  8. So much care and observance and thought goes into your farmy! Always fascinating reading.

  9. I wonder what caused Mr Flowers white feathers, but they do not detract from his handsomeness! You really do have to think things through regarding the piglets and it’s obviously very important to do so.

  10. Do you put the newborn piglets straight into the creep until the whole litter has arrived, or will you be using a box again? Remember to stock up on tshirts and undies to dry the babies off … hee hee. it all looks very grand. Laura

    • I will use the box. I have a big tall box that sits under a warm lamp during farrowing time and after the babies have drunk for a while I set them under the lamp to warm as I deal with the next arrival otherwise it really does turn into a circus. It really does depend on the night. In the next day I begin to shoo them all into the creep. c

  11. Goodness, Molly appears so svelte it’s hard to imagine she’s expecting a litter in ten days! I’m always amazed at your piglet preparations… but the experience last year with Tahiti, I guess it was, taught us all a good lesson about protection of the piglets.
    And a peacock showing off really is an impressive performance. And even nicer since Mr Flowers’ feather problems last year had me wondering if he had reached the end of his dazzling days. Hope you have a lovely day too. ~ Mame 🙂

  12. Well, your life is decidedly different from mine. Living on the other side of the world we are in autumn/fall. I have a friend who raises ship and cattle with little or no help from her city bred husband. I’m going to send her this post and suggest she considers pigs. But looking out at her green paddocks I think the pugs may cause too much distraction. Enjoy spring

    • Yes, pigs do need to be in an area that can take some digging. I usually put the pigs in the field that is due to be resowed. Your friend sounds like she is a little like me in being the boss of her own farm. Wonderful. c

  13. Mr. Flowers is stunning! I’m sure the girls appreciate his handsomeness! Maybe you will have babies this year.

  14. So many hazards in a small piglet’s life, and such a careful Celi to avert the worst of them. Not so much a farrowing pen as a Piglet Palace. We’ll all have our fingers crossed for safe, healthy, stress free farrowing, for the pigs’ sake and for yours.

  15. Well this city gal has had quite a lesson again! So much to take into account . . . and some unpleasant memories of unfortunate happenings not so long ago . . . with two lots of spring babies due all fingers and toes crossed . . . and Mr Flowers looks magnificent!

  16. I never have to think very hard about planning and preventative measures here. Well, maybe I do when I’m rehabilitating wildlife. Somehow your work seems like so much more to think about and plan for than mine. I learned a lot about pigs today. It’s all fascinating… but sounds like a lot of work and worry too!

    • I have 650 sows putting in hard work and dedication pays divided ends which u obviously do great effort

  17. In the photo of the creep the knots in the wooden wall look like a pair of eyes (with lashes), nose below the eyes, ears above in the swirls and then if I look closer I can imagine a piggy angel (wings in the swirls of the wood grain) watching over them. I’ve been told I have a very vivid imagination and not always in a complimentary way. lol
    After the last farrowing when you described how the sows communicated with their piglets it got me to thinking/remembering about Dad’s sows, the Poland Chinas. They did some of what you talked about but the taking care not to lay on their piglets or even warning them they were going down I don’t recall at all. There was a fairly high mortality rate for one sow I think she crushed about 80 percent of her litter as she was the first to farrow. Dad increased the size of the bump boards he used and blocked off two of the corners so the piglets could escape from their mothers. The other two lost a few piglets to being crushed too. As I remember when those sows went down there was no lowering slowly or much grunting, it was just a flat sided flop. They were a very long pig. At the time Poland Chinas were known to be easy keepers, large, sturdy, healthy and very prolific. So curious, I started looking up breed history for several America swine breeds . I didn’t realize that for many American breeds, southern Ohio was the developing grounds starting in the early 1800s. Anyway from reading breed histories (I think it was the University of Oklahoma’s site and some breed registries) that in the 70’s/80’s (which would be the right time frame for my experiences) the breeders started breeding for a long sided sow that would have close to 16-17 piglets per litter. They needed a long sow to have enough plates at the table so to speak. The mortality rates of litters rose dramatically because the mamas were just too long bodied which lead them to crushing very young piglets and not very maternal. Traits which in my mind defeats the purpose of breeding such a long sow. I know our sows didn’t seem overly concerned about where their piglets were or about whose piglets showed up for a feeding. I can remember the farmer we got the boar and gilts from as piglets telling dad he needed to have farrowing crates. Dad figured if he had a large pen with bumper boards and farrowed outside it would be okay as that was the way he and my grandfather had raised healthy pigs before.

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