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As you can see by the picture, the remodeling project is creating a new look in the barn. Dale and the boys have been taking out the old slats and replacing them with plastic flooring. This flooring will be warmer and better suited to the young pigs. Dale also put sheets of hard plastic on the walls which provides better insulation and easier clean-up.

I would describe their pace as slow and steady. “We got 12 slats out today!” seemed to be a rallying cry. Of course I tease the boys about how hauling slats is building their muscles and what the girls might be thinking. They roll their eyes since there are no girlfriends yet; but I do believe their muscles are growing.


Once the floor is done, there will be gating, feeders and ventilation to complete. The project is going well, but I’ve come
to the realization that my deck, which was to have been the next project after this nursery, will have to wait until next year.

It’s not often that Dale is away from the farm and the boys and I have to do chores. But when it does happen there always seems to be some type of adventure involved. This past week Dale had the opportunity to attend a marketing seminar and tour the Board of Trade in Chicago. No problem, the boys could do chores while he was gone. Did I mention that the sows always seem to farrow when he’s gone?

Sure enough Wednesday night a sow that had taken almost all day to have 4 pigs needed some help. There was still one inside her that was having trouble getting out. Brett and I prepped ourselves for assistance. He gave his best effort with no luck. I gave it a try. Newborn pigs are slippery no matter where they are at. Getting ahold of them and keeping your grip while helping the sow is tough. Did I mention that about this time we called Dale on his cell phone for tips? Yes, we’re in the barn and he’s in the restaurant in Chicago. I love technology.

Determined to help that pig be born, the sow and I combined our efforts. We were successful. Fearing the worst, Brett and I both yelled “it’s alive” as the pig opened its eyes and started to move around. Instinct took over as the pig gained strength and went to look for Mom and a meal.

Brett and I both felt good about our efforts and results. During this time another sow in the barn had started to farrow and there were new pigs on the ground. We’re hoping these will be our State Fair pigs.

When’s the next time Dale will be gone and we’ll have to do chores? I don’t know. But I’m willing to bet the kids and I will be involved in another adventure.

Our Christmas pigs have reached the right age and weight to wean them from the sows. On our farm, it works best if the pigs are about 21 days of age and weigh about 13 pounds although many of them will weigh 15-16 lbs.

The pigs will go to a nursery barn on our neighbor’s farm where they will be fed a diet that contains milk products, rolled oats and other complex proteins along with soybean meal and corn. Having these complex ingredients is important as the pigs’ transition away from sow’s milk. When they are about 25 lbs, they will be eating mostly soybean meal, dried distillers grains (DDGS), vitamins and minerals and corn.  

Having a good vaccination program and keeping a close eye on the pigs, especially the first week, helps keep the pigs healthy and reduce the need for antibiotics. The pigs grow quickly in the nursery and by the time they are ready to move to the finishing barn in about 7 weeks, they will be gaining over one pound per day.

Meanwhile, it’s time to get the farrowing barn ready for the next group of sows to farrow.

Christmas day was extra busy for Dale as a new group of sows started to have little pigs. A sow’s gestation period is about 114 days ( 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days as we learned in our Intro to Animal Science class) so these sows were bred last September.

Quite a bit of observation goes on during this time. Dale is making sure the sows are comfortable in the farrowing room. Once a sow starts to farrow, he makes sure she isn’t having any problems and that the pigs are being born on a regular basis, about one pig every 20-25 minutes. If it takes much longer than that, he may have to help.

Dale likes to keep the farrowing room cooler for the sows, about 70 degrees, but the little pigs need it warmer, so we use heat mats (think in-floor heating), to provide a warm surface for the pigs. We’ll also use a heat lamp over them if necessary to provide additional warmth.

It’s critical to make sure the pigs nurse on the sow right away. The rich colostrum provides energy and immunity for the young pigs. Pigs that eat well the first few days will grow better the rest of their life.

Farrowing pigs takes extra time and effort. But the reward is having a group of sows with many healthy active pigs.