I’ve been writing about our new experience of winter farrowing and several people have emailed me or left comments asking for more details. A few people are in the situation of having a sow that will soon farrow and wanted to know what we’ve done. This is our first year farrowing during the winter – So far so good. We have had six sows farrow this past week for a total of sixty piglets. We’ve not lost any piglets so far – they all look healthy and active. Our results to date with winter farrowing are on par with our warm weather farrowing where the sows go out into the brush along the sides of the fields and build nests. Rmember you can click on the photos to see larger more detail versions.
It is cold out, especially at night, although not as cold as it is normally here this time of year. Night time temperatures are probably averaging around 10°F with days in the 20°F to 25°F range. For us that is quite warm – I feel fortunate as this was our first experience with winter piglets. I had feared the sows would farrow during our typical couple of weeks of -20°F to -45°F. This year it has only gotten down to about -8°F. Maybe this is a side benny of global warming. :) I log the daily high and nightly low temperatures so if you want to figure out the exact averages you can.
None of our shelters are heated in any way other than naturally by the sun during the day and sow’s body heat. Providing heat is not an option nor do I think it is a good idea. Protection from the wind is the first issue. Having a deep bed of hay that the pigs can dig down into and fluff up over themselves is important. Protection from the sky is also good although sometimes the bigger pigs choose to sleep out under the stars.
Plenty of good clean fresh air is important to the animal health. Note that all of the shelters have wide open doorways – large enough for a 700 lb sow to easily pass in and out. I don’t do anything to close the entrances or cover the farrowing shelters at night. There is a blanket of snow on top and hay on the windward sides which offers protection. Most importantly they have plenty of fresh dry hay to nest in.
We have three different farrowing areas going which will give me some interesting results to think back on. The experimental farrowing shelters are:
- Solar Greenhouse built of 6666 Welded Wire Mesh. This has some hay on the north and west to protect it and it is build down into a dug out space so that it gets minimal wind.
This is a rough sketch of the placement of the sheets of wire. At some point I’ll be documenting the construction technique for this. It is inexpensive, quick and simple. You can even do it in the middle of the winter – we did. The wire frame is covered with 2 mil sheet plastic which is holding up well. Inside the two 4’x9′ farrowing spaces are separated by more wire and filled with about 18″ of loose hay. I put a little hay on the roof to keep the plastic from flapping. We had orgininally stretched it tight but we had three days of severe winds that stretched the 2 mil plastic.
I originally designed this space for two sows but three of them with their 35 piglets have taken up residency there despite there being additional larger spaces. The photo at the top shows shows Long Nose on the left and Little Pig on the right with some of their piglets between them. Mouse Pig is in the next stall over to the left. This rooming arrangement is by their own choice and the piglets move freely between the stalls through the 6″ wire holes. The sows farrowed within about a day of each other and all co-nurse.
This shows an inside view of the wire frame farrowing greenhouse just after we covered the wire and before we put in the 18″ bed of hay – about 1/3rd of a 4×4 round bale. In this picture you can see the two inner arches of wire that join at the bottom in the middle. Above them is the third arch of wire that connects to them on the sides.
- Pallet Shed built of hardwood pallets for walls. The roof is plywood. There is a sliding glass door for one section of the roof which provides light into the two larger ‘stalls’. The third stall is a greenhouse space made of 6666 WWM off the south west side. This provides an additional, currently unused, space as well as buffering the entrance to the other two stalls from the northwest winds. The north west and east sides are protected by hay bales. Each of the three farrowing spaces has a deep bed of loose hay in them. Sun warms the south side. Two sows currently reside in the larger two ‘stalls’ with their 17 piglets.
- Hill Den built by digging into the hill side and then roofing it with a simple post and beam structure. This den is the largest of the farrowing spaces and the most open across the front, maybe 18′ long. I did not intend to use it for farrowing – it is one of the three herd dens where our boar, sows, gilts and growers sleep during the winter. The den has a deep bed of hay inside and is protected from the winds by the earth berm. Petra Pig insisted on farrowing her eight piglets in the largest of the three dens and would not move. She’s doing fine so I’m not going to mess with what works.
The big issue is to provide the sows with plenty of water or milk. They drink a lot of fluids. They’ll eat snow if they must but I like to make sure they have enough water so their milk supply will be maximized. Of course, you also will want to provide a good high calorie food to help them with the cold and milk production. During the winter when the pastures are not available ours thrive on hay and excess cheese trim as well as excess milk. We are fortunate to have running water from the spring overflow that does not freeze although it does create quite the ice sculpture.
The rest of the herd of about 40 pigs has been curious and come to check out the new piglets. At night I have tended to close the gate that leads to the intended farrowing spaces and I put a piece of wire mesh fencing around Petra in the den she chose so she can have a little privacy. Prior to that some of the other pigs were sleeping with her and her piglets. I’ll open that up in a few days. In the warm weather the sows tend to bring their piglets back to be with the herd after three or four days. So far the piglets have been staying inside the farrowing spaces. The sows go out to stretch, drink, get food and use the toilet.
We have another two big sows who will farrow soon and then the gilts will start farrowing next month. After we’ve been through the complete winter farrowing season I’ll know more and write about it. I’m still watching for surprise gotcha’s!
25°F/23°F, 2″ Snow
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