Piglets in the Sun


Mouse and Piglets Enjoying the Warm Winter Sun

Piglet fix: Image should be taken in small frequent does. May cause euphoria. Caution, do not view while eating chocolate or operating heavy machinery. May be consumed by small children without harm. Caution: side effects include a burning desire to move to the country and farm. If cuteness toxicity is detected in subject then expose the patient to ten minutes of our “Huge Hog” antidote.

As we worked on the roof in the south field yesterday we got to watch the sows with their piglets playing and snoozing in the sun. These two sows had farrowed in the north shed of the south field greenhouse earlier last month.


North Shed of South Field Greenhouse

The hog panel fencing is not to keep the sows in but to keep other pigs out from their luxury quarters and unlimited food supply. During the warm months sows go off to the distant edges of the pastures to farrow, that is birth, their litters of piglets in private. This protects the little newborns when they are most vulnerable. A few days to a week later the sow comes trotting back with piglets in tow.

In the winter this does not work. The snows are deep. The winds are bitter. The leaves are gone from the brush. The sows don’t want to leave the comfort of the communal nests and other pigs crowd too close. If a sow farrows in the group areas of the winter paddocks then piglets get crushed. The solution is we provide private farrowing areas with earthen dens, sheds, greenhouses and such where the sows can have some privacy and shelter yet still benefit from being outdoors. This is the purpose of the south field greenhouse, the south end shed and other winter spaces like that. In the past these areas were all temporary, built each fall for the winter. Now we’re starting to have more semi-permanent and permanent structures that get used for farrowing in the winter and then the rich soil is used for growing in the warm months.

These spaces let us give the sows privacy and restrict the rest of the herds from being able to access the nesting areas yet the sows can still go into the winter paddocks. In the morning we simply open the hog panels while doing chores and let the sows out so they can get to water and whey. They socialize with their herds, keep up with mates, check out the boars and get checked out in turn. Then we let them back in so they can nurse the piglets. Eventually we’ll wean these piglets but with cold winter weather I put that off as long as possible. This works far better for us than early weaning and heat lamps since sows are far better at taking care of piglets.

Outdoors: 25째F/19째F Partially Sunny, Light snow 1″
Tiny Cottage: 60째F/56째F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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17 Responses to Piglets in the Sun

  1. Anonymous says:

    P.P.S. not ARMY medical but medical discharge. Light infantry and transpertation was my line.

  2. Mary Ricksen says:

    You can't sway me from wanting to move back home to Vermont with pictures of cute pigs, big and fat, or small and cuddly.
    I love a farm.
    But I will admit to wanting to buy one of those old farmhouses, and fix it up.

  3. Well, Mary, have I got a farm house for you. Trick is, you must move it… See our old farm house here.

  4. Janine says:

    I lov your new top picture with the mama sow and her piglets sleeping in the sunlight. So peaceful. I realize life is not always so idealic but the fact that it is sometimes and you capture those moments makes it wonderful. Treasure the good times.

  5. Gail in Montana says:

    Love the photo of the Mom pig and her piglets!!!! They are fun when they are small. I grew up on a farm in Michigan, and we had pigs when I was young. Couldn't get me in the pen with those big mammas, but I liked holding the piglets. We had enclosed little pig barns they used in winter. I remember them routing up all the stuff that grew along their fence, like the asparagus, lol. Looks like you have your pig houses facing in the right direction to catch the sun and keep the wind at bay. Great photos!! Thanks for sharing, Walter!!

  6. Walter, do you always have your sows in private houses when the farrow or can 3-4 of then farrow together if in large enough area ? And if two or three sows farrow together and one of those sows is "Low sow on the peccking order totem pole" will the other sows naturally pick on that sows offspring ? Thanks

  7. Gail, you're very correct about being cautions around the big pigs. Like any large animal they can crush you by leaning up against you and a wall plus pigs can bite and stomp.

    Donna, it is ideal to mimic the "privacy" of the off-by-them-selves they get in the warm months out on the pasture however sometimes we have had multiple sows birth together without problem. This works best with two or three and them being cohort mates of close rank. Here are some posts with multiple sows farrowing together in cool times [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

  8. DennisP says:

    Walt, you do have a gift for taking good and interesting photos. Of course you live in a photo-rich environment. Really enjoy your blog and, even though we live in Wisconsin, appreciate what you do in the way of independent small farming. Keep up the good work!

  9. Terry says:

    Walter (and family) Love the photos of the pigs. We raise fair pigs every year and the kids love it! You have so much great information you post. Keep up the good work. We live in Wisconsin and raise chickens (many breeds) http://www.lundpoultry.com geese,ducks, horses and kids that love the country. No place like it fresh air and never ending chores to keep us young!

  10. Walter,
    What a fantastic idea.
    A swine birthing center!
    With highly trained K9 midwifes.

  11. Love the photo of your new piglet additions. My daughter is itching to get her new piglets in a couple of months and loved your photo too. We're not set up just yet to breed pigs so she buys her little guys/girls from a nearby farm. She's now adding sheep to the mix this year too for her 4H projects.

    I haven't commented in forever on your blog but very much enjoy checking in periodically to see how your farm, and tiny cottage (love it!) is doing. -Wendy :)

  12. June says:

    wow, you make it look – easy, those cute little piglets and huge sow look so content in the cool air and sunshine. I'm considering breeding and live in New England, notice I said "considering". Keep up the great posts and maybe you'll convince me.

  13. mommaj says:

    I was wondering how you take care of the piglets when you need to do something to them while they are still nursing from their mommas? We use farrowing crates and I would love to be able to let them have them in a stall without the crate, but they are very protective with their babies and I'm afraid of getting hurt.

  14. Hi Walter,
    My first gilt farrowed successfully with 11 new piglets. She was a bottle fed piglet herself and was born here on the farm. Maybe because of the trust, she has no problem with me in the farrowing hut, which is two arched livestock panels with an insulated tarp covering. Her sister farrowed in a little smaller similar shelter with 13 piglets and has killed all but 5 of them by covering them with hay in an attempt to nest and then laying on them and suffocating them. She also does not let me near the den. There is a third gilt to farrow in a few days and she does not have a den or hut. She has hunkered down in the hay outside the larger of the two dens. I have given her much extra hay to burrow under because it has been cold for April and we have had two days of snow. I saw in one of your posts that you covered a sow who chose her spot, though I do not recall what with. I could cover this gilt with a hoop shelter I suppose. I was hoping she would share the large den with the first gilt that farrowed.
    In your experience with new mothers, is it common for them to be overzealous in their nesting and cover, then lay on the babies smothering them? I heard the squeals and just knew she had done it again. Is this an indication that she will not be a good mother in subsequent farrowings? Thanks for your input. It is priceless.
    Eileen

    • It is very important that the sow build her nest prior to farrowing. The addition of nesting materials right after farrowing can bury small piglets who aren’t very mobile yet. A good sow gets this all done prior to farrowing and then she is pretty out of it during and for a while after farrowing.

      The post you’re thinking of was when we have moved one of our half tank sow huts. See here.

  15. Thanks Walter, but in your experience, do first time gilts make poor mothers and then the next time become much better? The gilt made a nest but every time she returned to the den, she moved the hay into a new configuration for some reason. That is when the piglets got buried and she laid on top of them smothering them. Do you ever see this in your operation? I think it is such a shame that 13 piglets have now become 5.

    • Yes, as a rule they gain experience and get better at it. On the other hand, I cull hard first time mothers that are a disaster so the learning curve affects both the group and the individual. Nature is like that too. Her renesting is not a good thing.

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