Weaners Eating Pumpkin
Recently the topic of weaning has come up several time. People have asked at what ages and about natural weaning.
We do not tend to do natural weaning. We tried it but the piglets don’t want to wean and it can hurt the sow.
While the piglets start eating pasture grasses, clover and other things within a week of birth they don’t tend to want to wean when the sow is ready. This can cause the sow to become nursed down and peakid which can imperil her health since she is on a low calorie natural pasture diet without free access to high calorie foods like corn or corn/soy commercial feeds.
The sow ends up trying to force the piglets to wean by laying on her belly so they can’t nurse. But then she is unable to standup to go pee or poop, she can’t go get a drink of water and she can’t graze. The result is eventually she gives in to her needs, gets up and gets bombarded with hungry mouths.
Since it takes three days of weaning for her breasts to stop producing so natural weaning just doesn’t work. “Ah,” but you say, “It works in nature.” Well, in nature predators kill and eat most of the piglets so the sow is on average only nursing about one or two by the time weaning time rolls around. She can handle that without losing too much condition herself.
I’m not willing to lose that many piglets or feed the local predator population. Since our livestock guardian dogs keep the predators at bay that means the sows have to deal with eight to twenty piglets. That’s a lot harder on her body. The result is the sow can become dangerously nursed down. If she gets that nursed down late in the fall it can actually kill her over the winter because she’s not going into the cold season with sufficient body fat reserves.
Thus we wean piglets intentionally. We typically wean at four to eight weeks of age. By then they are big enough that they no longer need to nurse. They’ve been eating pasture for a long time and can thrive on it. They also get whey which replaces the milk to a degree. We tried later weaning times but found no benefit to the piglets and it did hurt the sows. Weaning earlier than 15 days was a problem for some piglets – they haven’t had enough time to transition to solids. The first three days or so when they get colostrum from the sow are critical. Even another already nursing sow is not as beneficial as a just freshened sow. The colostrum provides immunity to the piglets. Thus we tend to go for four to eight weeks of nursing with the piglets.
When we wean we generally do several litters at once creating a cohort or ‘sound’ who are within a couple of weeks of each other. This is easier for us and they’re already familiar with each other so it makes the weaning easier for them. About 20 to 60 piglets in a group is a goodly number.
The piglets get moved to a tightly fenced weaning paddock or garden such as the one shown in the photo above where they’re chowing down on the pumpkin. The sows get moved to a resting paddock if they’re nursed down or back to the breeding herd. In about three days they stop producing milk due to the back pressure in the glands and their breasts begin to shrink back down in size. Typically in three to seven days they’re back in heat and pestering the boars for attention.
So what’s the milk jug in the photo? It’s a pig toy. They’ll toss it around and chew on it. That garden has few dozen piglets in it and is about 1,000 sq-ft. After about one week they had completely cleaned it out and turned over the soil. Ben simply opened the door from there to the next garden where they found a delicious crop of beats, broccoli, clover and other yummy food. Now that it is late fall that garden will rest over the winter. If it were summer I would plant some fast growing food for the next group of pigs.
By the way:
A weaner is an animal that is being weaned from nursing.
A wiener is a hot dog.
Nary the two should be confused!
Before they were weaned they were technically suckling pigs although since we milk feed they stay ‘suckling pigs’ from a cooking perspective. Now that they have been weaned these little pigs are termed growers. Later they’ll graduate to roaster size, then finisher size and finally market hogs for 95% of them. A very small number, the best of the best, will get kept back as breeders. That’s about 5% for gilts and about 1% for boars. See the Frequently Asked Questions page for lots of factoids like this.
Outdoors: 58°F/35°F Cloudy, Light Rain over night
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/65°F
For the pointyer part
of the pregnant pig
here in the reariere
you’ll find the derriere
in the airier.