Maternity Suites

Seven Silly Sisters – Ladies in Waiting

These gilts were recently bred and are gestating, that is to say pregnant. They lounge around on their bed of hay, snuffle in the fresh mud of spring and dance on the last traces of snow.

Behind them is a maternity suite, a 8’x12′ stall in the south field shed where an older sow had a large litter. Peeking through the doorway you can just make out the piglets back in their lit creep. I am wary of heat lamps but we had some intense cold and wet so in addition to doing the lamps for the chicks we set them up for piglets.

The maternity suite is setup with a doorway that the sow can defend so she can keep other sows from coming into her space. In the warm weather the sows would go off to a private space along the borders of the fields in the brush but winter lacks such amenities up on the glaciers. Everything is white, wind swept and barren. Dens will do but if sows who are at different states nest together they may crush piglets. Thus the defendable door.

The raised portion of the lower part of the door keeps piglets in the stall while they are little so they don’t go wandering away. By the time they’re big enough to jump that stoop they should be fine frolicking about.

The 2x’s slip into the slots in the concrete pillars to make walls and the door sills rise up or down easily so we can adjust for different sows and piglets. By having the doors open the sows can get out for food, water, exercise and socializing. It makes for less work for us as well.

Outdoors: 41°F/37°F 4″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 63°F/58°F

Daily Spark: A little bit of knowledge goes the wrong way.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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22 Responses to Maternity Suites

  1. Chris W says:

    ah the usefulness of buckets! I have several of the convenient sized FastenMaster buckets from all the TimberLock screws we’ve used.

  2. mom says:

    Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

  3. Lindsey says:

    Stupid question, but…why are buckets hanging from the ceiling?
    Fly control?
    And that barn looks very snug.

    • No flies, it’s winter still up here on the mountain. For fly control we use chickens. The buckets are hanging there so the pigs don’t play with them. We two-leggers are able to reach up high. Buckets contain tools, screws and some of the larger ones are for carrying water and whey from the main piped trough to individual troughs.

      This isn’t really a barn, rather a set of open sheds or stalls around a court yard for winter farrowing, late term gestation and weaning. See the south field shed floor plan, piglet spaces and more photos of its construction and usage. Currently it consists of a foundation and roofs that were made mostly from the salvaged materials of the old hay shed we tore down to make room for our upcoming butcher shop. Someday we’ll change the roof to be a real greenhouse – the money that was supposed to be used for that went to the butcher shop project when we learned our butcher wanted to retire and we had to change gears. Life is full of surprises. Read about the start of this saga.

  4. Jeff Marchand says:

    Walter, Can you tell by looking if a gilt is gestating and roughly how far along she is? It would be interesting if you could post pictures of the same gilt as she goes through her first preganacy.

    • I can pretty well. Sometimes I get surprised though by gilts. Sows are more obvious. See here for the short answer. Sometime I will write a long post on this with many photos. I have been collecting perfect pregnant pigs pictures for this purpose. It is a common question and deserves a deep post.

  5. Very nice. I would give birth in there, if I had a cooler full of Guiness. Oops, I meant raw milk.

  6. Antoine says:

    I’m not sure if I’m posting these questions in the right place, but hopefully you get it! And sorry if I’m confusing the blog’s order, I wasn’t sure where exactly to write this….
    I live in the Hudson Valley and am raising six hogs for the first time this year. They are 4 months old, Duroc/Berk crosses, 4 female and two male, outside in an approx 50’x100′ pen, with a diet of organic hog feed, whey, and scraps from a local bakery.
    I have two quick questions. First, I have one lady who has a very stiff back left leg, seems to not be working well at all. She quit limpy, though still getting around fine. It seemed to come and go in intensity for a couple weeks or so, but I’m now feeling like she is really hanging back from the group and is looking to not be putting on pounds a fast. No visible wounds, but showing some swelling on that haunch. Any ideas on what that may be?
    Second question is we are about to slaughter our first batch of broilers, around 120 birds, and in considering what to do with the unusable parts, the thought of giving them to the pigs came up. Words of wisdom on that one?
    And thanks so much for this amazing resource of a website! It really seems to be the go-to for most folks I talk with!

    • The stiff back leg might be arthritis. If she is at all close to slaughter weight then I would get her to market weight and take her. It might also be a sprain in which case it should get better. Due to the pain she may not be competing for food which would result in less gain. You might try having a separate area for feeding her up in the morning and then letting her mingle the rest of the day.

      On the poultry, they are good food for the pigs but it may or may not be legal to feed them to the pigs in your jurisdiction. Check that out. There are concerns about spreading disease that have caused regulations which written are overly broad. You will note reading the feed bags that poultry “products” are part of the feed ingredients. Fish is another one I’ve seen. I was looking online at mineral feed components last winter because in the winter our pigs are up off of the ground on the snow pack. We feed them dirt that we have saved from summer to help them get minerals and I was looking at what the commercial mineral and feeds have. I also read that the feathers are digestible and high in protein although I don’t know if they need cooking, likely not as the animals eat them in the wild.

      One concern I have always had with feeding chickens to pigs is not wanting to get the pigs in the habit of eating chickens. We graze our chickens on pasture free-ranging with our pigs and sheep. I would prefer they not think of each other as dinner.

  7. Antoine says:

    Thanks Walter.
    I guess I’ll just keep an eye on her and hope she stays good until the slaughter date. Someone else had told me they thought there may be some kind of bacterial infection that effects the hind quarters of pigs, but I have yet to find more info about that. Hate seeing her not being able to charge around with the rest of them and would be unfortunate to find that some of the meat is ruined when it comes to slaughter time….
    And good tips on the chickens too. We keep ours separate, pasturing the chickens on converted hay wagons out on the fields, but I wouldn’t want to give the hogs any ideas!

  8. Hi Walter —

    I’ve got a farrowing question. We have a sow that had 13 piglets yesterday out in the pasture. She chose a spot under some brush (kinda weedy stuff, definitely not a bush). This was fine until we a good inch of rain yesterday. We hung a tarp from some trees about to make a dry place, added lots of straw and moved the piglets over. This places is about 6 feet from her chosen spot. She seemed fine with all this and stayed there most of the night. When I went out again around 5:45, though, she’d moved them back to the spot under the brush. She hasn’t put any straw in there or anything, though there’s lots available. We’ve got 7 days of rain in the forecast here, which is making me uncomfortable about this spot she’s chosen. What do you think of these ideas: 1. add some straw to the spot she likes, 2. build a hut and try to get her to use it. or 3. some better idea you have!


    Green Circle Farm

    • Sows become very attached to their nesting spots. They have what they consider the best of all possible spots. Moving them is difficult. Don’t add the straw to her nest. That is a recipe for disaster because it won’t be properly formed and packed into a nest. The result can be piglet crushing. Instead, hang your tarp over her chosen spot and put the hay next to it. Then let her build her nest as she feels fit. Concerns are pooling water and piglets wandering downhill. For the pooling monitor and hoe drainage if necessary. For the wandering consider setting up small hole hog panel in a large loop (two or three 16′ lengths around her area – in a few days this can be taken away as the piglets will be able to navigate back and forth more easily.

  9. Meh, ok. There is no good spot for a tarp there, but we’ll work on it. It seems to have stayed pretty dry there, so I guess we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. How do you feel about farrowing huts? It seems you don’t use them at all — what kind of loss rate do you have for piglets? I have been trying to stick to human-moveable shelters for all the animals, but this is proving pretty difficult.

    • A farrowing crate restricts the mother and she can’t go in and out, she can’t turn about. That is antithetical to pasturing and natural raising. We do not use farrowing crates.

      Farrowing huts can be wonderful. A farrowing hut is a portable house that the sow can choose to go in and out and have her piglets in. The key is choice. In a farrowing hut she is not locked in and unable to turn around. It is merely a covered nesting space. It is simply an open shed of many possible designs. We have made a number of them and they work very well. All of ours are portable. We’ve been experimenting with various designs for years. We have made farrowing huts out of old poly water tanks, fencing panels with a tarp and other things. My favorites let the light in, like a greenhouse, through their skin so they are naturally warmer for the piglets – something that is good in our cool climate. In a hot climate one might want a shade cloth on the outside of the farrowing hut to keep it cooler and to ventilate it more.

      I have a design I am working on for a mass produced farrowing hut that can be used out in the fields, even on our mountains. It combines all the little things we have learned over the years to make it work better for the sow and piglets than any I’ve seen. The calf huts and other huts I’ve seen don’t work right for sows – they’re okay in an emergency but they’re not right. You will see our huts appear here in the future – stay tuned.

  10. One more question — there was one poorly piglet this morning. I thought it was dead, but picked it up and realized it wasn’t. She’d left it in the nest we’d made for her. I’ve got it on a heating pad and have fed it a little egg/milk/sugar with an eyedropper. It’s squirming and making noises, but can’t stand. Chances it’ll make it? If it does, can I put it back with her or is she likely to reject it?

    • Its odds of survival are low but we have saved some piglets. We have one now who is about 180 lbs we call Lucky because we were sure there was no way he would make it. Soon he will go to market. Mark this pig as a market pig, a feeder and don’t breed it. As to how to help it: Place it in a 103°F water bath to warm it up. When not in the water bath give it a water bottle filled with warm water, a heat lamp or a heating pad. Be cautious of not over heating it especially since it is not mobile. Continue feeding it. It needs colostrum. You can buy replacement colostrum at feed stores or you may be able to milk some from the sow. The latter is ideal as her colostrum is exactly right. Since we can’t get to the store and get things we use the same sort of egg/milk/sugar mix. Warm it gently. If the egg is cooked a little and scrambled it gives the pig more protein by about 2x. Cod liver oil is another thing we put into the mix. I would suggest you care for it until the piglet is capable of competing with its littermates for a nipple. That will give it the best chances.

  11. Ed Allison says:

    Walter, those slotted pillars….. did you buy them or make them? That’s ingenious! Are they sunk deep into the ground? And is the wood simply resting on top, or connected somehow? Thanks!

    • We made them. I wanted something that would be easy to reconfigure as our needs change. Each pillar is 8′ tall an octagonal with four opposing slots. To make them we made wooden molds and then a big funnel which we used to fill them with concrete. The base is a much larger piece which we poured first including a rebar sticking up from the middle. The rebar extends beyond the top of the pillar and is a spike for the wooden beams to sit on. Each pillar can be picked up and moved by the tractor. See a picture of me doing that with the tractor in the post Pillar Pull.

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