Lay, Lady, Lay

Gilt Beginning to Kneel…

This gilt is demonstrating excellent lay down technique. It is instinctual and a sign that she could be a very good mother.

…Easing Slowly Down…

She is in good condition, not fat, so it is easy for her to lay down gently. Because our sows are pastured and have a high fiber, low calorie diet they’re in excellent condition. This is especially helpful when it comes to birthing and nursing.

Sows fed on a high corn diet, typical commercial hog feed, can easily end up overweight. Adding confinement where they don’t get as much exercise and it results in them having trouble laying down slowly – they have a lot of extra weight to manage.

Interestingly, there are two other consequences of overweight which I’ve read about: reduced milk production (in cows) and reduced litter counts (in pigs).

…Hindend Starting Down…

Being able to gently and gracefully lay down is important so that the sow doesn’t crush her piglets. She gives them time to get out from under her and if they squeal she eases back up to let them move away and then slowly eases down again.

A graceful sow means the difference between life and death for piglets. Envision her as a ballerina.

See more about nesting in these articles.

In the background you can see the house end shed where we grew the big watermelons this year.

Outdoors: 62°F/43°F Partially Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/65°F

Daily Spark: The neat thing about Do-It-Yourself brain surgery is there are no pain receptors in the brain. Any idiot can do it.

Tail Note: No, we don’t clip tails. She just happens to be a short tailed genetics which is a recessive trait.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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16 Responses to Lay, Lady, Lay

  1. Anitta says:

    Fascinating as always Walt!

    So where do you get your daily quotes? I love them.

  2. Brian Heyer says:

    You know you’re a veteran of SugarMtn blog when you can do a visual preg check on sows/gilts in the pics.

    BTW, a show on government television last night had a researcher describing a breakthrough in genetics: “aggressiveness in animals is mostly genetic and can be bred out of animals in just a few generations.”

    • They’re correct. We identified the aggressive genetic lines in our herd and culled them. We also culled the skitterish lines too. This leaves us with animals who are far easier to handle which makes moving them, loading and life in general much easier. I believe, although I have not proved it conclusively, that breeding for gentler, more manageable temperaments also results in better meat quality. The reason I see behind that is the mean ones and the skitterish ones too easily have too much stress hormones coursing through their systems and that is a known meat quality issue.

  3. fannykim says:

    i love to see your pigs.. they are so cute.. iam from indonesia… i love your family.. :-)

  4. Laura says:

    We just had 2 gilts do their first farrows this week and I am hoping for your insight on some issues we had. Both were bred to the same boar and both we purchased as already adult & bred fairly late in life (maybe 2 years old?).

    1 of them farrowed 4 days ago and turned aggressive towards the piglets at birth and I am currently hand-raising them (I came towards the beginning of the farrowing & saw what transpired & took them away). She had made the start of a nest but did not stay in it, so 1 was dead in the nest (crushed? stillborn? not sure) and 1 was alive away from the nest when I came out. I guided her to the 2nd shed and she did the rest there. She seemed fine with nursing the 2nd alive one born (a quiet good-sized piglet), but when I tried to put the 1st alive one on her (a very loud runt) she seemed to panic and got angry and started snapping at the runt. She was making angry noises and pulling her body up any time anyone tried to nurse after that. At a slightly later time, I was out of the pen when she birthed one and she got up and spun around and appeared to attack it; I ran in and got it away from her quickly and it seemed ok. She had 12 total, 2 dead (1 of those unknown cause, 1 stillborn). She never did appear to have a full udder and I’m not sure if she had much milk (she was somewhat early; not due until today I thought).

    The other 1 just farrowed this morning and when I went out to feed I found her lying in a little nest (unfortunately NOT in the nesting shed but out in the pasture) with 8 piglets suckling nicely away. As of 5 hours after that time, all 8 piglets were doing well and she seems to be a very attentive, careful mother. She also doesn’t have much of an udder, but the piglets seem ok so I assume that she has enough?

    My question is – what are your thoughts on giving the aggressive gilt 1 more chance? I know that you breed for good mothering genetics, so of course from that aspect we should cull. However, we only have the 2 sows (I’m pretty sure they are siblings) and it was my first time dealing with farrowing (or even touching a piglet) even as it was theirs. I panicked when she did and then became overwhelmed with dealing with 10 loud, hungry piglets and didn’t try to put them back on her after the first hour or so. I sincerely felt that they were in danger from her at the time, but maybe she would have calmed down enough to deal with them better? Is it reasonable in this case to give her 1 more chance before culling? Up until this event, we’ve found her to be a very likeable, friendly, affectionate pig.

    • Laura says:

      I’ve read in more detail your many great posts on pig hard culling and breeding for genetics, and I see that you would say cull her. It also looks like you would be culling the 2 piglets I kept from her as well, correct?
      My main concern is that I feel like I might have messed something up with my intervention and not given her the chance to prove herself. I have only been around pigs since we bought these girls about 3/4 of a year ago, and I have certainly never been around farrowing pigs, so my lack of experience has made this a difficult time. Could it be that if I had not been there she would have happily been nursing away when I came out later, like her sister?

      • If she moved easily with you to the new space I don’t think you were doing anything wrong or stressed her with that. If it was a hard move then that might have been an issue. The fact that she had not finished the nest is a negative sign. It is important to have a calmness around the farrowing area and time.

        On the piglet born possibly dead – was it clean (born live and moving around) or in the sack or dirty (born dead or died right away). Piglets get out of the sack all by themselves quite well. It is not unusual for some to be born dead or to die within the first 48 hours – not everyone is born perfect. Once they come off life support in the womb they must be fully able to live and not all can. Pigs take the rabbit theory of reproduction – produce many young and hope that 2% make it to breed as adults. More than that would create over population, less than that would mean the die off of their line.

        Sow number one sounds like she is an anxious sow, one who is not responding to or producing the chemicals that calm their brains and help them go into the farrowing trance. This is a big negative and a reason for culling. Sows like this require farrowing crates and I’m not willing to do that so I cull them instead. Over the years this has pretty much eliminated that negative genetics from our herd.

        You are right, I would probably cull her – I cull hard. But then I have 80 sows and you only have two and that is an important factor in the decision. If you are able to replace her or don’t need her then I would indeed suggesting eating her. Either way I would be marking her piglets as feeders. Most piglets need to go to meat. Only keep the very best to be breeders. Since the sister sow, the second sow, is doing such a great job I would keep piglet(s) from her to be breeders if I wanted more breeders.

        The other thing is that as you have undoubtedly discovered, hand rearing piglets is a full time job. They need very frequent feedings, about every two hours. I have gotten a few to start eating out of a dish as early as one day of age but usually it takes several days of bottle feeding before they start. If at all possible I would introduce them to the good sister. She can do a better job than you – she’s built for it. You might supplement their diet with a creep where they can get milk soaked bread with some molasses or white sugar and yogurt mixed in as well as runny scrambled eggs. It is key that they get colostrum. There are commercial colostrum mixes which work although they are not as good as the real thing from the sow. Better than nothing though.

        Good luck!

        • Laura says:

          Thank you for the info!
          The piglet that was unknown death was not in a sack but didn’t appear to have moved from where it was (as I recall it was fairly clean). The stillborn(?) I’m not sure – I was at the house with the others and my FIL got it but he won’t remember (alzheimer’s).
          Yes, raising those babies is exhausting! I don’t think I’ve slept but 8 hours all told since they were born. NOT my favorite way to spend the week. 1 of the 2 I kept ended up with pneumonia (probably aspiration from bottle?) and I took it to the vet yesterday for banamine & antibiotics. Both are doing well now, but is it too late to try and put them on the good sow, and is the 1 at least too fragile? They are 5 days tmo. How do I introduce them to her? Is there a quick way to mark them temporarily? Will I know right away if she isn’t accepting them?
          Currently I am exclusively feeding from a little pan some milk replacer with a bit of oatmeal and they are doing adequate. Very messy and waste a lot, but learning! Fortunately I had supplemental colostrum on hand just in case, so all 10 piglets got 24 hours of that. Hopefully that will help!
          Sorry for all the questions; I want to do what’s right by them but also at least try to get these 2 to processing age – I’ve put a darn lot of time & money & energy into them, by golly!

          • Colostrum has ended and they have gotten past that point which is difficult. Few do without the colostrum. I would start by doing supervised visitation onto the good sow and see how she and they do. If all goes well you can graft them on. Mark them as feeders, not breeders. To mark them I would put a small nick in the bottom of the right ear lobe and disinfect with iodine or bacitracin, etc. If they have distinctive markings in coloration then simply take some photos. Good job on being a sow. It is hard work. Makes us appreciate just how qualified the sows are who are born to the job.

          • Laura says:

            I put a small nick in the right ear on each, since all are large black hogs and very difficult for me to tell apart even when adult!
            I’m trying now to get the piglets accepted by good sister and I am not entirely sure that it is going ok. I fed them from the bowl, washed them up and dried them with a towel I had rubbed on sow, then I put them out with the rest of her litter when they were just huddled in a corner. I then sat back and watched.
            Sow sniffed them over and then snapped at one, which worried me, but she didn’t actually hurt it or go after it once it walked away. During the next nursing shortly after I added the 2, sow let the new ones walk over and past her face without concern. However, later when standing up drinking she snapped once or twice again at one of the newbies who dared to try and drink water while she was. Again, she just snapped and grunted and then let them walk away unharmed, so I just left them in.
            Is this normal and ok? Should I just stay uninvolved as long as they remain uninjured?
            Also, the newbies are not drinking from her teats yet but are asking me for food; they can’t be too hungry, really, since I fed them shortly before taking them out there. I’m concerned that they won’t be able to figure out the teat as they never got a chance to use one before. Do I just go in each nursing time and try to push them onto one? How much time do I give them to figure it out before just feeding them from a bowl? I figure they have to be hungry to even try, but I don’t want them to starve!
            I’m heading back out to sit and watch, an activity I’ve found highly stressful. It amazes me that any piglets survive to grow up, considering how close they keep coming to being squashed! It appears that she is an excellent mother, according to what I’ve seen/read. She grunts to them, lays down very carefully, and if they do end up under her and crying she immediately gets back up and checks on everyone before trying again.

          • Rub a bit of the good sow’s manure on the back of the piglets and then a bit of her bedding hay. This will help them smell like her. It is going to take some time and attention but they usually graft on to a sow. Observe and be available if needed. Once they are smoothly nursing and she’s accepting them then you should be able to safely leave them with her. Until then, do supervised visits and take them back with you at other times. A problem might be if they have bonded to you. Holding them onto the teat gently and massaging the udder by the teat may help. Her grunting to them, the nursing chant, is a good sign as is her attentiveness.

  5. Laura says:

    Nevermind – I decided the fostering was a fail. Sow kept picking those two out for mini-attacks, and the little boy couldn’t figure out how to nurse in 2 separate sessions. Little girl seemed to be doing well and nursed and cuddled with the others, but then was just sitting resting & sow grabbed her and got her mouth around her (no blood, but I yelled and she stopped right away). At least she’s being a good momma to her own litter, so I’ll just let them keep on keeping on! :)
    Now I’ve got the 2 back in the house, but the little boy is having never-ending convulsions and I’m not sure what happened. :( He was fine this am before I took him out and seemed fine this pm (maybe 4 hours later?) when I brought him back but now he is crashing and looks unlikely to recover. I’m so sad – he was doing very well today. I gave some JumpStart and laid him under the heat lamps, and I’m giving him small amounts of electrolyte fluid every 15 minutes, but it isn’t looking good. I told my husband we definitely should breed for good mothering, because I’m a terrible & emotionally overwhelmed pig mother! Little girl continues to do well, but I wish she had a buddy to grow up with.

    • Continue to work with them on drinking from the dish. A heavy dish with a sloped side like a volcano works best as they don’t flip it over rooting as much. I make these by taking a small metal dog dish and filling the underside with concrete. Otherwise put a rock in a small saucer to hold it.

      The convulsing piglet might have a bacterial infection. If so it may benefit from some hot baths. The trick is not too hot (~105°F to 107°F) and not for too long. A bit of iodine in the water is good. This raises the pigs temperature like a fever and helps it fight infection. Too long or too hot though can kill the pig so it is a tricky thing. The heat lamp is good for this situation, or a heat blanket – what we use in cases like that. The other thing is keeping it hydrated and sugared so it doesn’t go hypoglycemic.

      • Laura says:

        Thank you so much for the ideas! I did a bath at 106 for 1 minute then dried him off and back under the lamp. His convulsions have stopped but his breathing sounds very wet. Is there a way I can lay him down that will help him breath better? I did give karo syrup and have been giving small amounts of electrolyte water every 15 minutes. I know his chances are likely not very good, but if there is something I can do to help him be comfortable I’m willing to try! He did get an antibiotic shot 2 days ago that is supposed to last 10 days.

        • The wet breathing is not a good sign. That may indicate aspiration of fluids which can lead to pneumonia or it could be pneumonia caused by some other form of infection. Hopefully the antibiotic shot he got will help protect him. Vetting is not my realm so I don’t have advice there but good that you are in contact with a veterinarian.

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