Winter Farrowing Ideas #1

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Also see:
Dug In Pig Den

Stocking Density – Ark
South Field Greenhouse Ark

25°F/23°F, 2″ Snow

“Government is a form of insanity that rhymes with greed.”


About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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73 Responses to Winter Farrowing Ideas #1

  1. P.V. says:

    Awww Im visitor 18003 I just missed 18000 by 3 people! Great post walter. I wish i had pigs so I could do this. somday. I love the pic of the babies sleeping between the two mommas.

  2. Peter comly says:

    Hey Walter,
    Thanks for the ideas. I’ve been struggling with what to do with the 3 gilts and boar I am breeding this winter. I have my growing pigs in my greenhouse barn (last post on my blog) but have the breeders in the bank barn, which isn’t going great. The water freezes in there so I have to water them in a tub, which the boar dumps twice a day. I do have a small spring I can water them in if I build them a shelter there.
    ps-how do I put a link to your blog on mine?

  3. Rurality says:

    The size difference in the mama and babies is just amazing!

  4. Melissa says:

    i don’t know you, but i like you.

  5. Leslie says:

    Lots going on at your place these days! I am enjoying the detailed narratives and the abundance of accompanying photographs. I got a chuckle when I saw that your architectural drafting was done on the back of an envelope.

  6. Patty says:

    Hi Walter, thanks for visiting my blog. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. My oldest daughter lives in Rutland.
    I am from New England and miss it still after 23 years.
    She has been sharing how warm it has been this year up there.
    Will be checking your blog often.

  7. Peter comly says:

    Thanks Walter,
    I got you linked up. I would have been all month trying to figure that out. I know there are people more computer illiterate than me, but none that actually own one.

  8. Good question, Peter. What you need to do is go into the settings page and then to the Template tab along the top area. This is the same place your write your posts if you write on the web.

    Once you are in the Template you can select and copy the text there in the box to take into a text editor on your computer and bring it back or you can edit it right there. I do my editing in either BBEdit or HyperEdit on my computer with the latter being my preference. TextEdit wold be another option. I use a Macintosh. On a Windows machine you might use your notepad application.

    Once you have the text look for the section containing something like:


    The area just below that is where your links appear. Right now you have:

    Google News

    which is created in your template by the list structure like the one below. There are matching URL’s and ShownText’s.

    < ul>
    < li>< a href="URL1">ShownText1< /a>< /li>
    < li>< a href="URL2">ShownText2< /a>< /li>
    < /ul>

    Note that I have put a space after each of the < symbols to make them not act as HTML in this comment posting and I've shortened the code by replacing the current URL's with just URL1 and URL2 to make it more readable. You can simply replace the text ShowText1 (Edit-Me in your blog template) with: Sugar Mountain Farm That is the text that will be displayed in the sidebar. You'll also need to set the address (the URL) for the link to go to when a user clicks on the displayed text. In the URL part you would replace URL1 with:

    for example to make ShownText1 link to my web site. You can do this same thing for anyone you want to link to on your blog.

    One neat trick for figuring this sort of stuff out is to look at the source code (View Source in most browser menus) and tinker. Sort of like working on an engine. :)

    If you have any questions, just ask.

    By the way, I love your greenhouse barn. Well done! I think the idea of putting tomatoes in there is fabulous. The animals will have made the bedding rich with nutrients. Do you plant to mix in some soil or just plant the tomatoes right in the bedding?

  9. TalaMuir says:

    My 6yr old and I have had the best time reading all about your pigs. She’s itching to be a pig farmer herself in a few years, so lots of oohing and ahhing here.


  10. MamaMoon, I hope your daughter is able to fullfill her dream. Pigs are a lot of fun. They will get a lot bigger than her quickly and can grab fingers so these are one of those things that take adult supervision! :)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Question for you.We just started breading Pigs and we just had our first 8 litters( allin the same week) The problem we seem to have is the piglets well….die….Either from escaping and dieing from the cold, or being slpeet on by mom. What are some ways to prevent these things from happening? At the moment we have some in pens about 6 by 4 with a heat lamp or some inreally tight pens that stop the sow from lying on her piglets when she sleeps.

  12. Anon, some thoughts are:

    1) to prevent ‘escaping’ put a solid piglet tight barrier down low.

    2) to prevent death by cold provide protection from the wind, lots of hay (or straw) and keep it dry (roof in inclement weather. If the piglets get wet they chill and that is not good. We don’t use heat lamps.

    3) to prevent crushing provide plenty of space. Also some people put a bumper board around the primeter or use an A-frame so there is a gap around the edges where the sow does not go and piglets don’t get crushed against the walls. Your pens sound on the small side. You say you have “really tight pens that stop the sow from lying on her piglets when she sleeps.” I have seen that sort of setup but don’t personally use it. I prefer to let our sows be free. A 4’x6′ pen is too small. During the warm weather they farrow out in the field in nests they make and in the winter they have access to the outdoors and can go in and out of their sheds.

    4) Have sows in good condition – not overweight. Overweight sows are more likely to crush piglets because they are not as gentle or agile.

    5) If everything is setup right and a sow is still crushing piglets then I would consider that it might be a temperment issue. She may just not be a good mother.

    Good luck next round!

  13. Karen in NH says:

    First off…I love your blog and the wealth of info available!

    We are new to pigs and have our first arriving this weekend.

    So of course why not make it a challenge from the start…we have two pregnant sows arriving…and our first experience will be a winter farrowing! So I am trying to get as much info as possible!

    I had been told to make the farrowing stalls….but really hate the thought of doing that to a mom.

    So far I made one pallet shed…for their housing when they arrive…and then was going to pull them in the barn to farrow…but now I wonder if I should just make a second pallet shed?

    The first one I made has two pallets for the it is basically two pallets long….and one pallet wide. With 3 walls of pallets(2short ones…1 long). It will have a thick layer of straw. I used a fence panel we had to support it as a roof…but it isnt solid to keep out precipitation so I have the entire thing wrapped in a heavy tarp that extends past the front open side by approx 2-3 ft….it is staked out with t-posts to hold the tarp tight to allow rain to go off the back.

    I should probably take and post a photo but this is my first time on a blog…

    SO my question is…if I made two of these…in the same pen area…would the sows do okay sharing the pen if they had separate areas to farrow?..and is that area large enough? Also should I close in half of the front with another pallet…to make the front only one pallet area open…to make it warmer?

    Would this really be okay for winter farrowing here in NH/VT?Seems too good to be true…I hate the idea of the farrowing crates.

    PS…do you clip needle teeth? I am guessing… no

  14. Karen in NH says:

    ME again..

    Thought a pic might help you see what I am talking about. This is a pic of the first pallet shed…we plan to put alot of straw down… and one more t post to hold the tarp out in the center of the front.

    If I put a pallet closing off half of the front….would this work? Would it be large/warm enough?

    I could also put hay bales around the bottom of the outside?

    If I built two…would they naturally each choose one? and how far apart should they be…or could I just put them side by side?

    Thanks in advance for any help!

  15. mommyto2boys says:

    Those babies are precious!

  16. andrea & Rick says:

    thanks so much for taking the time to help us newbies. Our sow is due any day and its 10 deg out.Fatty has an old shed roof for a home, full of hay and her own milk bucket.Everyone told us ,if we dont heat it the piglets would die and I said hurumph. I came back to your site to verify it was unecessary. We are so excited for our first piglets. What is more exciting is we hope to lower our prices during these tough times.Our pigs eat no grain, we get waste produce and dairy from our local grocery store, we sort it and give some to our poultry as well and our wild bird friends.Since we started our hog heaven in 2004 you have been a Godsend to us , thanks so much for your time and free advice. Andrea from massachusetts.

  17. Andrea,

    We don’t provide heat lamps, or other heating, but it is important to block the wind. Today is especially windy here and the wind chill is pretty nasty. If you have a shed that blocks the wind and you have provided plenty of dry hay or straw bedding for the sow to make a deep nest then she should be fine.

    Realize that not all piglets make it, winter or summer. Pigs have big litters. Sometimes a few are still born. Sometimes a piglet isn’t right inside, doesn’t have a complete digestive tract, etc and it will usually due within the first day or few. Those who make it past the first 24 hours and look healthy are likely to wean fine.

    Something we have not had experience with but I have read about is that overly fat sows flop down hard rather than gently lowering themselves into the hay. Some people design a barrier board around the nest so that piglets are not crushed up against the wall by the sow in such a situation.

    Good luck with your farrowing and my your piglets thrive.



  18. Anonymous says:

    our piglets came last night. six suvived. we provided a nice pen and shelter for her yet she had them ourside in the elements. I put the babies in the shed and she followed and they are all cozy now but we lost quite a few. any reason why she delivered outside? this is her first litter. The piglets are up and around and nursing so they seem fine.she is blocking the entrance with her own body which seems maternal. I put a thick blanket over the doorway to block the draft and its very very warm in there.mama had a little to eat and a drink and is sleeping now. I guess whatever will be will be. Thanks for all your support. Andrea

  19. Andrea,

    Sometimes this happens. It could be a sign of a poor mother or it could be a sign that there was something wrong in the space you provided that she didn’t like. I have had several cases over the years where previously very good mothers did this, going and choosing a bad spot. They went on to have other good litters. I wish I had a good answer for you.


  20. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter,
    Scott here from New York. I currently am in my 2nd yr of pigs and just started my round of breeding. I have gone through alot of expense in rehabing a 120 X 24 barn for pig. The stalls are 16 x 9. 6′ of which is partially partitioned for a sleep area/ furrow area. I made a 16″ X 6. long get away for the piglets that worked great. didn’t lose a piglet to overlay or stepon.
    I am currently looking into inexpensive shelter ideas to be able to move my growers outside and use the barn for strictly furrowing.
    You have deffinately refreshed my thinking cap. Thanks for the great ideas.

  21. andrea says:

    hi walter, do our new piglets need iron shots? everyone is telling us they do and, since everyone often tells us things that we dont need to do, and your articles dont mention it, i am wondering if we need to do this. the babies seem fine, they are too weeks old and are now testing mama’s food and, out and running around on days that are a bit warm. one does look a little skinny but he is eating and out too.the others appear plump. whats your take on iron shots? thank you andrea

  22. Andrea, we don’t do iron or vitamin shots. See the post about Piglet Interventions for more details.

  23. Jerry says:

    I'm in northern Alberta Canada where winter temperatures can get down to -40C but are usually somewhere between -15C and -25C. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, we always had plenty of pigs (nowhere near your numbers but generally up to around 10 farrowing sows). We often had piglets born throughout winter. As a matter of fact, my first encounter with live birth was actually sitting with one sow as she popped out little one after little one. It was quite the experience as I recall, probably had a lot to do with who I am today.

    But we did not pasture our pigs, unfortunately. Our sows were in pens with an attached shelter. Each new mother had her own pen for farrowing but after a short while they were usually kept in groups of 2 or 3 families, depending on size.

    With our long winters we simply have to pen for a good chunk of the year but now that we are raising pigs again I sure hope to be able to integrate some pasturing for perhaps 5 months as well. As it is now, we must forage for them, fetching grass in the summer and hay in the winter.

    Oh and don't forget the crushed bituminous coal once in awhile!

    Peace to you and your family, Walter.

  24. Larry Southwick says:

    Hi Walter,
    As always, I am gaining more knowledge with every post I read. Thank you for such a great blog.
    I just aquired a pair of hogs. The boar “Mr. Pig Stuff” is approx 1000 lbs, the sow “Dolly” 600. I was told that they are 2 yrs old and have never bred, even though they were raised together in the same enclosure. I witnessed him mount her the other day. How do I determine if she “took”. The plan is to slaughter him and if she didn’t take, bring her to another boar for servicing. I would rather not wait the full gestation period before doing this if it can be avoided. I have trouble believing that this is the first time he managed to do the deed. Is it more likely that he has a low sperm count or that she is infertile? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks


  25. chris swier says:


    Thank you for your generous sharing of experience – your work has been very instructive to us. How hands off would you recommend we be with the sow and piglets – she farrowed today!? 9 live, 1 not. They are bedded in deep straw, and spatiously sheltered. Crushing is my concern.

    A second gilt is due shortly – will she farrow in the same space as the first (there is plenty room enough)? They’ve lived together life-long, I just don’t know how private they will want to be? What has your experience been?

    Thanks so much for any info you might be able to share.


    • I would make sure she has privacy, food, water and wind block. Nothing else is needed. Sounds like you have a good setup. I would not put the other gilt with her – let them farrow apart – even just a divider wall suffices. Then once the piglets are a couple of days old they’ll likely merge litters and co-nurse. We have had many sows do this. If they have separately available dens and are all farrowing about the same time we’ve had no problem. The problem comes when one sow is in a very different mental state than the others. Having enough space resolves that – summer. :)

  26. chris swier says:


    As time passes would you recommend we add fresh straw into their winter bedding under shelter?

    You keep a boar, and more, with lactating sows and litters, correct? Our boar seems “relentless”, and “disruptive” at least a few times a day. He’ll rouse the sows from sleeping or nursing, he’ll pursue them as they eat or drink. Excessive activity and pursuit around the piglets concerns me with trampling. And is he allowing the sows enough time and space to eat and drink? Making it beyond these first few weeks will relieve my concerns considerably, I’m sure.

    In addition, have you had sows conceive while nursing?

    Thanks for your input Walter.


    • We add more bedding as the winter progresses. It is good to let it build up, compost and provide heat. As it composts it becomes even more digestible, earthworms thrive in it and the pigs root it up. We use hay rather than straw because the hay is more nutritious and it is what is readily available in our area. I have also used wood chips to help build the initial base of the bedding. The pigs do eat ground brush just like eating brush in the summer pastures.

      On the boar, I would suggest you separate the farrowing sow to giver her privacy for the initial period. This duplicates how the sows go off and seek a farrowing space on the margins of the pasture away from the herds during the warm seasons. For the first four to ten days the piglets need this private time with the mother pig.

      We have had sows conceive while nursing. Blackie does this in particular such that she has three litters a year. Unusual but it can happen. She will jump a 4′ fence to get to the boars and then jump back to her piglets after she mates.

  27. Lars says:

    Had a few questions about your boar.
    -Do you keep your boar with the sows throughout the year or if you separate him from the sows when not breeding?
    – Do you put your boar in with more than one sow at a time when breeding?
    – How many boars do you keep in relation to sows?
    Thanks for the fun website!

  28. Patricia says:

    Do your boars get nasty at you when you move the sows or all of them? Are they protective of the females or snap at you? I seem to recall something about ” eating the mean ones” somewhere reading that. I just wondered if it was normal boar behavior or do you just have really nice tempered boars? Those big boars scare the heck out of me, and I can’t imagine having an almost thousand pound ticked off animal on my place when I have little kids coming here to visit and whatnot. Kids invariably always find a way to try to kill themselves. It’s nerve wracking.

    • Not at all. They are not a problem. You see, we cull from a young age anyone who is difficult. There is a demand for suckling pig, small roasters, medium roasters, big roasters, finisher pigs for cuts, etc. By the time a boar gets big enough to be a breeder that means he has survived all those cullings. He is the best 0.5% of the males. If he had a bad temper I would have taken him to butcher long before.

      As to the children, I would not let them in with even roaster size pigs. A 50 or 100 lb pig is very powerful and can bite. Perhaps the little kids can pet piglets, safely away from any adult pigs. When piglets get upset they scream which will bring adults running – not good.

      • Patricia says:

        Well Mr. Stewie met his demise tonight. It was kind of scary and opened my eyes to what kind of damage that little pig could really do. You have got the right idea to “eat the means ones” and I’m going to be more diligent about that from now on. A .22 rifle didn’t even phase him, after about seven shots pointblank. He just shook his head and ran off, and then GROWLED and attacked. VERY scary. Finally we had a friend come over with a shotgun, since the poor pig was already wounded. We were told to get him behind the ear, which we did, and it would be humane, but he is like Super Pig. Scary stuff. We took care of them because they shorted out the hotwire (on purpose?) with dirt mounds and then ran about a half a mile away into the neighbors yard where little kids live. The girls, they just dig holes. Stewie… another matter. Thus, “the deed”. So far I’m not detecting any “boar taint” but not sure what to look for. His meat looks WONDERFUL, even with him being a potbelly pig and four years old. There are lots of roasts and the ribs look just yummy!

  29. Patricia says:

    Well, it looks like my one pig is pregnant, as she is getting heavy and her belly is starting to sag down. That, or she’s eating real good. We will know Oct 24th-ish. I built her a shelter for now out of hay bales, kind of what you’ve got up there. “U” shape in hay bales with a heavy board on top until I can get something else more sturdy set up. Are your pigs just smart or are mine kind of not very smart? She went in there and rooted all around and knocked all the bales down and thus was sleeping in the rains that have come all too soon this Fall. I fixed it up again last night by flashlight (not saying nice things. Thinking ham, bacon… porkchops…), and we will see if she was a dingleberry again. You’d think they wouldn’t tear down their own house. Sigh… LOL
    Pallet house coming soon, things are just kinda swamped right now and I can’t get to it yet. Trying to fix a VERY leaky mobile home roof, also before the doggone wire short out, or the inside ceiling comes falling down on our heads. LOL

    • Normally a pig’s back is somewhat arched upward. If her back and hip ligaments are loosening this will cause her back to sway down which is a sign of late pregnancy. Another thing that will happen is her breasts will start to enlarge such that along the sides of her belly a line will appear. Later she’ll start to cone and then bag up.

      She might not be ready to nest. When she gets closer to farrowing, in the last few days, she should start thinking about nesting. At that time she may well take advantage of what you’ve offered. For now she’s just exploring it. As to rain, their idea of a good time is different than ours. Pigs are waterproof. :)

  30. Kitty says:

    Hello, Walter.

    I just found your site, and it was very helpful! Thank you so much!! I’ve read a good portion of it, but most of it seems to deal with shelters in the equation. I have a situation I wonder if you have advice for? I understand this is your first year with winter farrowing, but you seem to have a lot of other knowledge and experience behind you.

    My sow farrowed today (her 2nd time). She farrowed in the field, with no shelter but several bales of loose hay. (We had a shelter and she tore it down. Getting or making another at this point in time is out of the question for several reasons. I tried a hay bale shelter as well, and she pushed the bales down and all over the field…)

    The low tonight is supposed to be 39F and the average lately has been around 35F. During the day it varies greatly. Sometimes there is a good steady cooler wind, and at other times there is absolutely none. Today, there was both.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to keep the piglets (and Mama) comfortable and warm enough? Should I put old blankets down with the hay, or is there a possibility of the piglets getting tangled and squashed and/or suffocating? I am a newer pig owner, and I’m really nervous about this. Her farrowing this time of year was not intentional, but it happened, and I’m sort of in a panic about the piglets’ safety. I’m not happy with the situation I’ve found myself in here, but I want to do the best I can for both Mama and babies. (She has 9 piglets.)

    Also, amazingly enough, after over a month of dry weather, tonight – and for a few days – it is supposed to rain. If they have enough hay, will this make any difference? What other precautions should I take?

    Thank you so much for putting this info out there for the rest of us!!! Bless you for your time and efforts!

    • I think you’re slightly confused about chronology. We have been farrowing year round for years. This is a very old post from 2006-January, six years ago. Old posts on the blog stay available. Comments are still open on it but I would suggest you look through newer posts too. Try this these search patterns winter housing and this winter farrowing as well as looking in the tag cloud in the right hand column.

      Don’t panic about the temperature as 39°F isn’t very cold and I don’t worry about shelter at those warm temperatures. More of an issue is wetness. If they have brush they can go into that sheds the rain and provides dry areas then they’re fine and they prefer that. An open shed or at most a wall on the windward side is plenty. Even in the dead of winter up on the snows our pigs prefer to sleep out in the open, not in shed. Greenhouses are great but don’t let the humidity build up too much nor the noxious gases. Leave them open for ventilation.

      Provide plenty of dry bedding hay. They’ll sleep on it and eat it. Let the hay build up to create a warm toes deep bed that composts to provide heat.

      I would not do the blankets. Also don’t add hay to the mother’s nest. Provide it nearby so that she can add the hay to the nest. She chews it and packs it. You won’t get it right. Better to let her do the job correctly.

  31. Simon F says:

    Hi there

    First of all I live in Vilcabamba, Ecuador
    So we dont have nearly the cold weather you guys have. 50 degrees fahrenheit is considered cold and 45 degrees considered freeeeeeeezing.

    If your sows have so much hay and straw in your shelter, dont the piglets ever dig themselves into the hay, and then the sow comes and lays ontop of the pile of hay,( not seeing the piglets of course) resulting in squashed piglets?

    I personnally would be installing a creep area, inside a farrowing shelter, that way the piglets can have a sow-less spot to rest, then when they want they can always go back to mama.

    I have had a sow that crushed almost all of her piglets, because of that reason.

    But if it works for you without a creep area, thats great. (It really is)
    Because I have tried to have pigs the (natural) way letting them roam on 20 acres,
    letting them farrow anywhere, (the boar was with them all the time)
    And it has resulted in a 50% piglet mortality rate. (47% crushed 3% runts(starvation))
    So I have decided to build a nice big farrowing barn, with farrowing rails, creep area, sow area, and the whole sheebang. (similar to the swedish system)
    And once they are weaned, put them in their Strip-grazing padock(or strip-diging)
    I will have the boar and the sows in a strip-grazing padock to. And move the sows into the barn two weeks before farrowing.
    Once they dig everything up in the strip-digging area, i will move the pigs further, and plant alfalfa, cassava, corn and sweet potatoes and sugarcane as a fodder crop.

    I wish you lots of success with your pigs
    Simon Fox

    • If you add loose hay to a sow’s nest then there may be a problem with what you describe. Our sows build their own nests, chopping the hay and packing it so they don’t have a problem. I recommend that people not add loose hay to sow nests for this reason.

      We also breed for sows that have good mothering instincts. It sounds like your sows have lost their maternal instincts and don’t make good mothers out in natural pasture conditions. I would cull the problem mothers and breed towards better mothering instincts. Not all sows are equal. Breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

      If the pigs are rooting too much then move them faster through the rotation. With our managed rotational grazing we get little rooting. The pigs do tend to root more in the brushy paddocks as we convert forest to fields but once the pastures are improved the pigs tend to graze. It is easier. See Rootless in Vermont.

  32. Eric Hagen says:

    How did the wire and plastic greenhouse work out? I’m planning some winter farrowing huts right now and liked that design, but I was worried about how it held up in the snow. Do you still use that design? Did it last more than one winter?

    • It worked well and still exists however when we built subsequent ones we went with heavier wire using stock panels. Snow wasn’t a problem but with the lighter wire a sow could easily bend the wires which made for more frequent repairs. The evolution of my thinking is to have knee walls of pig tough materials – stone being my preference.

  33. Katie says:


    I love your wire mesh solar shelters but am not a terribly handy person. Do you happen to recall the length of mesh you used per sow stall and the length of the piece going over the top for support? Would the box frame you used on the portable version help support the structure? I know you provided a diagram which is helpful but I don’t have the money to guess or the handiness to make anything better than guess. How exactly is the plastic anchored on? Is clear plastic the best material to use?

    I would really love to see the new and improved version you mentioned building with the stock panels and if you find yourself making another one I would be over the moon if you could make a post demonstrating the whole method of construction and exact measurements. I apologize if this has already been covered in a prior post but I looked and didn’t see it. It is a brilliant idea.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog.

    • Ten foot by five foot? It isn’t very strong. I would upgrade to heavier gauge stock panel which are 16’x5′. Translucent plastic works. Bale plastic works. String works to hold it on.

      • Katie says:

        Thank you Walter. Especially for replying so quickly. I believe I have drawn up some good plans now. I had scoured the internet for inexpensive hog shelters and your blog is the only good source I found that didn’t require expensive materials, long term commitment or more carpentry skill than I posses. You do brilliant work. Artwork almost to those of us who need these ideas.

        Much appreciated,


  34. Farmerbob1 says:

    “At night I have tended to close the gate that lea
    ds to the intended farrowing spaces”

    You broke the word lea*ds with a carriage return here.

    • I think this is one of those that happened when my blog got translated over from Google’s Blogger platform to WordPress. I’m still finding and fixing some strange things from that long ago transition. The degree sign as in 34°F got translated to Chinese characters on some posts. Line breaks got added in some odd places. Let me know if you find them. The Chinese character I think I can fix with a plugin but I have yet to try that. Slightly nerve wracking to do a global replace over the entire blog… Backup first!

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        Global replace is definitely frightening.
        I just tried a Google advanced search using the Chinese character and your website, which strangely received zero hits.

        This is probably some sort of automated language-sorting mechanism on Google’s part.

        However, when I entered a more specific text-based search as opposed to a text and address search, I got a much more useful return.

        Try to Google for the following, Walter, and you should find all the 째 characters from the switch (The quotes should be included):

        째 “sugar mountain farm”

        Be certain to go to the last page and choose the option to see all similar pages. There are, err, a lot of them.

  35. Linda says:

    Walter for the pallet dens instead of glass for the top would the plastic do? Also what weight and grade plastic do you use? And lastly would your wife rent you to me for a week or so, I will be sure to fed you and send you back :) lol

  36. nicholas says:

    hello walter.. Please help me.. Maybe you remember me, i have a problem with my gilts. Now they are 1 year old but no sign of a boar servicing or a my gilts mated. I rented a boar and he was willing to work but my gilts kept avoiding him and running away. So is it true that when a gilt is mated a boar won’t even try to service her??? So does that mean my gilts are still not mated? And is it true that when a gilt or sow is mated it will run away from a boar? I would be very happy if you explain a bit more about this to me. Thanks

    • When a gilt or sow comes into heat she wants to be bred. It is a strong instinctual process. She puts out pheromones which the boar finds irresistibly attractive. Every gilt in heat is beautiful – Call it boar goggles. If she won’t breed and doesn’t get pregnant by age 14 with good exposure I expect she’s infertile either by not having the right behaviors, hormones or other issues. When a gilt is not in heat she has little interest and the boar has little interest in her. She’s just a pig at that point.

  37. Linda says:

    Is there a type of green house plastic that will hold up? As far as renting to own, I just want to rent and return :) Boar question, I have two boars one is going to be my boar and one is going to be pig roast. There are a few differences and I think I know which one would be best to keep but I a not sure. When I first got then one was smaller then the other, they are both the same size one is a little narrower then the other. The one that was smaller is friendlier then the other one and engages with us more. However he is the first to get out of the fence ect. I am not sure if in the long run it will be easier to have one around and handle that seems to like us or the other one that is just fine but not interested in us and does not get out of the fences first. They are in now as they decided they much rather be served there food and water then go forging. :)
    Thank you Linda

    • Polycarbonate lasts. It is also expensive compared with the films. Twin or triple wall polycarbonate is nearly the holy grail of greenhouse coverings.

      On the boars, it might be genetics or it might be learning that is causing the escapism. The genetic variety we call Houdini and cull against. The learned variety we train against. If you can’t train against, cull.

  38. Joe says:

    Thank you for the wealth of information provided in this blog. I own 35 acres outside of Seattle and am following in your footsteps. Truly invaluable.

    Last winter I hit my first bump in the road with pig breeding. My sow had a rough pregnancy. She came to term about a week early. Out of a litter of 13 only 3 survived. Much speculation as far as the cause. Some people have told me it was the boar’s fault. That he might have been rough with her causing her to abort. Others say it may have been a nutrient issue. That’s what I would guess. My plan is to sell or butcher her this fall and start over with her two gilts from a previous year and a new boar. Also I am making the switch to using hay which I plan to supplement with commercial feed, and in the third trimester kelp. I would like your opinion on this plan, and to know how you have dealt with rough farrowing issues in the past. Thank you.

    • Were the piglets:
      born alive and die of injury?
      born alive and weak?
      died before birth?
      mummified? (long dead before farrowing)

      My first question is did you vaccinate against reproductive diseases with a vaccine like FarrowSureGold B or the like? This is a good idea as there are a number of diseases that can cause loss of piglets or fetuses.

      Moldy feed can lead to loss of fetuses, weak piglets and piglet deaths.

      A lack of minerals and vitamins can cause problems. Feeding supplemental kelp I find gives me one more live piglet per litter. It does not take much kelp, about three tablespoons worth a day per sow.

      On at the bottom of the page they have two disease diagnostic tools that may help you narrow down the causes.

      I doubt the boar is at fault unless he was extremely brutal.

      • Joe says:

        The piglets were stillborn, not mummified. Three did live, and a few were born alive, but then died within 24 hours.

        I’ll look into vaccinating. Thanks again.

  39. Joe says:

    I have another question for you Walter. The two replacement gilts I was raising to replace the sow in the post above are not sizing up fast enough for breeding. The market here is for spring piglets which means breeding in October. They are about 150 lbs each by the string method. I know you’ve written of breeding “lolitas” so maybe they are an option, but I think not. I still haven’t sold the sow mentioned above, and she is the only pig I have at this point who is physically big enough. Should I take a chance and breed her, or take a chance with the others?

    Also, I’m not graining my animals like most people do. I know that they will grow faster if I do. Right now I keep them on a managed pasture with salt and nutrient supplements and apples, vegetables, and whatever else I can find. Then I grain them in the winter. I know you have experimented with pasture only. Did your pigs grow slower also? What were your findings?

    • The growth may be okay but hard to know without knowing the pigs and ages. If they are 150 lbs now I would not be surprised to see them be 240 lbs by December based on how ours grow. Growth will slow down in the winter. Winter is a fine time to carry a litter. Pasture only is slower than grain fed. Full grain feeding to them will get even more growth than that. Deworm them if needed.

      Lolitas are an age thing, not a size thing. Our gilts normally first take at eight months and deliver around their birthday. I sometimes have Lolitas take as early as six months of age. They do fine. No harm done. Some like Mouse have gone on to be fine long term sows who produced large numbers of offspring.

      I would keep them with a boar and let them breed when they’re ready. I worry less.

      • Joe says:

        You’re right I worry too much.

        I had another idea. I know you feed hay in the winter. I cut more than what I will need to feed cattle this winter. My pigs would hardly put a dent in the excess. I can buy weaners at auction for between $50 to $70 locally. I might gamble on buying a couple dozen, feeding hay, and then selling them in the spring for $125. Do your weaners do okay on hay during the winter? I crunched the numbers and graining then selling would be a break even bet.

        • Ease them onto a hay diet feeding a commercial supplemental grain diet. As smaller pigs they don’t do as well with hay and they may not be adapted to a hay diet. Try it and watch them. Remember that we feed more than just hay. That makes up about 80%DMI of what they eat but they also get about 7%DMI dairy, 2%DMI spent barley from the brew pub, eggs, apples, pears, pumpkins, etc. See the Pig Page and read the feed section. Then follow through from there.

  40. Farmerbob1 says:

    Hey Walter, it looks like your formatting in the comments section got confused after your comment of 06JAN2006. In that comment you discuss HTML tags. I think one decided to go squirrelly on you. Everything below the HTML tags is italicized.

  41. Northernfarmers says:

    Hi Walter, great post. We have 15 sows due to start farrowing Jan – March (maybe earlier) I love the welded wire huts, welded wire is incredibly handy and versatile. We have a large lean to that is completely closed we had planned on putting pens for each Dow I. There we could likely for six at a time giving them a lot of room. There isn’t much exposure to sun because but there would be now wind. It’s a dirt floor . We can get as cold as -40 but we usually stay around -15 to -25 . With lots of state/hay for bedding I’m hoping for everything to go well in the lean to. Have you come up with any new tips/techniques? This post is from 2006 that’s why I ask. Thanks !

    • Northernfarmers says:

      *For each sow there would be room for 6 of them to give them a lot of room , there isn’t much exposure to the sun because of the way it’s built.
      * With lots of straw/hay.
      sorry should have read it through before posting

    • We’ve done a lot of types of shelters. What I’ve learned is:
      1. block the wind – this is the #1 key issue;
      2. have a deep bedding pack that composts to produce heat and food;
      3. have plenty of ventilation to have fresh air for man and beast; and
      4. optionally have a roof to prevent precipitation from wetting the bedding.

      Our Greenhouse Ark is our best structure. We leave it fully open on the south and partially open on the north to allow air movement. In January it is like October or November inside the Ark. It gives us a nice climate shift. Right now I have a dark cover on it. Adding a translucent cover would be better.

  42. Andre says:

    Hello Walter,

    I have 2 first-time gilts nearing farrow, and I see if your photo that you have two sows in your hut. I’m wondering if you have success with co-habiting two sows together for farrowing?

    I currently have both in a 16×16 area deep with straw.

    Any info would be helpful. Thanks so much.

  43. nic hunt says:

    i have two guilts that are bred. what signs can I look for right before farrow besides building a nest because they seem to hae always built them one.

  44. nic hunt says:

    the vulva is swollen like when there in heat, the indicater as you talked about is pointed up but there is no bagging up yet. how long before farrow do they usually bag

    • As it swells approaching farrowing the indicator (clitoral hood) will gradually point downward. However, if she isn’t bagging yet then she’s got a ways to go. Typically gilts bag up in the last week or two before farrowing.

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