This past Monday we weaned most of the piglets from the winter farrowing. Actually, the sows had started weaning the piglets two days earlier which made the process that much easier. The mothers began sleeping in a far garden, moving up there stealthily when the piglets were asleep. This seems to have gone over fine. During the day they were still letting the piglets nurse a little.
In the factory farm pork industry they currently wean piglets at 10 days. The goal being to get the sows back into production, that is to say pregnant, as soon as possible. There is discussion in the swine industry magazines about increasing this to 15 days. We have generally weaned at about four weeks (30 days). For two litters we experimented with letting them self-wean – they didn’t. After 60 days, the now quite large piglets were still nursing away and the sows were getting a bit peaked, so I forced the issue.
When one week old, the piglets start nibbling on hay in the winter and grass and clover in the summer out on pasture. We begin creep feeding at that time. A creep is simply a place where the piglets can easily get to food but the larger pigs can’t. This means there is always food available to the piglets. It is quite simple to make a creep – just run a hot electric wire about 6″ higher than the back of the piglets across a space like the wire to the left in the photo above. The large pigs will see that wire and keep back giving the little piglets a space where they can eat in peace.
We start creep feeding the piglets with yogurt, cottage cheese and bread. It is important not to feed them straight fresh cows milk since they can get scours, that is to say diarrhea. To make yogurt or cottage cheese, simply fill a clean pail with about four gallons of milk. Add a dollop of cottage cheese or yogurt. In a warm place this will quickly turn the milk making it more digestible for the piglets. This is essentially the same as the expensive pro-biotic that you can buy for livestock. We have excess milk and cheese so this works well for us.
Alternatively, you can buy a piglet mash but be aware that they usually have antibiotics and other chemical additives in them. These are put in for confinement type operations which are more susceptible to disease than open pasture and garden corral setups like ours. I worry about the antibiotics causing resistant types of bacteria to develop so I prefer to avoid feeding these to our animals.
There is another issue that I read about recently. Some people have linked the use of genetically modified corn and soybeans with animal deaths. I don’t know if this is true but it makes me uncomfortable so that is one more reason to avoid the commercial feeds if I can.
After several weeks, the piglets are eating the alternative foods well and the sows are milked down and ready to wean their piglets. They may even do it themselves as has happened here on occasion. If not, simply lure the sows away from the piglets during a time when the piglets are sleeping or busy eating in their creep. Electrified poultry netting works well as a surround for the piglets during the first day of weaning when they may be a bit unhappy with the change. Sometimes they don’t seem to even notice, other times they may call out for an hour or two before settling down. Leaving them in the space they are familiar with and moving the sow out helps.
During the weaning period I find it is a great time to establish myself as the source of food and goodness. When I bring out food I squat down and talk to them as they eat. Prior to weaning some of them had been coming up to me. Now all of them run up to me in a great rush of little bodies, squealing their greetings.
About three days to a week after weaning the sow will come back into heat, so if you are doing AI or borrowing a boar be ready if you wish to rebreed her. Since we have our own boar now this is greatly simplified. He lives with the herd and is right there, ready, willing and able. And so the cycle of life begins anew.
Wednesday: 22°F/9°F, Light snow flurries, Sunny
Thursday: 20°F/6°F, Light snow flurries, Partly Sunny
Friday: 14°F/11°F, Light snow flurries, Partly Sunny