Nesting Sows


Yorkshire Sow Gathering Nesting Hay

One of the interesting indicative behaviors that a pregnant (gestating) sow pig is about to farrow a new litter of piglets is that she will begin to gather hay, chop it up and build a soft nest. The sow above is Flo, one of the three sisters Flip, Flop and Flo. She began gathering dry hay in the mid-morning. That evening she began to farrow, dropping ten piglets. Total elapsed time: about eight hours from gathering to when the first piglet was born.

Generally the sows gather hay from a short distance of about 30′ around the nesting site. Typically during the warm weather from April through October they farrow out in the fields, generally along the sides if brush is available. In the winter they farrow in the hill dens and the house end shed although sometimes they’ll make a nest out in the open by a fresh round bale of hay.

On one occasion a sow named Petra walked over 1,200′ for each trip to gather hay from a fresh round bale I had put out this winter. She was impatient and I had put hay to the main herd first. As soon as I delivered a bale to her nesting site she switched to ripping mouthfuls off of that. Of interest is that when she walked the distance back from the herd’s supply of hay she carried very large bundles of unchopped hay in her jaws. When she switched to the bale right near her nesting spot she also switched to much smaller mouthfuls. She’s no fool and she didn’t want to walk that trip more times than necessary.

If hay or grasses are not available the sows will use brush, small saplings, leaves or even dig into a dirt bank or under the roots of an old tree. Given the choice though they seem to prefer dry grasses or dry hay. It certainly does make for a nicer nest.

Farrowing nest construction is different from the typical nesting we see in the winter that is simply for warmth. With a winter warmth nest, which is built by pigs of all ages above weaners, the pigs simply gather a large amount of hay together and then snuggle down under the hay for the night. Typically this is a joint activity as opposed to the solo work of a sow about to farrow. Even boars will help with this process of gathering hay for winter nests so it is not simply a maternal trait. Interestingly, on one occasion I have seen a boar assist an about to farrow sow with building her nest.

Construction note: today we learned that a diamond blade on a standard skillsaw will cut with the greatest of ease through black granite. Most amazing. It opens up all sorts of possibilities. Black granite is the heaviest, the densest and the hardest of the granites. It comes to us all the way from Africa via the waste granite from the local sculptures at the stone sheds.

Outdoors: 60°F/33°F Overcast, windy, hard to light rain
Farm House: 62°F/57°F
Tiny Cottage: 58°F/52°F spackled desk, granite & partition block cutting

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Nesting Sows

  1. EJ says:

    Are you sure your black granite isn’t basalt? I understand most (or all?) black granite isn’t granite at all, but is called granite by sellers.

    Seems to me it would make a difference when cutting etc which type of stone you actually have.

  2. I’m very sure what we have is black granite. Basalt is a very different stone. Sometime I’ll take photos of all the variety of colors and do a post on it. I was thinking of cutting a cube a couple inches across of each color we have just for the fun of it. They are quite beautiful, and all granite.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Great info – thank you. I was hoping to have our first farrowing hogs this year . . . looks like it will be a few more due to some external issues. Good news is it’s more time to learn and we do so appreciate your sharing.

    Question – do you always simply use hay or do you also use straw?

  4. We don’t use straw, at first because it is not readily available but also because the pigs eat the hay. Straw does not have as much nutritional value as hay. If I lived in a place where straw was cheap and hay was expensive I would probably use straw for bedding.

  5. You probably have an igneous rock called gabbro. Granite isn't black. It's just marketing hype.

  6. Interesting. I looked up gabbro and we do have some pieces that look like that but most of the black rock we've gotten from the stone sheds is different. It has a much larger grain. We have some that looks like Azul Noche from Spain but that has too much white for the cubes. If it isn't a true granite I would be curious as to what others think it is. Sometime I'll get a series of photos of the various stones and post them. There is a great range of colors.

  7. jayessdub says:

    Walter, do you walk the pigs to their pasture every day? I was wondering if you have shelters in each pasture for them to overnight or if there’s a single place for them to sleep.

    What do you do if a sow starts nesting in a paddock that they’re going to rotate out of? I assume she’ll make a new nest in the next pasture.



    • They sleep where ever they please. In the warm months that is mostly out on the pastures, typically under brush or trees although often there are groups under the open sky. Generally they’re in cohorts of three to seven, larger for the smaller pigs. Thus they’re out on the paddocks – we don’t walk them out each day.

      If a sow nests and farrows on a paddock going out of rotation then she generally stays right there. This gives her the privacy she wants for birthing and works well. Later when she’s ready she’ll rejoin the herd or move to a farrowing herd depending on timing.

  8. Farmerbob1 says:

    “Flo’s no fool and she didn’t want to walk that trip more times than necessary.”

    You started talking about Flo, but then shifted to talking about Petra. It sounds like the above statement was meant to be attributed to Petra, for her smarts in taking big mouthfuls of nesting materials back to where she was farrowing when she had to walk 1600′

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