The Good Sow

Tamworth Piglets in North Home Field

Remus , brother of Romula, checking out a new litter of Tamworth piglets in the North Home Field.

Sows do nothing to help the piglets during birthing. Their job is to prepare a nest in a good spot and then to simply to lay there, push, breath and be a milk bar. The piglets come out, clean themselves off, walk around the sow to her teats and begin nursing with no assistance. That is life at the piggy maternity ward.

After the birthing the next important thing for a sow to do is be a good lay. Some of you might be thinking, “Walter’s confused becomes that comes before pregnancy.” What I mean to say is she must know how to step gently and lay down smoothly and slowly so as to not crush piglets as described in Lay Lady Lay. There is technique to laying down when you weight 300 to 800 lbs and have a dozen hungry little ones running around your ankles. It’s done slowly, gently, from one end and easing back up if there are objections.

Sows may go without water and food for several days after birthing, just staying right at the nesting site. I make sure it is available but they have reserves. That’s what back fat is for.

After four days or so they will typically move to a new location, leaving behind the scent of farrowing so as to avoid both scavengers and disease. Farrowing or staying in the same location for a long time can lead to a build up bacteria and things like greasy pig syndrome where bacteria can kill piglets.

The look on the sow’s face in the picture above is the good stupor of labor. She’s zoned out. There is no need for farrowing crates or cages. The release of a soup of chemicals during farrowing helps good sows stay calm during the process of birthing. Sows that fail to release these chemicals or lack sufficient receptors tend to be jumpy and won’t make good field sows so they should be culled from a breeding herd to favor sows that can give birth naturally. GOod sows will wean more, larger, healthier piglets without intervention.

Did you notice the piglet in the process of being born?

How many teats do you count?

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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13 Responses to The Good Sow

  1. Michael says:

    More teats than piglets. I suspect you will remedy that.

  2. joyce says:

    this is so wonderful to see!

  3. Sal says:

    How many did she end up having?

  4. Jeff says:

    Hey Walter, I’ve not asked a question here in a good long while because well after you got me started by answering so many of my questions, I just got to figuring things out on my own! Anyways here is one that I need your input on. I have a sow who is about to farrow. I have her in a really nice spot. Lots of grass, nice pine trees to shade her and her family and a pond and some wallows for her to cool off in. I really think she is in pig heaven. But I am worried that her piglets will follow her into the mud or the pond and drown. Should I move her somewhere where she does nt have access to a wallow until her piglets are old enough? Or can I trust in Mother Nature that a) she wont decide to farrow in the nice cool mud and b) that the piglets wont follow her in to the water ?

    Thanks again Walter.

    • As long as her nest is not right next to the wallow I would not expect a problem. Piglets don’t tend to follow their mother into the water or mud until their ready. The problem is more one of if the nest is right at the edge and they stumble in when newborn before they get their bearings or if you get heavy rains that produce mud all over.

  5. Lynn Glazer says:

    wow wonderful pic! can only count 6 but i assume there is more like 16 from what i see but can there possibly be 18???

    • Yes. Maintain biosecurity. Farm visitors, especially those who have recently visited other farms, are a danger to your livestock. New incoming animals should be quarantined carefully to prevent disease from being introduced into your herds. Neighbors should be at a distance such as to minimize blow in on the wind – a mile or two is good. Don’t live close to a factory farm as they are the primary source of the disease.

  6. Erica says:


    Thank you for all of your great information. I have a question. We are new to pig owning and breeding and have a few Large Blacks. Our sow had our first litter this past weekend. There were 6 piglets and 5 survived. They are several days old now and seem very playful and active. They are rooting and even trying to graze a little. I see them nursing often, but they still look a little thin. I expected them to really plump up, but they just aren’t. Is it common not to gain weight right away or should we look into supplementing?



    • It is normal for piglets to look thin at birth. They should round out in the first week and their mother’s milk is all they need to do this – you don’t have to supplement. That said, if you want to setup a creep feeding area there is no harm in that and it gives an additional source of food. This is especially useful with very large litters. If this is a first time sow (was a gilt before, now a P1) then she probably won’t have as much milk this time around as she will in the future. P2 and beyond tend to have a lot more milk.

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