Good farrowing pen management – getting the basics right

A piglet’s experience in the farrowing pen is important for its early development and has huge influence over its future health and productivity. This means that getting piglet care and management right from the beginning helps give the animal a good start in life and the opportunity to thrive. In turn, this paves the way for robust pigs and a successful farm.

 

Preparing and maintaining the farrowing facility

Biosecurity is hugely important for swine farms all year round, across all barns. Internal biosecurity is especially vital in farrowing room to help minimize the risk of sows or young piglets falling sick, as pathogens such as Clostridium, Escherichia coli and Cystoisospora suis, can stay active in the environment. Using an all-in-all-out strategy, in which animals in determined groups are kept together when moved across different parts of the facility plus an effective cleaning and disinfecting process, helps to control and prevent disease spread across the herd.

Before sows are moved into the farrowing room, start preparing the facility by giving it a deep clean. Remove all organic and waste material and empty the slurry tank. The ceiling, walls and floor need to be washed with detergent and preferably using hot water. Then disinfected using a suitable product designed to tackle the right pathogens and allowed to dry before the animals enter the room. Remember also to wash and disinfect sows before they enter the farrowing room.

A key part of every farm’s biosecurity strategy is a tailored Disinfection, Disinsectization, and Rodent Control plan (DDR) that would generally encompass a combination of physical prevention measures and chemical control methods. Ongoing measures that keep the farm clean and tidy (free of available feed, water and shelter for pests), are fundamental to controlling rodents and insects, which can spread disease to the herd. It is good practice to have a designated member of staff who is responsible for ensuring that vector control on the farm stays current.

 

Caring for sows and newborn piglets

Farrowing can be a demanding time for sows, but it is possible to help minimize stress and promote animal well-being with some practical measures. Have sows enter the farrowing facilities at least five to six days before the predicted farrowing dates so they can acclimatize. Encourage these sows to stand up at least three to four times every day to ensure water consumption and avoid constipation, which can complicate the farrowing. Good hydration is essential, so ensure they have easy access to clean water. This will also help sows to produce enough milk for her piglets.

When farrowing starts, the sow will require a calm and quiet environment that is also conducive for her to properly attend to the newborn piglets, so ensure that the pen is comfortable and ready before she shows signs. The sow’s pen should also be clean and free from feces, drying powder can also be placed in the area to help the piglets dry after birth.

The optimum delivery room temperature for sows is 18–20°C, while piglets require a focused temperature of 32–35°C to avoid hypothermia. To deliver the difference in temperature needed, a heat source, such as infrared lamps or heated mats, will keep piglets warm after birth – ensure they are switched on 24 hours before farrowing to give enough time to heat up. 

Piglets under a heat lamp
A focused heat source helps keep newborn piglets warm

 

Monitoring and handling

The recommendation for successful farrowing is to practice a lot of monitoring and little intervention. Sows do not usually need veterinary help during this time, but it is important for an experienced handler to monitor the sow, recording observations every 20 minutes and only stepping in if she is struggling.

As they are born, piglets should be dried and moved towards the heated area. It is also important to ensure that every piglet in the litter gets to suckle the sow’s nutrient-rich colostrum within the first 12-24 hours of life. Colostrum contains crucial immunoglobulins (antibodies) and maternal immune cells that boost the piglet immune system, in addition to providing an adequate energy intake. If the sow does not have enough functioning teats for the number of piglets in the litter, cross-fostering may be necessary. But before cross-fostering, ensure that all piglets have received a good amount of colostrum from its own mother.

Young piglets need to be protected from iron deficiency anemia and coccidiosis. These treatments are essential and should be administered calmly and expertly on the piglets’ third day of life. To this end, new combination therapies are helping swine professionals to protect piglet health with less labor and stress.

A well-managed farrowing pen in which the needs of the sow and piglets are addressed not only promotes animal well-being but can also dramatically reduce piglet mortality. So investing in measures that promote a calm, safe, and healthy environment can provide direct returns, nurturing robust piglets that will ultimately contribute to a productive and successful farm.