Farrowing, the agricultural term for the birthing of the female’s litter of piglets tends to be a demonstration of a farmer’s approach to livestock production as a whole. Here at Pastures A Plenty, we place the farrowing sow at central position and try to surround her with an environment that will result in good production by making it more possible for her to birth her piglets as she instinctively wants to do. We provide a roomy pen of about sixty five square feet, compared to the industry standard thirty five. The sow is able to move freely to turn and lie down as she wishes, having the use of all the area except that reserved for the piglets to creep into soon after birth. Each sow thus has free use of fifty five square feet in our barn, where she gets only fourteen square feet (2’ X 7’) in the conventional system, not enough space to turn around.
Now the pen is bedded with chopped straw, because the sow wants to manipulate and push material around to make a nest to farrow her pigs into. She can get quite oblivious to her surroundings while she busies herself with this job, even to the point of ignoring us as we observe. This process may take from an hour to a day to complete, depending upon the individual personality of the sow. When she finally has the pile of straw pushed and manipulated to her satisfaction, she will push her nose through the center of it to make a channel ending by lying on her side and beginning the labor process. Human commotion and interference must be kept to a minimum during this process.
After farrowing, care is taken to make sure the piglets have found the creep area and heat source there. Piglets need a higher temperature for comfort than does the sow and will huddle close to her udder by instinct. If we can tempt them into just a bit of separation, it makes it easier for the sow to get up for feed and water without damaging the babies. This nursing or lactating phase is continued on our farm until about five or six weeks, longer than the conventional practice, which is more like ten to fifteen days. We think that important strengths, such as disease antibodies are passed to the piglets by this practice. We also think both sow and piglets want this longer period together.