Farrowing 8

EEEEEP! So cute.

While we were in Kentucky, I got to visit a sow unit. Chad and I spend most of our time in wean-to-finish or grow-finish facilities (although the nursery barns are my absolute favorite) since that’s where the company’s product line has largely focused. But! If you want sow feeders, crates or stalls? Call me.

Anyway. I have only been in one sow barn before – a big Hutterite operation up in Canada. It was shortly after Chad and I started dating, and it was actually my first hog barn ever. Let’s be honest; I had no idea what I was looking at. Now I know so much more and it’s all way more interesting than it was then.

So. Pregnant sows all live together, either all in one big room (group housing) or lined up in individual maternity pens (gestation stalls). There are pros and cons to each style of sow housing, and like with organic farming, I’m glad that most farmers have a choice about how they take care of their animals. I figure I may have more of an opinion on sow housing after I have been pregnant myself.

Pig gestation lasts 112-115 days, or a little under 4 months (can I get an amen on that, ladies?). When they get close to delivery, they’re moved into the farrowing room. They’re given their own crate that’s specially designed for the birthing process – room for the mama with her own individual feeder, access for the barn worker to help with delivery, and separate space for the piglets so mama doesn’t crush them when she lays down.

farrowing 9

The farm we visited has round-the-clock staffing in the farrowing barn. 24-hours a day, a well-trained human is there in the room, ready to help the sow give birth when she’s ready. With clean towels on hand, to boot. (Please tell me how people can say that conventional farmers don’t care about their animals? This is amazing.)

Farrowing 10

The piglets weigh just around 3 pounds when they’re born. So tiny! Right after birth, the staff member cleans the pig off, weighs it and docks its tail (as pigs get older they’ll bite at each other’s tails if they’re not cut, and it can cause a lot of fighting and injuries) and gives it any necessary shots. The umbilical cord is left to fall off naturally. Baby pigs lose body heat pretty quickly, so drying them off right after birth helps them stay warm. The farrowing barn is kept nice and toasty. Mama’s separate area helps keep her cool while the piglets stay warm.

Farrowing 7

Proud mama – her piglets are a few days older here. An average litter is 8-12 piglets. (No, thank you.)

farrowing 2

Piglets find a nipple and start nursing within the first 15 minutes after birth. And, once they’ve picked a favorite nipple, they’ll always go back to that one. Kind of like your favorite seat at the family’s kitchen table.

Farrowing 6

Hey, what’s mom eating?? Pigs are so curious, even the littles.

Sows and their piglets live in the farrowing room until the little guys are weaned at 3 or 4 weeks (weighing around 12 lbs), then they get moved into a nursery or a wean-finish barn where they’ll eat, sleep, play, and be cute. The mama pig is moved back to the gestation room until she’s ready to be bred again.

Then the cycle of cuteness starts all over again.