Most of our litters are born in the middle of the night. And I certainly can’t fault the sows for it since that’s when I delivered both of my kids, too. It’s quiet in the middle of the night, it’s cool in the middle of the night. It’s a good time. Except it’s also dark in the middle of the night and since most of our farrowings also take place outside, it’s not the best conditions for photography.
This past week we had a sow go in the middle of the morning — possibly just to spite me as I’d waited up all night for her to get on with it and she delivered most of the pigs during the 2 hours I finally decided to nap, but that’s a post for another day — so I snapped a sequence of pictures of one pig being born and and took video of another to share with you.
This sow has done an impeccable job with her litter right from the start and we couldn’t be more pleased. As you can see in the video she’s in a wooded enclosure, and she’d cleared a spot and made a shallow nest circled by sticks. We like sows that build shallow nests because deep nests are dangerous for newborn pigs. Though pigs are born a bit more vigorous than a lot of animals they still lack muscle tone and coordination. In a deep nest they have a hard time climbing the steep embankments on the side and often roll or slide back down into the middle of the nest. It’s not a big deal when mama is laying down, but when she gets up to change position or get a bite to eat the piglets will often roll into the center and then not be able to get back up the sides quickly enough when she lays back down, getting squashed and/or suffocated in the process. Dead piglets are heartbreaking and expensive for a farmer and something we try to avoid at all costs. Good sows who make nice shallow nests are one thing that helps.
You’ll also probably notice that between the video (which was taken first) and the picture sequence I’d laid some clean straw down behind and beside the sow. Some births are a wetter than others and this one was particularly so. We generally allow the sow to use whatever she wishes for her nest, but in the summer many will choose not to use much or any bedding because the bare ground is cooler and feels better to them. In cases like these it’s not uncommon for us to lay down fresh bedding part of the way through the birth and again the first time the sow gets up afterwards. We try to use just enough to keep the pigs relatively clean and comfortable, but not too much so that it’s making the sow hot. We akin it to the bed sheet changes that happen in the hospital during human births. Farmer + RN + OB/GYN at your service!
And just one last thing and then I’ll get to the good stuff: In the video you’ll notice the pig is born head first and in the picture sequence the back hooves are presented first. The pig in the video is considered a normal presentation, while the pig in the pictures is breech. I’m not sure what percentage of pigs are born breech, but it’s not terribly uncommon. As long as they are presented as this one is, with both back hooves pointing straight ahead and not one or both legs caught up by the belly there’s no real risk to the sow or pig. The pig in the picture sequence passed just as quickly and easily as the one in the video.
Ready? Here you go:
Disclaimer: The video sound hasn’t been edited so it’s complete with squishy birth sound effects. If you have a weak stomach you may wish to watch with your volume off.