One of our sows, Patsy, was due to give birth last weekend, so on Friday I cleaned out the pen ready for her. She had been wallowing in the mud and was filthy dirty so since it was a warm, sunny day I also put the hose and scrubbing brush on her.
By lunch time on Saturday she had made her nest in which to farrow. In a commercial operation, sows are placed in farrowing crates to prevent them from rolling over and inadvertently crushing her piglets. In fact, the crate prevents the sow from moving at all! She can neither roll over, stand up or turn around, and all natural birthing instincts are suppressed.
When a sow is allowed the freedom she will spend time carefully building a nest with whatever material she can find. To prevent her from breaking off all the branches of the nearby trees and dragging them in to her pen, I gave her plenty of fresh, clean straw to use. When she was finished, the floor of the pen looked like it had been swept by a meticulous housewife with every last blade of straw neatly placed in the corner of the pen. Once satisfied with the job she finally lies down, and you know that it won’t be long until the arrival of the first piglet.
I like to be close by during the birth. After checking that each piglet is breathing and clearing it’s mouth if necessary, they are placed in the creep area. The creep is simply an area in the corner of the pen with a heat lamp, where the small piglets can keep warm and be less likely to get crushed by their mother. It’s amazing how quickly the mother and babies develop a routine where the babies come out to feed, then return to the warmth of the creep, leaving the mother free to walk around the pen without stepping on them. When the mother sees that the babies are all safely in the corner she will often leave them for a short while and venture out into the fresh air and once she feels they are ready, she will start to encourage them to follow her outside.