Don’t forget the sow in post-farrowing management plans


The first several hours post-farrowing is a critical time not just for newborn piglets but also for the sow. The sow’s ability to recover from the stress of parturition and quickly move on to producing milk and feeding piglets demands more attention than often occurs in a busy farrowing room.

“Too often we direct our attention to the pigs and forget about the sow,” said Adam Annegers, senior production manager for Carthage System — Professional Swine Management, Carthage, Illinois. “But attending to the sow in those first 48 hours will help ensure a successful lactation.” What she needs most is to get started on feed and water.

The immediate impacts on nursing piglets are obvious, but there are longer-term benefits for the pigs, workers and farm as well. Annegers, who oversees 65,000 sows and more than 100 employees, noted that, “You will save time and labor dealing with fall-behind pigs, poor-milking sows and related complications later.”

Ensuring a successful lactation reduces pre-weaning mortality and improves weaning weight, which sets up piglets for a more productive growth phase. The sow benefits in terms of health and well-being through maintaining proper body condition. This further translates to improvements in culling and mortality rates, as well as better wean-to-service interval, conception rate, farrowing rate and total born in subsequent litters.

“If you take a little time and get the sow started right, she’ll do the job for you,” he said.

The good news is that attending to the post-farrow sow doesn’t necessarily mean adding complicated tasks; rather it’s about identifying and acting on sows that may be in trouble.  Annegers outlined how he has caregivers approach the task.

Here’s what to look for:

  • First, he emphasized that if a sow does not defecate and urinate “it will not survive.” Look behind the sow; is the floor dry? He offers this tip: Sprinkle some piglet drying powder behind the sow. If it remains there, she’s not urinating and is not doing well.
  • Look for new manure. You should plan to keep it scraped away for the piglets, but make note of the activity for the sow’s sake too.
  • How is the sow lying? For example, if her head is under the feeder, “she’s not feeling right and wants to be left alone,” he said. How does the sow respond to humans and pigs?
  • A flat stomach is a sign that the sow isn’t eating or drinking, and a flat underline tells you that she’s not producing milk. “For the underline, you should be able to see individual cups of milk,” he noted.
  • Look at the piglets; if they’re nursing but don’t have full bellies then the sow is not producing enough milk for the litter.

Here’s what to do:

  • Get the sow up and out of the farrowing stall. Walk her around the room at her own pace.
  • After a bit, most sows will defecate and urinate. “This will get her system working again; if not, there are other problems to address,” Annegers said.
  • When returning the sow to the stall, let her “talk” to her piglets. “Give her a minute or two,” he added. “This will remind her what her job is.”
  • Record the following information on the sow care card:
    • The date the sow walked, and whether she defecated and/or urinated.
    • Who walked the sow.
    • Her body temperature.
  • Other items that you could add to the record are whether she ate and/or drank when she returned to the stall. Also, the color or smell of the sow’s urine. If it’s dark yellow or has a strong smell, it signals that the sow is not drinking water.
  • Be sure to continue to watch her for the next day or two.

“Upon returning to her stall, you want to see the sow put her head in the feeder and drink some water,” Annegers said. “Often these few steps are all she will need, and you’ll see her milk come in.”