Friday, 1 September 2017

First steps in motherhood

The 1st of September brings new life to the holding. One hundred and fifteen days after artificially inseminating one of our British Saddleback sows she farrowed during the night remarkably and precisely on schedule. We have produced two litters this year using AI from two different sows. Today's litter was 7 in number (plus 1 still born).

Mum doing what she knows best

Pigs need very little, if any, obstetric intervention being quite self-sufficient giving birth. Of course being in attendance is still helpful. The later born piglets have a long way to travel along the birth canal and might need help to start breathing. It is a good idea to wipe away any membrane and sticky fluid from new born piglets to ensure their airways are clear. Spraying each end of their trailing umbilical chord with iodine is a sensible precaution against infection.

The big concern is the risk of mum lying down and squashing one of her offspring and being on hand in the first few hours can help prevent this. It is also useful to try and ensure each piglet, including the less assertive, suckle and get the all important colostrum. The natural instincts of the sow and of the piglets normally manage the situation well but some oversight can help minimise losses or other potential problems.

It is interesting to observe how the sow adjusts to motherhood in the first few hours. The sow who farrowed during the night was a first time mum. When the first piglet was born she stood up and looked quite puzzled by this small creature that suddenly appeared scampering around her legs. There was a similar reaction when the second piglet shortly followed. Eventually mum realised that the little piglets that kept appearing were something to do with her and the responsibilities of motherhood began to take over. 

New born piglets don't realise at first that it is to their advantage to get right out of the way when mum lies down, although this is something they soon pick up on over the first day or two. Watching mum last night she exhibited typical behaviour. She would stand against the farrowing house wall and gradually slide her back down against the wall giving time for the piglets to be edged out of the away by her vast abdomen. Once down she shuffled over a little more to expose all her teats which the piglets were clamouring to latch on to. The whole movement was done with some delicacy and was accompanied by a distinctive grunting noise which sows reserve for calling their piglets. She will repeat this on a regular basis now as young piglets need frequent feeding.

The piglets are tiny but quickly grow and develop and will be weaned by 8 weeks of age when they will leave the farrowing house for the big wide world outside. By that time mum will be relieved to be independent of them.

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