Pork production: Taking care of piglets

Question: What is the best way to look after piglets before they are weaned? I am afraid that the sow will lie on the piglets and crush them.

Sows overlaying their young is a common cause of death in piglets. Sow crates which restrict the sow’s movements to prevent her from crushing her piglets are used on commercial pig farms. However, because these crates are expensive, and current opinion holds that they are not comfortable for the sows, there are alternatives to consider.

Sows like to lie down by sliding down the pen wall and can easily crush piglets in this process. By fixing a farrowing rail 15cm above the ground, and 10cm from the wall, and attaching it firmly to the wall and the floor, so that it does not give way under the weight of the sow, the piglets will not be crushed if they happen to be against the wall when the sow slides down.


Piglets need a creep area so that they can get away from the sow. Here, in the last 10 days before weaning, place a small quantity of feed where the sow cannot reach it. The creep area could be an upturned box with an opening on one side through which the piglets can go in.

It’s a good idea to fix the box firmly in one corner because some sows don’t like it when they cannot see their piglets. The box should be lined with deep straw or wood shavings. Placing deep bedding in the pen for sow and piglets is generally a good idea.

Bedding keeps the piglets warm, protects them from the sow lying on top of them and gives them something to play with.


Other piglet safety tips include having someone at the birth – not to interfere with the sows who usually manage well – but to help if something goes wrong and to check that all the piglets get onto a teat within an hour of birth.

It’s a good thing to disinfect the navel and the feet of the piglets with iodine after the farrowing. Never break or cut the umbilical cord as it will break naturally when it is ready.

Piglets need warmth because they can’t control their body temperatures. Provide deep bedding and make sure there are no draughts. In cooler weather you may need some heating.


Make sure the piglets are getting milk – they will be calm and sleep well if they are well fed – and ensure that the pen is kept clean by removing solid waste and supplying fresh bedding as needed.

About 10 days before weaning feed small quantities of the ration they will be eating. This will avoid tummy trouble when they are weaned. Piglets living on concrete should have an iron injection in the first week of life, or you can put some red earth in the pen. It is a source of iron and the piglets will eat it if they need it.

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