piglet and sow health; sows; health

Pork production: Dr. Mary-Louise talks about keeping piglets and sows healthy

Piglet and sow health will be key to your pig farming operation. Here are some basic signs to look out for.

Check that the head, body and limbs of the piglets are all a normal shape. Healthy piglets move after they’ve been born. They struggle to free themselves from the birth membranes and getting to the sow’s teats.

You can help by removing the membrane, but never break or cut the umbilical cord; it will break by itself when the blood flow cuts off.


Don’t waste time on deformed piglets which won’t survive. Unhealthy piglets may show little to no movement and lie to one side, shivering.

If the piglet tries to get up and the back legs slide out, it has a problem called splay-leg. Help this piglet to a teat where it can suckle. It may get stronger and start walking normally.

Sick piglets usually make no attempt to suckle, hardly move after birth and soon die. They may look redder than the other piglets, or they may seem to be in some form of seizure, but often they don’t seem that different from their litter mates except for a lack of mobility and energy.

Remember though, that the last piglets to be delivered may be weaker because they could have been a little short of oxygen. They will thrive but might need a little help at the start. If they suckle and fill up with milk, they will pick up quickly.


The first seven days in a piglet’s life are the most critical. Make sure they are warm and well-fed first. Then look out for signs of diarrhoea, not wanting to suckle, and breathing problems.

Keep the area clean with plenty of straw or wood shavings. Decent bedding helps with piglet health. Wash the sow’s udder before the piglets are born and disinfect the navel and feet with iodine after birth to protect against disease.


Signs of disease in older pigs include diarrhoea, lameness, coughing or breathing problems, pus discharges from the vagina, swellings or wounds under the skin.

The coat should be shiny and healthy – a dull, matted coat is a sign of illness in any pig – and the pig should be in good condition with no bones visible under the skin.

There are diseases that can only be seen after slaughter. Unfortunately some of them (tapeworm cysts in the muscles, tuberculosis, ‘milk spots’ caused by roundworms in the liver), can mean that the carcass (or part of it) is condemned.


Constant, attentive scanning is one of the farmer’s greatest management tools. Habitually cast your eye over the animals and you will soon start to notice small differences or changes in condition, behaviour, movement and so on.

You can’t get this aspect of stockmanship right unless you practice it. But once you make the breakthrough you’ll never look back. It is a seriously rewarding skill to have with hugely positive outcomes.

Proactively maintaining health, and saving lives, affects your bottom line. One live, healthy pig can make all the difference to your profit.

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