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The Basics of Breeding and Farrowing Pigs

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

What You Should Know About Breeding and Farrowing Pigs

Before you get into breeding pigs, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with several things including:

  • The importance and process of body condition scoring

  • The factors that go into creating a breeding schedule

  • Gestation length of pigs

  • Nutrition needs for lactating and gestating pigs

  • How to care for sows and piglets after farrowing

What To Do Before Breeding Pigs

#1 Check the Sow’s Body Condition Score

Sows need to be in a good body condition score (BCS) before breeding. The best way to check the body condition score is to use a caliper.

A caliper can be purchased online, just make sure that you buy one specifically for sows. Using a caliper can give you a good idea of whether or not you have a very obese pig, an emaciated pig, or a pig with a healthy weight.

You also want to make sure that your sows are not overweight at breeding time. If your sow is overweight at breeding, then your sows will eat less when gestating. This is because the gestation process takes their energy away from them.

Instead of relying on food for an energy source, they will simply use their fat reserves. That is not a complete nutrient dense diet for the piglets that are being developed.

That's part of the reason why it's so important that you make sure that they are at a nice BCS of 3 (on a scale of 1-5) before they're bred.

You want to make sure that they are right in the middle of the BCS range because this actually allows the sows to have more of an appetite. A sow with a bigger appetite will be consuming more minerals and nutrients from formulated feed that allows for the piglets to develop well and for the sow not to drop down in condition.

#2 Heat Check to Determine Pig Breeding Date

Heat checking is basically just figuring out when your sow or gilt is entering the estrous cycle. Some signs that you might see with the beginning of the estrous cycle are:

  • Swollen vulva

  • Secretions from vulva

  • Flush/Red Vulva

When you have determined that your gilt or sow is in heat, keep track of that date. Write down the signs that you observed in a notebook along with the date and the identification number or name of the sow.

Pigs generally go into their estrous cycles every 21 days. Some are a little earlier… Some are a little later, but normally around 21 days is about right. You can plan the date of the next estrous cycle and the next breeding opportunity by looking at that.

#3 Create a Pig Breeding Schedule

Create your breeding schedule around the pigs’ heat cycles (every 21 days) and the typical pig gestation length (3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days). Plan intentionally so the sows aren't giving birth in the dead of winter or the extreme heat of summer especially if your pigs farrow outside.

Pig Breeding and Gestation

Should You Bring Boar to Sow or Sow to Boar?

One of the big questions when breeding pigs is should you move the sow into the boar’s pen or bring the herd boar to the sows. This really comes down to personal preference.

I've talked to a lot of different farmers and it seems that most prefer bringing the boar(s) to the herd of sows and then moving the boar(s) away after breeding… But, I've also heard of other operations that say they prefer bringing the sow(s) to the boar(s).

It can work both ways. You can experiment with both options to see what you like and what you don't like. From there, you can make a final decision that works for your farm.

Pig Gestation Period

A little fun fact about pigs is that their gestation period is actually fairly short. That's what makes pigs an amazing type of livestock to raise because they have a really quick turnaround on profitability… Unlike cows and sheep.

It takes pigs three months, three weeks, three days from breeding to farrowing. Farrowing is basically the activity of giving birth to piglets. Thankfully it’s not that hard to remember: three, three, and three. Seriously, you can't get more divine than that.

Feeding During Gestation and Lactation

When your sows are gestating and lactating, you need to make sure that they are eating well. Sows have been shown to eat more calories than an Olympic runner, and they produce more milk per kilogram than dairy cows.

You will need to offer a consistent well-rounded diet to your sows during gestation and lactation. They need to eat a lot so, as we mentioned earlier, it is important for each sow to have a healthy appetite.

While they are gestating, you will want to evaluate the feed formulation every 30 days. Take time once a month to check in to see how they're doing and if anything needs to be changed. You might need to add more fiber or calories. Formulating feed for a gestating and/or lactating sow is not a one and done task, but it evolves as time goes on.

The sows need to be fed somewhere between three to four pounds of feed for every 100 pounds that the pig weighs during lactation. This is because the sows are eating for themselves and for the piglets that get their nourishment from her milk.

Pig Farrowing

Separate the Sows

When it is time for the sows to farrow, you need to separate them from the rest of the herd, if possible. Separating allows you to monitor each sow better and to keep other pigs from interfering. Some sows also don’t like being around other pigs when they are farrowing so this can give them the space that they need to stay happy and healthy.

Keep the Sows and Piglets Warm

I also recommend providing generous amounts of hay and straw for your sows, whether it's outdoors or indoors, during farrowing. The reason why is because you want to make sure that they're as warm as possible.

Do not be cheap and don't skimp out on their comfort. By making sure that your sows are warm you are also keeping the piglets warm. This can bring down the piglet mortality rate and that's a blessing at the end of the day.

Observe the Sow’s Behavior Post-Farrowing

Keep an eye out for sows eating their young just after farrowing. This can be an indicator of excess stress, a nutrition deficit, or a deformation in the piglet.

When to Breed Back Pigs

After you have weaned the piglets from the sow, she is now available for being bred again.

She will actually go into estrous within three to seven days after weaning. I don't recommend breeding the sow to a boar directly after weaning. I recommend giving the sow at least one month to just get her body back into shape.

The sows are usually a little on the leaner side after weaning because they had piglets suckling on them and stealing their bodily resources. Because of this, it is important to allow the sow to recover back to a body condition score of three.

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