Well, it’s that time of year again…time for new life on the farm! It’s probably my favorite part of the year in regards to the farm. Spring is close enough you can feel it, the grass is beginning to grow again, there are a few blooms on plants and trees, and best of all…baby animals! We had a Jersey bull calf born this year, and we’ve already had two Kunekune litters arrive! It’s just an exciting time of year! Even our family is getting in on all this newness…we have baby number 7 due to arrive any day now! We’ve all got bets going on whether it’s a boy or a girl, what color hair—if any—he or she will have, and even what day will be “the day.” So this year, the excitement of new life is both inside and outside our farmhouse!
But all of this joy of new life has me thinking that it would be a good idea to give some of my best pointers for Kunekune farrowing. We’ve had a lot of hard lessons learned, and lost piglets along the way as we made our adjustments. So hopefully, this can be one of those lessons learned by someone else’s mistakes for you!
1. Probably my biggest suggestion for avoiding piglet loss is this: Time your breeding schedule so that the piglets are born AFTER any threat of cold weather. For our area in North Alabama, the ideal time for farrowing is sometime during the months of April through September. Now, sometimes you’ll wake up and find a boar has miraculously made it into your girls’ paddock, and you may not have any control over when the litter arrives, but if you can avoid having piglets born in the winter months, you will avoid so much potential heartache!
*Piglets are born without any fat to speak of, so they depend on the body warmth of the other piglets or their momma to stay warm. This is risky because of the likelihood of getting crushed.
2. Piglets will also burrow into hay for warmth, and when they do, momma pig doesn’t realize it. She will lay on her bedding and crush them without even knowing it. So this leads me to my second suggestion. Where you will have piglets being born (or living for their first few weeks of life) have bedding other than hay! We use pine straw, but another good option is wood shavings. I suggest this, no matter what season the piglets are born in. This is because hay gets intertwined and tangled together and becomes very difficult for a piglet to escape quickly, if needed. Pine straw and wood shavings, on the other hand, do not. It’s so much easier for a piglet to maneuver his way around in these bedding options, which is critical in the first few weeks of life.
3. Have a farrowing area that provides a wind break. Again, this is most important in the winter/rainy months. Piglets are so fragile that, even under a heat lamp, if they have cold air—or worse, cold rain being blown in on them, they stand a good chance of dying. Whatever your set up is, ensure that there is an area that will stay dry and can be kept out of direct wind gusts.
4. Have a farrowing area that keeps momma and piglets securely separated from the rest of the herd. This is most important for the first month of the piglets’ lives. After that, it’s not as risky to let them out, although I know many people who don’t feel comfortable exposing their piglets to the herd until much later. This is really a matter of how large your herd is, and the overall setup of your farm. For example, if everyone has ample space to free range in an uncrowded pasture, it’s much less risky than the scenario where you have several adults in a small fenced in area where food and space are competitively sought after.
5. To keep piglets securely in their designated farrowing stalls, I would suggest running a solid wooden border (or something equivalent) along the bottom that is about 8”-12” high. This will ensure that the piglets can’t escape under or above the border of the farrowing area, keeping them where you want them.