What’s not to love about the spring time? The early hours of the day are still brisk enough that you get a gentle but ever so direct sensation when your face hits that early morning air, before the sun rises all the way. The days are warm enough for flip flops and T-shirts. Flowers are blooming. The pastures are green again. And best of all…newborn farm animals are popping up everywhere! At least, that’s the way we like it, anyway. It only took a single season of winter farrowings for me to realize I never wanted to go through that again! I refer to that winter as “the winter of death” on the farm. It was horrible.
Now, I’m not saying that winter farrowings always have to be dreaded and avoided. Had we been better prepared, and had better knowledge, it may have been known as “the winter of mishaps” instead. But we weren’t, and it wasn’t. Before this article is over, I will definitely leave you with a few suggestions, if you find yourself with a pregnant sow that is due to farrow in the middle of January, so that hopefully all will turn out well. But let me encourage you, if it is at all possible for you to control your breeding and farrowing seasons, plan to begin having your piglets after the nighttime temperatures begin being in the upper 40’s to low 50’s. It will save you a lot of work and potential heartache!
The gestation period for Kunekunes is 116 days. I love that, if I can keep up with their heat cycles, and even observe the breedings (which isn’t as hard as you might think, specifically if you have several boars running with all of your girls…when one of them is in heat, it’s hard to miss because no matter where she goes, she’ll have an entourage of all boars surrounding her), then I can know when to expect baby piglets. It sure helps in the preparation process. And here’s how we handle getting reading for piglets:
1. We keep our sows and boars separated from July 15 through December 15. This serves two purposes. First of all, if your pigs all run together, all the time, they may not be as eager to breed. This means less litters. If you separate them at all, then when you reintroduce them, eagerness to breed…eh…won’t be an issue. Secondly, it allows us to ensure that we don’t have piglets until the temperatures are ideal for our region. Your time blocks may be different, depending on where you live.
2. We keep record of each sows heat cycle, as best we can. The heat cycle of a Kunekune is somewhere between 18 and 21 days. Most of my girls are every 19 days, like clock work. When we notice that a girl has missed a heat cycle, we will then use a Renco Preg-Tone II Plus to try and confirm a pregnancy. This device is wonderful and works fabulously on sows. It’s harder to get a reading on gilts who are pregnant with their first litter, however. On the product website, the company says that the Preg-Tone II plus can detect pregnancy as early as 18 days into the gestation period. Click here to watch my video on how to use it!
3. Once we confirm that a girl is pregnant, we move her to a separate paddock, which we keep designated for pregnant sows and young piglets only. Within this paddock we have several farrowing pens. Each pen has its own piglet-proof border, as well as a small shelter, feeding bowl and watering bowl.
4. When a sow is about 2 weeks away from farrowing, we move her from the open paddock and place her in one of the farrowing pens. This is when we are extra diligent about feeding her twice a day and keeping an eye on her overall health. There is no hay, pine straw, or bedding of any sort in the farrowing pens. The warm weather means that we don’t need it, and so it’s one less potential health risk for future piglets (read on to understand why)
5. In the days right after the piglets are born, we keep an eye on them and the momma. Every once in a while you may find a piglet that isn’t going to make it, for one reason or another. But for the most part, Kunekunes are wonderful mothers and have problem-free deliveries. We send off hair samples for registration after the piglets are about 2 weeks old. Until this age, they are just so fragile and anything can happen. Once they pass the 2 week mark, survival rate is so much higher, and it’s not nearly as worrisome to spend the money on getting them registered.
6. We keep the piglets and their momma in their own farrowing pen until the piglets reach weaning age, anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. After this, we return momma to the main pasture with the boars and open girls, and leave the piglets in the open paddock area where the other pregnant sows are (unless it’s after July 15…then we leave both momma and piglets in the sow paddock.)
So those are the basics of how we handle our farrowing seasons and pregnant sows. Now, like I promised at the beginning of this article — here are some suggestions for how to handle cold-weather farrowings:
*Have a rain/snow-proof shelter. Be sure there are no leaks if at all possible, especially where the sow has made her nest, and also where the heat lamps are located. If cold rain is dripping on and around the piglets, they will freeze. If water leaks onto your heat lamps, the bulbs will bust in the middle of the night, and the piglets will freeze.
*For bedding, do not use hay. Use pine straw instead. During the winter, both momma and the piglets are looking to stay warm, and they will make use of whatever bedding is available. Hay gets tangled up and matted. This means that a piglet can burrow into it very easily, but can’t get out of it in a hurry. So if momma wants to get warm in the hay, she will crush the piglets that are burrowed in it. If you use pine straw, which doesn’t get tangled and matted, it may not always prevent an accidental crushing, but it will help because at least the piglets can maneuver their way out much more easily.
*Do not overheat the farrowing area. For example, aiming multiple heat lamps in too much of the same direction will cause the area to be too hot, and neither the momma, nor the piglets will sleep under it. This, too, will cause the piglets to freeze.