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A sow sleeping head to head with her piglets.
Every animal knows more than you do. -Native American Proverb  


Due Date & Nesting

Farrowing is the term for when a pig gives birth. A few days before she is ready to farrow, a sow separates from her group, and becomes more aggressive, even toward close friends and offspring from previous litters. This probably increases the survival chances of her new litter.

A sow and her piglets in a traditional farrowing crate.
(before remodel) Traditional Farrowing Stall
A sow in a combi-pen.
(after remodel) Combi Farrowing Pen
Some piglets next to their mom's much larger head.   Newborn piglets under a heat lamp.
Piglets weigh less than 1/100th of their mom's weight.   The pens have mats and heating lamps for newborns.
Labor-intensive animal husbandry   A combi-pen in the closed position.
Piglets spend their early days sleeping and nursing.   At first, the pen is narrowed to protect fragile newborns.
Piglets moving between the fingers of the gate.   A sow at her feeder in a farrowing pen, while her piglets play with the straw.
The pens are designed to help piglets get out from underfoot.   After a few days the pen is opened so there's more room.

All predators of pigs are opportunistic and prefer to prey on piglets. There are few predators that would attack a pig larger than 40 pounds (2-3 months old in a domestic setting). In regions to which they are indigenous, wild boars are important prey for large cats, wolves, hyenas, pythons, bears, crocodiles, and large birds of prey. For example, they make up 80% of the diet of Siberian Tigers, which are known to track them for a longer distance than any other prey, and pick them off one by one.

The sow spends a long time looking for a good place to give birth and builds a nest by digging out a hollow in the earth, lining it with grass, leaves and twigs, and constructing a screen of large branches to form the sides and an overhead bower.

Because sows have this instinct for seclusion, Truebridge barns have specially designed maternity wings, called farrowing rooms. Pregnant sows are moved from the main herd, to these rooms, just before their due date, and given individual farrowing pens to share only with their piglets.

Birth & Nursing

A young sow weighs around 300 lbs., and a mature sow closer to 500, whereas a newborn piglet weighs around 3-4 lbs. Wild and feral pigs tend to be smaller, but the size difference is still significant. So, piglets are 1/100th the size of their mothers. Thus, birth is relatively fast and easy for pigs. Every breed is different, but Truebridge sows usually give birth to from 9 to 14 piglets.

Despite their small size, newborn piglets are very active, and able to stand within a few minutes of birth. The piglets go up to their mother's snout to sniff her, but she doesn't lick them or help them stand, as some other mammals do. The sow spends the first few days mostly inactive, lying on her side and grunting softly to her piglets to encourage suckling. The piglets tend to huddle close to her udder, alternating between suckling and sleeping.

Usually the smaller piglets are born first and last in the sequence, while the larger piglets are born in the middle. It is important that piglets nurse during the first 24 hours, because during this period the milk contains extra antibodies to boost immunity. A newborn piglet samples the sow's 14 teats before attaching to one that s/he will vigorously defend for the entire nursing period. The larger piglets will select the more productive anterior teats, giving them better odds of survival. Not only do they put on weight faster, but the greater concentration of sialic acid in the milk of these teats leads to better brain development, and smarter pigs. (Duroc pigs have been shown to be smarter than other breeds, such as Hampshires!) Newborn pigs begin forming social dominance relationships within a few hours, quickly establishing a stable hierarchy.

When food for the sow is plentiful, all the piglets will get enough milk. This is particularly important when pigs are raised without the use of antibiotics, to make sure both the piglets and sows stay robust with well-supported immune systems. Truebridge farrowing pens give the sow convenient access to as much food as she wants. In fact, their feeders have a really unusual design. A ledge placed above the bowl is automatically filled with feed. With her dextrous snout, a sow can push as much feed as she desires into the bowl below. Then, she can use the water spigot directly above the bowl, to add as much moisture as she likes, creating an oatmeal-like gruel. Peeking into the bowls, you can see a diversity of mixtures, from crunchy granola to watery soup, displaying how different the individual preferences of a sow can be.

Early Days & The Combi-Pen

A sow teaches her piglets more than just basic survival skills and foraging. It has been demonstrated that she teaches them complex social behavior, like how to cooperate with others. Before rising or lying down, the sow and piglets carefully coordinate their movements, to avoid injury. The sow will root through the nest to disturb the piglets and nudge them out of the way, and the piglets will stand together on one side.

Truebridge farrowing pens have a unique "combi-pen" design that allows them to transition from a more confined configuration to a more open one. The word "combi" refers to the fact that the pen has two configurations.

The pen is in the "closed" configuration for a few days, while the sows are farrowing (giving birth) and until nursing order is established. Even in the wild, sows are largely inactive during this period. In this configuration, the sow's portion of the pen is temporarily narrowed to a burrow-like shape, with hinged sides that flex outward. This unusual piece of engineering makes it easy for the sow to stand when she needs to eat, but helps her ease slowly back into a recumbent position without accidentally flopping onto her still slow-moving newborn piglets. As most of the pen is closed off to her, but open to the piglets, it's easy for them to toddle out of range. Heating lamps and mats are placed in this perimeter, providing a warm comfortable spot for weaker or very-new piglets to rest until they're sturdier on their legs.

In nature, a sow starts moving around more after a few days, even encouraging the piglets to leave the nest with her. At this stage, the combi-pens are opened to their second configuration. The sides of the pen are slanted outward, to provide the sow a large triangular space in which to move around and interact with her piglets. Wild boar burrows are usually dug on an incline, so that when a sow stands, her piglets can all run down towards the back, out of her way, but still in a safe position. Similarly, the opened combi-pens still maintain piglet-only alleys at the back and along the sides. When their mother is changing positions, the piglets can effortlessly slip through the gaps to this perimeter.

Wild sows rejoin their social group after around 3 weeks, where they continue to raise their offspring together, synchronizing their nursing behavior. The piglets begin eating solid food at this point, but aren't fully weaned until 13-17 weeks. Piglets remain with their mothers until they are chased away prior to the subsequent farrowing season, when she departs to build her nest. (Frequently, daughters return to their mother's social group once it reforms.)

Truebridge piglets begin to sample highly nutritious pellets about 2 weeks after they are born. This helps them transition to solid food and takes some of the burden off the sows, as they are growing fast at this point, and require a lot of nutrients. The piglets are weaned completely after 4-6 weeks and moved, with their siblings, to the growing pig area. Their mothers rejoin their friends in the main herd, just like their wild counterparts, and prepare to repeat the cycle.

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