Breeding Piglets

Discussion in 'Pigs' started by highlands, Nov 19, 2004.

If you keep pigs, do you keep a boar?

  1. No, I buy weaner pigs to raise.

  2. No, I use Artificial Insemination (AI)

  3. No, I borrow/rent a boar

  4. Yes, but he is a pet

  5. Yes, I lease out his services

  6. Yes, I only use him on our farm

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  1. highlands

    highlands Well-Known Member

    Jul 18, 2004
    Mountains of Vermont, Zone 3
    I thought people would find this private email of interest. Reflected to the list with Kathy's (Fainting Ridge Farm) permission:

    ---start included message---

    On Nov 16, 2004, at 10:33 PM, Fainting Ridge Farm wrote:
    Sorry to keep bothering you but I was wondering if you could give me some info on breeding these little guys? Like when will they first go into heat, how long are they pregnant, will we need special accommodations when she delivers, just a few question, lol, sorry, thanks for your time,

    Hi Kathy,

    Some of what is below is from my experience, some from books, some from research papers I've read, some from talking with other farmers...

    Pigs generally reach puberty around 6 months. Boars can breed as early as 5 months if the lady will let him. Gilts, the unbred females, should be bred at about 7 months ideally (see below). They may come into their first heat as early as 5 months.

    It is best to let the gilts go through two or three solid heats (about 21 days apart but it varies a little from sow to sow) before breeding them for the first time to maximize litters and health. You'll know when a female is in heat because her vulva becomes puffy and red, there may be mounting behavior between the sows, she gets more vocal and will stand to be mounted (press on her hips and she arches and stays). They should mate at least twice for the breeding to maximize the number of piglets.

    Interesting side notes: After they have they're first litter they are called sows. Barrows are castrated males as opposed to boars which are uncut. Interestingly, barrows grow 10% faster than gilts. Boars grow 20% faster than gilts and thus about 10% faster than barrows. Cutting sets a barrow back for a few days on it's growth rate, especially if it gets stressed by infection. According to a Brazilian study, intact males (boars) can be kept up to about age 4 months and then castrated (have fun) without getting the boar taint in the fat and meat from the hormones.

    You'll want to separate out your little boar by January 1st (when he's 4 months old) so that the gilts can go through their first couple of heats without breeding. I have read that by doing this you maximize the long term number of piglets, the size of the piglets and the health of the sow since she's a little older when she gets started - no teenage pregnancies. :) Also a slightly older boar will produce more and better quality and a higher quantity of sperm than a very young boar resulting in more eggs getting fertilized. Note that in general it is better if the boar is a bit bigger than the female. Mating can be quite noisy...

    The sow and boar should be in good condition but not overweight. About 1" to 1.25" of back fat is best from what I've read online in research papers. Archie told me that when he got started years ago he fattened his sows up too much before breeding and they delivered fewer piglets. But, too lean and the sows won't produce enough eggs so there is balance.

    Gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days (about 114 days) measured from the date of breeding but it can vary by a week. For the first two months after mating keep their feed ration level as before - changing it can result in fewer embryos implanting. Then give them a couple of pounds extra feed per day for the last month of gestation. This is supposed to maximize the health and count of piglets. Also feed them extra for the nursing period and until they are back in condition after weaning.

    When the sows are ready to farrow (birth) they'll start nesting behavior and their vulva will swell again. Their bellies get a dropped look toward the end. Have plenty of hay on hand (2 opened bales per pig) so they can make a nest. They like a somewhat separate space from the others. On our pasture this works well. If you've got them in barn stalls then you'll want to probably separate them a few weeks before farrowing so they each have their own spaces.

    I keep accommodations very simple, a stall, shed or den about 6'x6'. During the warm weather they'll even build their own out on the pasture in the brush. What ever works. For farrowing in colder weather many people use heat lamps for the piglets.

    If you have them in a pen then there is a trick with putting a batten board around the pen to keep piglets from being squeezed against the wall by the sow. I didn't have any trouble with this, possibly because our sows are not overweight - suggested by another local pig farmer. They also had lots of room. In a tight stall this might be more of an issue.

    Farrowing itself is simple, I let the mothers take care of it by themselves - or rather they don't give me a whole lot of choice since they birth very early in the morning hours. I'm always in bed then. I don't tend to worry a lot about birthing with any of the stock. The animals seem to do fine. I used to do the iodine on the cord and toweling off bit but have found it makes no difference so I just let nature take her course.

    Our sows let me handle the piglets immediately and let our LGDs in with them right away BUT I have read that sows with a fresh litter can be temperamental so be careful. The dogs and I interact with our sows a lot as they are growing up and as adults so they are very familiar with us. When in doubt, give the new mom space and let her alone.

    If you have a sow that has difficult births, savages her young, fails to mother well, doesn't take on breeding, etc then cull her to the freezer. You only want the best lines reproducing over the long haul.

    You can inbreed and line breed in a limited way if you are careful but in the long run you will find someone also has a good similar boar you can swap yours with to increase your gene pool. If you do breed the half-sibs then watch for any abnormalities and cull (castrate/don't breed/raise for pork) to get the problem genes out of your pool. If a sow or boar throws more than a few problem piglets then cull the parent animal too.

    When you do go to breed them, be sure to have the boar and sows on a dirt floor. If they are on a slippery surface they may not be able to mate easily and can even get hurt. One more reason I like our garden corrals. :)

    Archie (the farmer we trade boar services with) was by here this past Sunday and said all the pigs from our last batch (which yours came from) looked great. So much so that he took a sow and two boars to raise up to replace his aging boar. He also told me about someone who had poor looking sows and got them bred by one of Archie's good boars this past Spring. All of the piglets came out skinny (pinch assed he called them) and not of very high quality. You want to start with good parents.

    Speaking of aging and breeding, you won't want to keep a boar too long. After two or two and half years they can be huge (800 lbs) and as they get bigger they may not breed as well. They become too large for gilts and even for experienced sows and they generally just slow down - this is all according to Archie. Also cull any sows or boars with poor temperament - I have a firm rule that nasty things get eaten. Be careful of boars as those hormones can make them feisty and they can bite, so can a sow or any pig for that matter.

    I really like the book "Small Scale Pig Raising" by Dirk Van Loon. It is very helpful. If you don't have a copy of that, get it. Another good book is "Raising Pigs Successfully". They both cover very similar material although there are some differences. Of the two I like the Van Loon book a little better as he goes into the nutrition more. Two other good books I've read over the years are "The Homestead Hog" and "Harris on the Pig" and older book put out by The Lyon Press which publishes a lot of older books that are very interesting reading.

    I'm not putting you off in the slightest by suggesting these book! Email me if you have questions! I love hearing of your adventures and sharing.

    Looking back over what I wrote above I see stuff that others on the discussion lists will find of interest. If you don't mind I would like to reflect this to the lists so other people will benefit too.


    Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mtn Farm
    in Vermont
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    ---end included message---

    2004-11-20 edit: corrected typo of gestation from 144 to 114. Oops! :)
  2. Tango

    Tango Well-Known Member

    Aug 19, 2002
    let my gilts breed themselves when they're ready. I find this helps me see which are good mothers from the earliest possible time and I don't waste any more time with her. At least with wild pigs there is no drawback to early breeding. The sows will eventually grow to their potential anyway.

  3. breezynosacek

    breezynosacek Well-Known Member

    Nov 7, 2003
    I tend to agree on this. I read all of the literature. Then, I'm thinking, hey these pigs have survived wild for centuries and they do just fine and nature culls out the week ones anyway.

    Same thing with cutting their teeth. Who is around to cut a wild boars needle teeth?
  4. tbishop

    tbishop Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2004
    Marcia! Are you the author of the article in Countryside? If so I'm a fan. I'm gonna try to go to Wisconsin to trap some young ones this summer. Anyway, if it's you, will you mind if I ask some more questions about raising wild hogs? Thanks!!!