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RADA DIARIES: How to care for the piglet

Published:Thursday | March 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Good-quality piglets start with selecting animals of good genetic stock for breeding. The average gestation period (pregnancy) of a pig is 114 days, during which the farmer must ensure that the sow is properly fed, de-wormed and housed in a sanitary environment. The sow should be cleaned and moved to a farrowing pen at least four to five days before the due date. The udder should be checked for lumps and the area cleaned daily to prevent the introduction of any disease when the piglets are born. Pigs may suffer from constipation, but this can be overcome by the addition of fibre to their diet.

Farrowing (birthing)

On the day of farrowing it is important for the farmer to be present. Pre-weaning death loss occurs in the first 72 hours after birth. Piglets are born with a body temperature of 102-104F, but they lose body heat rapidly. It is very important that newborns are dry, warm and free from draft.

Piglets are born one in every half hour. If the period lasts for more than an hour, veterinary assistance should be sought. The farmer should ensure that all piglets are feeding as colostrum, which contains important antibodies for the piglets will be passed on from the mother to the piglet. Remove larger piglets, after they have fed to ensure the weaker ones get a chance to feed. Pigs will weigh between 1-2 kg at birth.

After farrowing

Navel care: The navel of the piglet should be sanitised through the use of iodine solution, to prevent the entry of bacteria. The navel should also be cut within a few days after birth, to a length of approximately 2 cm.

Iron: Piglets are born with a limited supply of iron, which can lead to anaemia resulting in poor appetite and growth. An iron supplement should be administered as soon as possible after birth. This is administered orally or through an injection in the muscle in the neck (1cc of iron supplement to be repeated after 10 days). Be careful not to give an overdose of iron, which may induce shock.

Teeth clipping and tail-docking

When the piglets are born, they have eight sharp needle-like teeth. These should be clipped to prevent biting and scratching of the sow's teat and prevent injuries among piglets fighting over teats. This can be done within 24 hours after birth. Be careful not to crush the teeth or cut the gums. Only the tips of the teeth should be removed. At this time, tails can also be docked. Leave a stub on the tail about 1cm long. Tail-docking is best done when the pigs are one day old.

Castration

Male pigs which will be sold for the commercial market should be castrated at least one week after birth. This should be done quickly, utilising instruments that have been properly sanitised. Castration prevents the tainting of meat with the boar smell which affects the meat, limiting its acceptability by consumers. If weaned pigs are to be castrated, veterinary assistance should be sought where a local anaesthetic will be applied.

Identification

As part of good record keeping, pigs can be marked by ear notching, ear tattoos, ear tags or other methods of permanent identification. This activity should be carried out soon after birth to reduce stress to the animals. Proper hygienic practices must be observed to prevent infection at the site of identification.

Vaccination

Piglets should be vaccinated against swine Erysipelas at least four weeks after birth and again at six weeks. Swine Erysipelas is in an infectious disease which may cause sudden death, fever, arthritis, and skin lesions.

Feeding

One week after birth, piglets may be introduced to creep feed. This can be purchased at farm stores or can be made by the farmer. It should be noted, however, that if feed is mixed on the farm, it should be a high-energy palatable mixture that meets the pig's nutrient needs. Pigs can be weaned at six to eight weeks at which time feed should be introduced gradually. Provide vitamins and minerals in water and medication as prescribed by a vet, to prevent diarrhoea.

- Contributed by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority