Maintaining the health of sows and baby pigs is priority one in the farrowing room. But it’s not a one-person job, you need to include others beyond your veterinarian, such as your manager, employees and nutritionist.

On many operations, the health of the sows and litters is compromised because the environment is substandard, according to John Carr, DVM, IowaStateUniversity.

He outlines a few tips that you can use to help ensure that the farrowing-house environment maximizes sow and piglet health opportunities.

To protect piglet health you need to concentrate on two key areas: food and water.

The first task is to check the water source and quality. You should do this at least once a year if not more.

Another task is to examine each drinker. Check for height, type of drinker, position angle, flows from individual drinkers, variability of flow between drinkers and flow when several drinkers are in use.

Carr recommends that the sow nipple drinkers should be placed 30 inches to 36 inches from the ground. Piglet nipple drinkers should be 4 inches from the ground. For sows, each drinker should provide a minimum of 0.5 gallons per minute. For piglets the flow rate should be 1.5 cups per minute.

Next, check the behavior of the sows and the piglets as they use the drinkers. This will indicate whether there are problems.

Observations will uncover a lot. For example, if the farrowing house is equipped with nose drinkers, they aren’t intended to provide water directly to the sow, but rather into the trough. If there is a drainage hole (or rust hole) or if the trough is full of feed, the sow’s water supply can be severely restricted. You need to investigate to know what’s really occurring.

As for the feed supply, Carr recommends that you examine such things as:

  • Evidence of feed waste. Particularly check out the areas where creep feed is being fed.
  • Feeder size. Some feeders can be too small to allow the sow to place her head properly into the feeder. This discourages the sow from eating and can cause injuries.
  • Examine the feeder for wear. Look for holes that allow feed to escape. Also check for sharp edges.
  • Amount and type of feed being fed. This is key to making sure that lactating sows eat appropriately. Again, observation is helpful. 
  • Feed content. This addresses checking for things like dust, whole grains and possible foreign matter.
  • Feed smell or taste. Sows can be finicky and they’re better at identifying off flavors and smells than you think. Things like mycotoxins or feed left to sour in the feeder will push the sow away from eating.
  • Discuss feeder management and feed curves that are currently in place.
  • Collect a sample of feed (more than 0.5 pound) for further analysis in case a problem surfaces or just for periodic reference. If the sample is not going to be immediately examined, put the feed in a paper bag and store it in the freezer.
  • Look for presence of mold, particularly in the corners of the feeders. Evaluate the feeder design and areas where moldy feed may accumulate. If you find maggots in the feed it can indicate when the rotting feed was last checked. Musca domestica eggs hatch in a minimum of 24 hours and become a pupa in 7 days, flies hatch from the pupae within 10 days.
  • Feed-bin management. Check to ensure that feed bin tops and inspection hatches are closed at all times to keep rain out. Check inside the feed bin for areas where feed sticks to the edges or where mold is evident.
  • Feed storage. Pay particular attention to bagged creep feed. Bagged feed should be stored on pallets to reduce rodent infestation. It also should be kept cool.

This guide is a good start to maintaining sow and piglet health. Remember, it takes a continuing commitment on your part and that of your production team.