Caring for a Pregnant Pig

Photo of pregnant pig eating grass

Whether you have a couple of sows in your backyard or operate a large-scale commercial operation, you know that every healthy, productive pig starts with a healthy, productive sow. Providing your sows the care they need is not only essential for their well-being, but also their longevity, number of piglets weaned, piglet health, and the farm’s overall success and profitability.

When raising pigs and caring for sows, here are some important things to keep in mind:

Sows gestation length is roughly around 114 days. (An easy way to remember this is, it is about 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days). This means the farm will be breeding these girls about two and a half times per year. Depending on the breed and other conditions, litter size can be between 6 to 16 piglets.

Sow Management

Pregnant, otherwise known as gestating, sows do best in a highly regulated environment. This means temperature and ventilation are checked daily. Providing proper air flow and ideal temperatures can avoid heat stress or chill, which allows the sows to stay comfortable and put that energy into growing their piglets. Sows are similar to people in that they prefer temperatures around 65-70°F. Housing sows in a barn too hot or too cold will affect feed consumption and result in poor performance. During this current summer heat, if you are unable to maintain the barn temperature below 80°F, keeping sows well ventilated with fans, allowing sows to eat when times of the day are cooler, and providing a source of cool, fresh water at all times can help combat some of these negative effects.

Sows need a special place to farrow (give birth). Some farmers will use a farrowing crate, while other farmers will let their sow farrow in an open pen with one corner blocked off for the piglets. This allows the piglets to have their own space and have protection from being stepped on by the sow. Most farmers lean towards farrowing their sow in farrowing crates because the risk of the piglets getting stepped on and mortality of it is slightly lower.

Some signs your sow will display if she is in the starting stages of labor is: restlessness, heavier breathing, swollen vulva, and shivering. It’s very normal for your sow to start to shiver. This generally will happen right before the first piglet is born.

Once your sow is in active labor, it can take her up to 6 hours to finish giving birth. Normally, once the sow goes into labor, the piglets are born pretty quickly, one after the other. If it goes past 15 minutes since the last piglet and there has been no afterbirth signaling she is finished, it could mean there is a complication that she may need help with. This can often times happen if a piglet is stuck in the birth canal. If possible, the farmer should be present while the sow is in labor to help with the piglets and assist the sow in a timely manner. In order to keep the piglets warm, it can be helpful to wipe down the piglets with a towel or use a drying powder before putting them on the sow to nurse.

Sow Nutrition

What and how you feed your sows are some of the most important things to keep in mind when considering their health, performance, and longevity in your herd. It can be the first line of defense in helping them live and perform to their best ability. Aspects such as proper amino acid levels, elevated B vitamins, and proper mineral ratios and types (calcium and phosphorus for example) ensure the sows are getting what they need for their bodies while providing everything they need to grow the healthiest pigs.

Again, it’s not only what you feed, but how you feed your sow that is critically important. Paying close attention to your sow’s body condition throughout the entire length of the gestation period is very crucial in order to avoid a common mistake of over-feeding. A fat sow in gestation will not only perform poorly during lactation, but can also result in more difficult breeding next time, and will produce more manure in exchange for your money!

Gestation Feeding

A typical daily feed intake for gestating sows will go up to 4 to 6 pounds of feed per day. To help determine if you are feeding the correct amount, check your sow’s body condition to determine feed amounts.

A body condition score of a pig and sow can be described on a 5-point scale listed here:

  • 1 means the pig is emaciated and can see the hips and backbone
  • 2 means thin and you can feel the hips and backbone without applying any pressure
  • 3 is ideal. It means the hip and backbone can be felt by applying firm pressure
  • 4 means fat where the hips and backbone cannot be felt
  • 5 means obese and the hips and backbone cannot be felt at all even with firm pressure

time lapse of gestation for pigs

Throughout gestation, setting a schedule to check each sow’s body condition score will help you consistently monitor your animals and make feed adjustments in a timely manner. Ideally this schedule would be at least three points in gestation (ex. placement, day 30, day 90 of gestation). Checking on a consistent timeline can help train your eye and avoid any knee jerk reactions when adjusting feeders. If adjustments are necessary, making small adjustments are appropriate in order to avoid creating more issues. In addition to using the eye test for body condition scoring, you can use tools like a sow caliper or a back-fat meter which are pictured below to confirm what you are seeing. Tools like this can help you get to know your herd and train your eye to the proper feeding adjustments to reach optimal performance.

Sow Caliper

sow caliper

Backfat Meter

backfat meter

Lactation Feeding

Typically, a sow will be moved a few days prior to giving birth to the area where they will farrow and nurse their piglets. They will most often be switched at this time to a lactation diet, which should be higher in energy and nutrients like protein, more specifically essential amino acids such as lysine, to meet their increased demands of milk production.

Once a sow has farrowed and is raising piglets, providing that sow with clean and fresh food at all times will ensure she can eat whenever she is hungry. No matter the body condition of sows at this stage, providing ad libitum feed is important to ensure she is able to provide everything her piglets need at during this time. Piglets will often stay with the sow for 21 to 28 days before they are weaned, though this may be longer if sows and pigs continue living together, i.e. pigs are not moved to other locations or pens. At this time, the sow can be fed gestation or lactation feed until she is bred 4 to 7 days later and switched back to gestation feed and body condition is monitored. Sows should always have fresh, clean water 24/7. If given water by a bucket, it should be changed at every feeding.

Here at Kalmbach Feeds, we understand every farm and sow herd is a little different. That is why we offer a wide variety of complete feeds, premixes, and ingredients specially formulated to fit your sow’s needs to help them reach their optimal performance no matter your set up, preferences, or restrictions. We want to help set up your entire operation for success and a big step in that direction is taking care of your sow’s needs. If you have any questions, or when looking for feed specifically formulated for sows and their unique needs either in gestation, lactation, or both, look to our website.


Julie Salyer

Hi there, my name is Julie, and I am on the Swine Nutrition team here at Kalmbach Feeds®. A few things about me: I’m a wife, mom, and I haven’t met a pig I don’t like. Much of my adult life has been spent surrounded by pigs and learning as much as I can about them. While a lot of that time has been with commercial pigs, my first experience was with a miniature pig when I was about 6 years old.