Suckling

Sow and piglet suckling behavior:

  • Before standing and lying down the sow and piglets co-ordinate their behavior to avoid crushing
  • Ritual of sow rooting through the nest to disturb the piglets and nudge out of the way
  • Preparing to suckle the piglets group on one side of sow, sow lays her hindquarters on the other side of group
  • If piglet laid upon, it will squeal loudly and the sow will instantly adjust her position
  • The main danger period for crushing is within the first 3 days of birth

Key learning:

A sow is careful when lying down to avoid crushing her piglets. Good pig raising systems will ensure the sow has sufficient space to move and lie down without inadvertently crushing her piglets. 

The sow and her piglets

After farrowing there is a gradual movement away from the nest site. 

  • 1-2 days after farrowing the sow will leave nest for short periods
  • A couple of days later she will encourage the piglets to follow her
  • They remain very close
  • After 1 week the piglets become more independent.
  • During this period the sow can become very protective and attack intruders
  • Sow and litter will finally leave the nest between 7-14 days and return to family group

Key learning:

Sows take great care to raise their young piglets in a safe protective environment where the piglets can gradually build up their strength. She is naturally highly protective of them. Good pig raising systems ensure sows can farrow and raise their piglets initially in 'safe' pens and that a good relationship between sow and keeper have been established so that the sow is not alarmed by keeper presence in the vicinity of piglets. 

Weaning onto solid food and socialisation

  • Piglets start sampling solid foods after 3 weeks
  • After a few weeks sows and their litters regroup and tend offspring together
  • Social interaction between litters of pigs
  • Within groups of sows, nursing behavior by sows tends to be synchronised (piglets suckle at the same time)
  • Piglets gradually weaned between 13-17 weeks
  • They remain in family group until following year when sow is due to farrow again
  • She will chase away her offspring
  • Daughters may return to family group once they begin reforming

Key learning:

A sow will naturally want to rejoin the family group with her litter within 1-2 weeks of giving birth. Good pig raising systems will have open family group pens that allow this natural behavior.

Piglets start sampling solid food early and naturally through investigating their environemnt and the food the sow eats. It's a gradual process. Good pig raising systems encourage this process rather than suddenly taking the piglets from the sow (and her milk) and feeding them only solids from that stage on.

Weaning naturally starts at 3 weeks although the process is gradual and can take as long as 13-17 weeks for piglet to be fully weaned. Good pig raising systems will not overly shorten the natural weaning process timescale.

Summary

That concludes our very brief look at some of the key natural behavior features of pigs. By designing both our pig operation and environment around these natural pig needs, natural pig farming aims to accommodate these behaviors in the belief that it contributed to the pigs sense of well-being and welfare. We believe that in doing so we give our pigs a life worth living whilst at the same time enabling us to raise low cost, high welfare pork. See natural pig farming in practice to learn more on how we incorporate pig friendly features to our pig raising system. But don't forget to look at the two remaining pages on background to natural pig farming first.

Why Natural Pig Farming?   Who is Natural Farming for?

 

The better way to raise pigs