How and When to Assist Sows During Farrowing
Manually removing piglets from the sow’s birth canal during farrowing, or “sleeving,” is a management practice that both swine industry professionals and the general public view in a positive way. It helps prevent sows from becoming fatigued during farrowing. This should help them maintain the ability to initiate and successfully complete the powerful contractions needed to push piglets out. It also decreases the likelihood that piglets are born weak, hypoxic, or dead due to prolonged transit times through the uterus and cervix.
However, what often is challenging for many employees is determining when to intervene versus when to leave sows alone and “let nature take its course.” Experienced technicians often rely on changes in sow behavior as a guide, provided they can observe sows frequently and be present during the entire farrowing process. This can be difficult to accomplish consistently, especially when there are a large number of sows farrowing over a short period of time.
Because of this, many farms have adopted an established set of guidelines, or standard operating procedures (SOP), with regards to which sows should be checked. While some of the guidelines listed in these SOPs may be farm-specific, there are several aspects that should be universal and fairly easy to implement based on the physiology associated with farrowing.
Several of the SOPs that seem to be the most popular among farrowing barn employees that I have observed during close to 40 years of farm visits are listed below:
1. The average total number of pigs born (live born + stillborn + mummies) for each sow was written in the corner of her farrowing card. This helped employees estimate whether sows were near beginning, middle or end of farrowing.
2. Total number born was circled for any sow that had more than two stillborn pigs in her previous parity or averaged more than two stillborns per litter over all parities. This was done to in attempt to identify potential “problem sows” prior to the start of farrowing with the intention of providing them with more attention.
3. In the morning immediately after arrival, farrowing technicians checked any sows that were in the process of farrowing – piglets but no afterbirth present in the farrowing crate. If any of these sows had stillborns in the farrowing crate or had reached more than 75% of their average total number born, then they were “sleeved” or checked first.
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4. In the afternoon, just before the farrowing technicians left work, they also sleeved any sow that had reached 75% of her total number born alive and had a history of stillborn piglets.