Keys to Successful Farrowing

Your sows are bred and you are patiently waiting for the much anticipated litters to arrive.  Take a minute to imagine your sow farrowing without any complications and a litter of nice fat babies eagerly nursing on the sow.  Imagine selling your litter for great money to some of the best feeders around then imagine them in the show ring winning a banner. 

Successful farrowing healthy litter of pigs

Key 1: Reduce Heat Stress for Successful Farrowing


Hot temperatures and high humidity makes the southwest a harsh environment for bred sows during the summer months. Remember that Pigs Can’t Sweat!  Most mammals transfer internal heat to the environment by sweating and panting.  Pigs lack sweat glands with the exception of their snout therefore they are unable to effectively cool themselves by sweating. Pigs also have relatively small lungs therefore it is harder for them to dissipate a great amount of heat through panting. 


  • Rapid breathing – the normal respiration rate for a resting pig is 15-25 breaths per minute.  In animals beginning to experience heat stress their respiration rate will increase to 40 breaths per minute and in severe cases it may reach 60 breaths per minute.  This increased breathing rate causes the animal to use extra energy and increases stress levels. 
  • Decreased feed consumption – Sows experiencing heat stress may experience a reduced appetite.  Body temperatures increase during digestion of food.  Pigs often drink more and eat less during times of high temperatures and humidity thus resulting in lower weight gain and feed consumption.
  • Increased water consumption – pigs experiencing heat stress may drink up to 6 times the normal amount of water.  In severe cases this may lead to increased urine levels and loss of electrolytes which may in turn result in diarrhea. 
  • Trembling, tightening of muscles, stupor and staggering
  • Aborted Litters and Litter resorption resulting in small litters
  • Death
Pig's nose
Pig with mouth open


Temperatures over 70 °F may cause increased respiration rates, decrease appetite, create fatigue and cause dehydration is sows.  As humidity levels increase along with air temperatures the effects of heat stress skyrockets.   When the air is more humid it can not absorb as much moisture from the  lungs or skin therefore reducing the effectiveness of evaporative cooling.


  • Make sure that sows have access to plenty of cool fresh water.  Check waters daily to make sure that they are working properly.  Remember that they will drink more water when it is hot.  Remember that water flowing through pipes and hoses exposed to the sun will be hot.  Make sure to bury or cover pipes and hoses to ensure that water is cool. 
  • Increase ventilation and airflow – use fans to increase airflow
  • Use misters and sprinklers to cool down sows several times a day or if your sows are on dirt make them a mud hole preferably in the shade.  Moving air helps evaporate the water on the skin of the sow thus cooling them.  When using misters check nozzles daily to make sure that they are working properly.  Just like with drinking water, water flowing through pipes and hoses exposed to the sun will be hot.  Make sure to bury or cover pipes and hoses to ensure that water is cool. 
  • Provide shade – always make sure that your sows have a shady place to lay during the heat of the day.  This not only will reduce the chances of them overheating but it will also prevent sunburns. 
  • Reduce crowding.  Give each sow enough room to dissipate heat without heating up other sows.  If they are touching each other they will transfer heat to one another.   
  • Do not disturb sows during the heat of the day.  This means feeding early in the morning or late at night.  Do not move sows to new pens of farrowing barns during the heat of the day.  Do not mix  sows at all if possible to reduce fighting.  If you must mix sows wait until after 45 days after being bred and do so at night once temperatures begin to cool down.  You will also want to create several mud holes or areas where sows can cool down. 
Increase Air Flow
Sow in Mud
Make a mud hole for sows to cool down in
Sows in shade 2
Provide shade for sows


Simple steps that you can take now during the heat of the summer can help ensure that you get that highly anticipated litter on the ground.
  • Create a plan to reduce heat stress based upon your situation. 
  • Watch the weather and make plans to keep your sows cool when temperatures heat up. 
  • Pay attention to your sows.  If you see them panting make sure that they have a cool shady place to lay and lots of cool fresh water to drink. 
  • If you are going to be gone make arrangements for someone to initiate you plan for reducing heat stress.  This is as important as making sure that your sows get fed and watered when you are gone. 

Watch for our Blog Post next week as we continue to explore additional ways to ensuring that you get that highly anticipated litter on the ground.

Key 2: Adjust Feed During Gestation as Needed for Successful Farrowing


Many show pig breeders continue to feed their gilt a “Show Feed” while transitioning them from show pig to sow.  These feeds are much higher in fat than normal sow rations therefore it is easier for these females to add extra fat which may in turn cause farrowing problems.  On the other hand sometimes breeders do not feed their sows a high quality gestation feed and in turn their females may be too thin.


1. Evaluate each sow or gilt in regards to Body Condition
Assigning each sow a Body Score can help you make decisions about whether feed should be reduced or not.  Evaluate how much cover or fat the sow is carrying by feeling along her spine, ribs and “Hooks and Pin” or hip region.  The following image should help you evaluate your females body condition.

Body Score evaluation chart
Body Score Body Conditon Detection of ribs, spine, hooks & pins
Bones are easily seen & felt
Bones can be detected with light pressure
Bones can barely be felt with firm pressure
No bones can be felt
Overly Fat
No bones can be felt at all. A layer of fat is felt
Pig's nose
Pig with mouth open

2. Make necessary feed adjustments
Feed adjustments may need to be made after determining body scores.  Animals with a body score of 3 are ideal and no feed changes should be made.  Feed intake should be increased in sows with body scores of 1 and 2 while feed levels should be reduced for sows with body scores of 4 and 5.  These feed adjustments should be made during the first 80 days of gestation.  Remember that the goal is to get you sow to the ideal body score of 3 during this time.


Sows that are too thin may

• Have pigs that are small and under weight. These pigs have a hard time survining because they lack enough body fat and energy to survive.

• Farrow early before the piglets lungs are fully developed

• Take longer to farrow resulting in increased stillborns

• Produce less milk

Sows that are too fat may

• Take longer to farrow resulting in increased number of stillborns

• Have a harder time farrowing

• Eat less while in the crate reducing milk production


Fetal pigs like other mammals grow exponentially during pregnancy and most of the growth occurs in the last month of gestation.  By reducing feed intake during the last 30 days the rapid growth of the piglet is slowed down BUT you can only reduce feed IF your sow has an BODY SCORE OF 3 OR ABOVE.  We have found that sows on reduced feed who had an Ideal Body Score, farrow pigs that are smaller in size thus making it easier for them to farrow.  We have also found that sows that are better conditioned and not too fat have an easier time farrowing and milk better in the crate. 

We get calls daily from clients asking about what we do to reduce farrowing problems and our first response is always to reduce feed intake of sows and gilts the last month prior to farrowing if their sows have an ideal body score.  Here at Harman Farms, we reduce feed intake in bred females the last 30 days of gestation.  This is done by reducing the amount of feed by about ¼ of the ration so a sow that normally receives 4 lbs of feed gets 3 lbs of feed and those that normally receive 5 lbs of feed are reduced to a little under 4 lbs.   The size of the sow and her body condition should be evaluated before making any feed changes.

In our case where sows are grouped in pens of 6-12 head per pen we try to breed all females in a pen within a 2 week period so that feed for the entire pen can easily be reduced.  Make sure to designate which pens are on the reduced diet so that no mistakes are made.


Like with anything there are always multiple trains of thoughts on how to reduce farrowing problems but for us making little changes like reducing feed intake at the right time in bred females with an ideal body score can make a huge impact in the farrowing barn. 

Fetal pig growth in utero
Measuring fed with a feed scoop tips for farrowing success
Measure feed for each sow according to their body score

Key 3: Never Underestimate the Importance of Water for Successful Farrowing

Water is a key ingredient for every organism and pigs are no exception. In fact, water is the most important nutrient for pigs as well as other animals.  50% of an adult sows body weight is water.  Water is critical for adjusting body temperatures, regulating metabolic or chemical reactions, removing waste, and milk formation. 

Making sure that your sow has an ample supply of cool clean water is very important during gestation.  On average a sow will consume between 3 and 6 gallons of water per day on cool days.  This requirement will drastically increase as temperatures heat up. 
Making sure that your sows drinks enough water is important for proper fetal development and reducing heat stress which may result in abortions and fetus reabsorption. 


AIR TEMPERATURE:  As temperatures heat up water requirements drastically increase.  Studies show that a change in air temperature from 54-60°F to  86-90°F  results in an increase water intake of over 50%. 

Temperature of water source:  Pigs will consume almost double the amount of cool water (50 °F) as compared to warm water (80 °F) when it is hot.

PROTEIN LEVELS:  Water requirements increases as crude protein levels in feed increases. For example Sows consuming a 12%Protein verses 16% Protein increases required water intake from 1 gallon to 1.5 gallons.

WATER QUALITY:  Sows will drink less water if water is not clean or contaminated.

MECHANICAL PROBLEMS:  Sows will go off feed if there is a problem with their water such as a plugged nipple or reduced water flow into an automatic water.  Check waters immediately is you see a reduction in feed intake by sows.


• Make sure that sows have a constant supply of fresh clean water

• Make sure that waters are working correctly.  Check nipple waters to ensure that they are working properly and providing enough water.  Clean though and automatic waters to ensure that there is fresh water.

• Make sure that barrels and tanks holding water is not stagnant or molded to ensure that best water quality.

• Make sure that all tanks holding water are sealed to prevent contamination from rodents and birds.  Bacteria infected water can cause serious diarrhea problems further dehydrating sows. 


Good husbandry of making sure that sows have a good source of fresh, clean cool water will go a long way to ensure that you get that healthy highly anticipated litter on the ground.  Take the time to check waters daily.

Water Barrel 1

Key 4: Don't Forget to Vaccinate Your Sows

A strong vaccination program helps ensure healthy pigs.  Vaccinating your sows prior to breeding and during pregnancy against certain diseases helps to ensure that pigs will be born healthy and strong. Your veterinarian can help you develop a vaccination plan that is right for your farm.  This is another reason that it is important to form a relationship with your veterinarian.