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Farrowing alternatives on small farms

Answers to the challenge of raising piglets outdoors
Photo courtesy of Jay Harmon

Farmers raising pigs for niche markets are sometimes prohibited from using farrowing crates. The crates prevent the 450-pound sow from lying on her five-pound piglets. Consumers are also expecting pork production year-round. It can be tough for new and small producers to farrow pigs without losing a lot of piglets, especially during the winter months.

Jay Harmon is an Extension livestock housing specialist at Iowa State University. He says Pete Lammers, a former PhD student at ISU came up with the idea of using yurts – or round, insulated tents – as a modular alternative. The researchers experimented with two farrowings in the summer, and two farrowings in the winter. The challenge was to create a sustainable environment where both the piglets and the sow had their needs met.

"They just used heat lamps in kind of a protected area so the pigs could get in that area with some bedding and get a little protection from the sow so she couldn’t lay on them," says Harmon. "There’s no fans involved, really the only energy expenditure was the heat lamps that they used, but there were vents that they opened to make sure that they don’t accumulate moisture and let a little fresh air flow, but yet try to keep it somewhat warm."

Harmon says they found that the purchased yurts were too expensive to be practical. However, a farmer could build a more economical version from recycled, locally sourced materials.

"I don’t think the secret is the building itself, what it looks like," says Harmon. "I think the secret is that in cool weather, if you provide a good environment for the piglets and protect them from the sow a little with a bumper or something where they have kind of a creep area, you can save more pigs than you might just in an open pen with no protection."

Learn more about Harmon's study

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