What I would say is, “don’t do it” if you value your marriage, social life and love your sleep! But if you are a soft touch and see that there is a life to save then who are you to deny it the right and so my story begins.
Hand rearing piglets is hard work and if the piglet can be reintroduced back to the sow then I would encourage you to try your best to do so.
My introduction to the hand rearing of piglets began one April evening. My sow started to farrow and all was going as normal until the last one to came out. A little gilt who was very small and needed a rub and mucus taking out of her mouth to get her started. I didn’t think she would make it but eventually she coughed and spluttered so I helped her to a teat where she sucked with great gusto, so she was a fighter and I was going to help her all I could. Her only problem was that she was not quick on her feet and therefore unable to move when the sow got up to move around.
All the litter had fed well, but during their fourth feed I noticed that the litter was covered with blood. It transpired that a piglet who’s umbilical cord had broken too near to the stomach was continuously bleeding and covering the others whilst he was clambering over them for his share at the milk bar. I applied pressure to the umbilical cord but this didn’t seem to work. He proceeded to weaken and squeal in frustration, causing everybody including the sow to get agitated so he was taken away and put into the house in a box under a heat lamp – I didn’t have much hope for him but when entering the house at 06:00 hrs the following morning found he was up and perky (thanks to my husband for feeding him in the middle of the night). So I took him back out to reintroduce him to the sow who told me quite nicely after three attempts that she didn’t want him. After staying out all night with the little runty girl and putting her on the teat every 20 minutes with the rest of the litter, she still wasn't strong enough to feed herself so I had two piglets to bring up.
I always keep full fat goats milk around farrowing time, so for the first 48 hours the two piglets (Agatha and Geoffrey) were fed every 20 minutes with warmed goats milk and thereafter every 2 hours.
After every feed they were kept in the utility room in a cardboard box with an old towel or two for comfort, but it was soon clear that this was not adequate so during the day they had the freedom of the kitchen, sleeping by the Rayburn on the dogs bed – very patient dogs I have. At night they were tucked up in their box with a soft toy (soppy I know) in the utility room. As they grew in confidence, which doesn’t take long they were allowed out of the house to run around the garden and then wondered back in the house to sleep by the Rayburn – exhausting work running around the garden.
In the evenings when I was having my sneaky break the hand reared piglets sniffed me out in the front room to tell me it was their feeding time, it was so sweet to see but you should have seen my husbands face “piglets in the front room!” I am smiling now thinking of it.
Goats milk is best as it has has a very high fat content, but try and get sow replacement powdered milk called Volac Faramate Sow Replacement Milk. This can also be obtained from your local farm supply shop or vets. If you have to wait for the sow replacement to arrive then you can feed piglets on human baby milk, but do try not to keep them on it for too long as by week 2 (which was how long I had to wait for my sow replacement milk to arrive) their skin will become flaky and scour (diarrohea) will set in.
During the early stages up to two weeks feeding up to 50ml every two hours is sufficient, they may not drink it all but start off in increments of 10ml. If they ask for more then up their next feed – this will coincide with the size of the piglet, a larger piglet will drink more than a smaller one. You will find at night time they will not feed as much. I found that with the last feed being at 23:00 hrs, their next feed would be at 03:00 hrs. However, in their first week I am afraid that every two hours must be adhered too. At three weeks start to introduce concentrates, a good piglet starter pellet. Allen & Page Smallholder Range is normally best as it has a high milk content in the pellets. Again, your local farm supply shop will be able to provide this for you.
Don’t despair if they do not take to it straightaway. Keep a bowl of fresh water nearby and a few pellets in a bowl and watch them learn. The same can be done for the milk but when you are hand rearing piglets this all becomes very messy so I am afraid I fed them with a Royal Canin puppy bottle, which had a perfect teat size and both were much happier this way. Also this way I was able to monitor exactly how much each was consuming.
As you may imagine by week four everybody (apart from me) including the dogs were getting a little fed up of these pesky little sweeties. I found it all very satisfying and rewarding, but even a friend told me that I was going above and beyond the call of duty even though they were trained to use puppy training pads when they wanted to go to the loo.
So my hand reared piglets were introduced to outside living. A wooden box was made and placed just outside so I could keep a watchful eye on them. There was nothing to worry about it was fine, the weather was beautiful for them the sun was shining and they enjoyed their rootling. Even though my husband is very proud of his lawn he had to relent. The piglets would shout at me when I passed and wanted to follow but the single electric wire kept them in and they soon learned that life outside away from me wasn’t that bad really. They also learned to drink the milk from the bowl but were still not too enamoured about the concentrates UNTIL I introduced a few blueberries to the bowl and Eureka they started eating concentrates. I fed them four times a day – little and often. They grew very well, but not as well as their siblings who where being brought up by the sow, which goes to show that mothers milk is best.
I did experience a fright one morning, as I looked out of my bedroom window I noticed that the gilt was out of her box standing at the fence alone and I know she never ventures out without her brother, so where was he? Quickly I dressed ran down the stairs still unable to see him from the downstairs windows ran to the back door and there through the glass I saw this little piglet standing at the backdoor waiting to come in. As I opened the door the cheeky blighter ran in and plonked himself down in front of the Rayburn. So I deduced from this that they would not have gone far. Mind you my neighbours did chuckle and warn me not to be surprised if they found their way home once they'd been sold to their new homes! So far so good but I'm still holding my breath!At eight weeks they were off to their new homes, at complete ease when picked up and put into their carrying crate. They rather enjoyed being carried. A little cuddle and a snuggle into your neck was just the tonic!
I can say that it was a very satisfying, rewarding achievement and when asked, “would you do it again?”... Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt!