Housing system for sow and piglets for better health and production

Girin Kalita / Kalyan Sarma *


Pig farming comprises of two components Ė one is the production for weaned piglet and rearing of breeding animals and the other is the production of finisher pigs for pork production by rearing of weaner pigs.

In one farm, both the components may exist, or there may be only one component. Rearing weaner pig for 6-7 months (birth to weaning -2-3 months + 6-7 months fattening period = total 8-10 months), till they attain the slaughter weight of 90-100 kg is comparatively easier and majority of the small-scale farmers prefer it.

Managing of breeding animal for weaner pig production require more skill and technical knowhow, therefore it is limited to few farmers only, causing scarcity and higher price of weaned pigs. On the other hand, without weaner pig, the other componentĖthe finisher pig production cannot exist. Therefore, for improving pig production scenario in the country, we must give more stress on weaner pig production.

Among many factors, housing of nursing piglet with lactating sow and weaner piglet is one of the important factors affecting young piglet survivability and growth. In this article housing need of these pigs and modern housing structures available for pig will be documented.

Normal internal body temperature of piglets is around 390C. At this internal body temperature, all the body processes function properly and we can expect good growth and less diseases. Like other domestic animals, pig is also homoeothermic (warm blooded) animals. That means, due to different metabolic reactions taking place in living cells of the animals, heat is constantly being produced in pigsí body, which keep the animal warm and maintain the required internal body temperature.

Amount of heat produced inside the body, will depend upon the body mass or in other words body weight of the animal. The birth weight of newly born piglet usually varies from 1 to 1.3 kg, and range of the lowest the highest may even vary from 0.5 to 2.5 kg. therefore, very less amount of heat is being produced in newly born piglets.

After maintaining internal body temperature of the animal, the extra heat produced must be dissipated to the environment. Heat from the body is generally dissipated to the environment through the body surface of the animals.

Higher the body surface of the animals, higher will be the rate heat dissipation. When we compare the body surface of an adult pig weighing 150 kg and 1 kg newly born pig, the surface area in relation to body weight is much higher in small animals, the therefore rate of heat dissipation is more in young animal when kept in same environmental temperature.

Again, the amount of heat loss from the animal body will depend upon the environmental temperature where the animal is being reared. If the environmental temperature is too low, rate of loss of heat from animal body will be more and vice versa. Another factor, which control the heat dissipation from the animal body is the insulation of animal body.

Fat layer beneath the skin act as heat insulation for the animal and reduces the rate of dissipation of heat from the body to the environment. In young newly born piglet, fat cover beneath the skin is almost nil and therefore body heat conservation is very less in young piglets. Glycogen present in the body at the time birth, provide the readily available source of heat. Compared to other livestock, the glycogen present in young piglet is very less and limits the heat production.

In adult animal thermoregulatory system is well developed and to some extent they can withstand temperature fluctuation in the environment. However, in young animals including piglets, this thermoregulatory system is well developed and to some extent they can withstand temperature fluctuation in the environment. In young animals including piglets, this thermoregulatory system is not well developed and making them more vulnerable to environmental temperature fluctuations.

Therefore providing extra source of heat or brooding of young piglets is highly essential to maintain the internal temperature of the animal. When required temperature is not maintained, to conserve heat, the rate evacuation of bowel or rate removal of undigested feed from the intestine is lowered. When these undigested particles are retained inside the intestine for long period, there are chances of infection and the piglets may suffer from diarrhoea, which will further aggravate the condition of piglets.

Immune system to fight against disease is not well developed in young animals and in piglets up to three months of age. When, animals are suffering from cold stress, the thermoregulatory system couldnít function normally and further increases the chances of infection. The environmental temperature where the piglets and sow feel comfortable is mentioned below.

The lactating sow feels comfortable at much lower temperature than that of young one. Therefore, within the farrowing pen, there should be a provision of extra source of heat for piglets. This area is called creep a rea, where creep feed (first feed to piglets) and source of heat is placed. Two 200-watt electric bulbs could be used s heaters, especially during early winter.

If available, infrared bulbs should be used, which provide more heat. Other types of heaters available in the market can also be used. The right temperature for piglets is shown by their behaviour. If piglets stay close to the sow or to the heat source or huddle together, then temperature is too low. If piglets stay close to the sow but stay away from the heat source and still huddle together, then the heat source might to too high.

If piglets are evenly distributed in the pen and in the brooder, then the temperature is just right. Rough hair coat may indicate sickness or cold temperature. Always keep the brooder or creep area warm, dry and clean. Clean dry paddy straw should be used as bedding material in the creep area where heating source is located. Now a days, electric heating plates are also available, which can be fixed in the creep area.

Transfer of pregnant sow from dry and pregnant sow pen to farrowing Pen

Usually pregnant sows are shifted to farrowing pen 7-14 days ahead of expected date of farrowing. It is always better to shift before 14 days of farrowing. When piglets are inside the motherís womb, the active immunity produced in sow against the microorganisms of surrounding environment donít pass through the placenta, rather they are deposited in the colostrum and are passed to the newly born piglets if they consume it after birth.

For production of such immunity, it requires around 14 daysí time. If the sow is transferred before that, to a farrowing pen, which might have different set of microorganisms against which she may not have produced immunoglobulins, might predispose the new born to infections from such microorganisms after birth.

Slated floor instead of solid floor in farrowing pen

In most of pig farms in India, the floor of farrowing pen is solid, and mostly made up of cement concrete. In such condition, the sow usually gets dirty with urine and faeces, and to clean that regular washing of sow and the pen is done with water. Even after regular washing, it is not possible cleans the sow completely and the udder along with teat gets dirty. There is every possibility of getting infection by the piglets during ducking from such udder.

In majority of cases, after washing with water, little amount of water along with faeces and urine retained in small holes of damaged floors. Piglets usually do not drink water up to7 days of age if milk production of sow is optimum. However, if ilk production is low, they may drink water before 7 days of age. When piglets started t lick or drink such contaminated water from the floor, there is every possibility that piglets normally up to 14 days of age and the piglets are more vulnerable after that.

However, certain amount immunoglobulin present in milk production is not sufficient to supply all the nutrients required for piglets after 7 days of lactation and piglets started to search for feed or other liquid from that age. Intake of feed or liquid becomes considerable when milk production started to decline after third week of age.

Therefore, if floor is not properly clean, which might be a normal case in solid floor, and intake of colostrum and milk is not up the mark, piglets suffer from infection mostly diarrhoea resulting high mortality, which may even go up to 40%. To maintain the cleanliness, in most of the developed countries nowadays slated floors are used. Through slated floor, urine is readily passed to manure pit placed below the pen and the pen always kept dry.

Some amount of dry solid faeces also slowly passed through slates and occasional removal of dry faeces help to keep the floor of the pen very clean. There is no room for water logging in slated floor and piglets donít get the chance to lick such dirty water. Slated farrowing pen fitted with farrowing carte has another advantage. The sow cannot turn in such pen and donít get the chance to lye over faeces or urine, which keep the udder with the teat remain clean and chances of infection is minimized.

As the sow remain clean, there is no need of regular washing of animals with water and cost of the labour can be minimized to a great extent. Only occasional cleaning of hind quarters of sow with removal of faeces is enough to the keep the sow and the pen clean. From management point of view sows or piglets donít need any washing with water.

Farrowing crate in farrowing pen

Crushing of piglets by the sow, during first two days after farrowing causes 10 to 20% death of new born piglets. Specially designed farrowing pen is of great help to avoid the crushing death. In this farrowing crate, sow is kept confined and cannot turn inside the pen. Two loose bars placed along the side of crate prevents lying of sow directly over the piglets and minimize the chances of crushing. In most of the developed countries these types of farrowing crates are used.

Housing system for weaners

Piglets are normally weaned between 28 to 56 days of age. At this age, piglets immune and digestive system not mature enough to cope up completely with solid feed and challenging rearing condition.

On the other hand when piglets are weaned, they are deprived of the nutrition and immune protection they got from milk while sucking. Usually weaned piglets are removed from farrowing pen and reared in weaner pen. When they are removed to a new pen, they also exposed new surrounding and new set of microorganisms. Piglets when separated from mother and sometime mixed other litters they also suffer from social stress.

Combining all above factors, weaning is one of the most stressful event in pigletís life. When any animal suffers from stress, there immune system become weak and predisposing the animals to disease condition. Therefore, keeping the weaner pig in a clean and thermos comfort environment is of utmost important. Like suckling piglets, they may also require brooding when environmental temperature is below the comfort zone.

By keeping them warm is of great help to withstand the weaning stress. Otherwise, low microclimatic temperature will further aggravate the stress leading to disease condition. Like farrowing pen as mentioned earlier, slatted floor instead of solid floor will immensely helpful to keep the weaner pen dry and clean. If plastic slates are not available iron or wooden slates can be used for weaner pen.

The weaner cage (batter)

In this system, piglets are moved into the cage immediately at weaning. The case consists of a floor of metal slats and mostly metal or wooden partitions (0.06 m high). The dimensions are about 1.50 x 120/150 m. The floor is raised (0.60 m above the floor level). This system has been proving to be successful as it helps to keep the weaners dry and in a draught free place which is very important to avoid post weaning stress and infections.

Feeding and watering system

Feeding trough of the lactating sow may be raised from the floor in such a way that piglets have less chance to access it. Sow feed cannot be digested by young pigs and consumption of sow feed may upset their digestive system. As mentioned earlier, piglets may start eating behaviour as early as 2nd week of age, there should be a provision of feeding system in creep area at least from 3rd week onwards.

Normally watering system should be placed near the dunging area. Splashing of water near lying area might lower the temperature in creep area may make the lying area very dirty. Drinking water should be clean and therefore, placing of open water trough in dunging area might get contaminated with faeces and urine. It is therefore, nipple watering system is better than open round type water trough.


For commercial pig farming, modern hygienic housing structures are highly essential. Unfortunately, in India, manufacturers of such items are not available and have to be imported from other countries through few suppliers, which resulted in higher cost. Hopefully in due course of time, with the active participation of entrepreneur, such modern housing items will be produced in India at cheaper rate.

For further details contact: -
Public Relations & Media Management Cell,
CAU, Imphal.

* Girin Kalita / Kalyan Sarma wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writers are from College of Veterinary Sciences & Animal Husbandry Central Agricultural University Selesih, Aizawl, Mizoram
This article was webcasted on November 16 2022.

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