Cross Fostering

Brian Cotton, Swine Specialist

In order to get the maximum number of pigs raised per sow per year, all management tools must be used. Cross fostering is one of these management tools.

Once pigs are born, a warm draft-free environment will ensure that piglets will dry off quickly and will be able to get colostrum as soon as possible after birth. All piglets should suckle milk containing colostrum for at least 4-6 hours. It is important to make sure that smaller potentially non-viable piglets that have trouble competing have nursed.

After pigs have received adequate colostrum, cross fostering can take place. Consider the following factors.

  • Colostrum is available in the sows’ milk for up to 12 hours after farrowing. After this time the absorption of antibodies declines rapidly. Because of this, piglets can be transferred to any sows that have farrowed during the same day.
  • It is important to check a sow to determine the number of functional teats she possesses. This will determine the total number of piglets that she will be able to nurse, in considering transferring piglets off or on her.
  • It is always better to transfer the larger piglets from a litter on to sows and leave smaller piglets with the original mother. When transferring it is important to match piglet size to the average size of the litter you are transferring to.
  • A good idea is to actually observe piglets nursing before deciding who to transfer. In larger litters two piglets may consistently be fighting over the same teat. It only makes sense to transfer off one of these piglets to another sow, reducing competition within the litter.
  • When you have poor doing piglets that are 2-4 days of age and probably won’t survive on the existing sow, it is important to transfer them off to other newly farrowed sows as soon as possible. If you suspect a smaller litter size for a sow transfer these piglets while the sow is farrowing. This will ensure that these piglets will receive a steady supply of milk for a period of time, increasing survivability.
  • Never transfer scouring piglets to new, healthy litters. It is to your advantage to treat these animals first to ensure that they will not spread bacteria or viruses form litter to litter.
  • It is important to not transfer older piglets backwards to younger litters, maintaining the all-in-all-out principle in farrowing room management.