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Caring for the Pregnant Rescued Sow

Rescuing a pregnant sow is a huge responsibility.  A rescued sow has far higher risk involved than a typical breeder pregnancy. The cost to feed, spay, neuter, deworm, vaccinate, and microchip the mom and all babies before adoption is very expensive. This endeavor should not be taken lightly, as it is sure to bring struggles and challenges. However, rescuing a pregnant sow, caring for the family, then altering the piglets and sow before sending them to prescreened adoptive homes may be one of the most rewarding rescues you encounter. It’s the most beautiful feeling knowing that these pigs will never again be abused, neglected or used for irresponsible breeding.


Always consult your veterinarian with any questions regarding your pregnant sow.
When bringing a rescued pregnant sow into the rescue, immediately quarantine her. This will protect her from contracting illness or parasites from another pig as well as protect your herd from possible contagions she is carrying. Make sure she is in very secure fencing or enclosure. Pigs have been known to escape their fence to farrow in a field or in the woods. This complicates the situation and puts the piglets in immediate danger due to weather and predators.

Potential Complications

A pregnant sow rescue comes with many potential complications. She may be underweight putting her piglets nutritional needs at risk. She may be obese which complicates the delivery creating a very high risk for her life as well as the piglets. If the sow has suffered nutritional deficiencies during her pregnancies the piglet’s early development could have been affected. Far too often, pregnant sows that are rescued were impregnated by their brother, father, or other relative. Many rescued pregnant sows are far too young to assure a healthy pregnancy and delivery. In the case of first time mothers or young mothers, the chances of rejecting the babies is far higher than a typical breeding.


Nutrition in the pregnant and nursing sow is of the utmost importance. A high quality mini pig feed will provide optimum nutrition for the mother and piglets. Feed the sow plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables throughout the pregnancy and while nursing. These will provide beneficial vitamins and help keep her hydrated.

Feed portions should be increased as needed, based on body conditioning for a healthy pregnant sow.  You do not want to see hip bones or spine, but a nice healthy body.  Over feeding the pregnant sow could lead to oversized babies. This is a major concern during farrowing when these large babies are at risk to get stuck in the birth canal, threatening the life of the babies and the mother. If the rescued mother is malnourished or emaciated, provide a surplus of fruits and vegetables. Slowly increase the mini pig pellets offered to avoid a sudden growth spurt in the unborn piglets.

Once the babies are born the mom should be fed high quality pellets as well as plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. Milk production requires an enormous amount of calories. The weight will melt off the nursing sow as she puts everything into caring for her babies. She needs plenty of food to keep up with the demand on her body. The quantity of pellets depends on the mother, her body condition, her milk production, and the size of the litter. Some breeders feed 6-12 cups of feed per day for nursing mothers, some breeders free feed nursing mothers and others adjust the feed as necessary to maintain healthy weight. It is essential the nursing sow gets enough food to support her own health as well as the piglets.


Pregnant sows should be dewormed upon intake. Pigs are susceptible to a variety of internal and external parasites including mange mites, swine lice, and intestinal worms.
Safeguard (fenbendazole) and Ivermectin (Ivomec) are both safe for pregnant and nursing sows. These two medications should be given at least two weeks apart to avoid stressing the sow’s system.

Ivermectin 1% injectable labeled for swine can be given orally at the dose of 0.2 ml per 10 lbs body weight. Mix with yogurt or other special food. Repeat dose in 10-14 days. Oral dosing is preferred over injection because of the stress it puts on a rescued pregnant sow. Oral administration of ivermectin requires a larger dose but is equally effective in parasite control although oral requires a larger dose.

One to two weeks after treating with ivermectin, pregnant sows should be dewormed with fenbendazole, name brand Safeguard. The liquid goat 10% suspension is given at the dose of 0.1 ml per 10 lbs body weight. This dose is given 3 days in a row. If parasites are suspected, a second treatment is recommended two weeks later. Follow the 3 day treatment plan again.


Always consult with your veterinarian on vaccination recommendations. Cathy Zolicani, DVM recommends vaccinating the sow with erysipelas and leptospirosis two weeks after farrowing then a follow up booster two weeks later. FarrowSure Gold is a suitable vaccine that covers erysipelas, leptospirosis and a few other strains. The piglets should receive this vaccine at 8 weeks old. The dose is 2 ml per pig, regardless of age or weight. The sow and piglets are given the same amount. Cathy Zolicani, DVM, also suggests a tetanus vaccine for mother and piglets. Any tetanus toxoid vaccine is fine. Follow label directions. While these are general guidelines, it’s important to contact your local veterinarian for specific recommendations based on the history, health, and geographic location of the sow.

Signs of Pregnancy and Labor

A sows gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. If an intact female has been around an intact male, the chances of pregnancy are very high. The first sign of pregnancy is lack of heat cycle. Intact females will go into season every 21 days. This is usually, but not always, accompanied by a swollen vulva that may be pink or red and changes in mood or behavior. As the pregnancy progresses, the sow’s belly will become round and low hanging. Towards the end of gestation the babies can be felt moving with a hand placed on the sows belly.

As the sow nears delivery, her abdomen may show visible movements while the babies kick and wrestle around. Within the last week of pregnancy the sow will develop a milk line with engorged mammary glands. Her teets may “pouch” up individually with milk. In some sows the milk can be expressed up to 24 hours before the babies are born, while other sows don’t drop milk until after farrowing. As the sow prepares for delivery she will start nesting. If she is outside she will collect straw, hay, sticks, branches, and anything else she finds suitable to build her babies’ nest. She may become seemingly agitated and preoccupied as she has a very serious task on her mind. Shortly before delivery she will urinate and/or defecate repeatedly. She may continue to squat without using the bathroom. She may become increasingly agitated, restless, and moody. She may become protective of her nesting area. Some sows prefer to farrow in solitude. Human presence may stress her out and cause her to act aggressively towards the intruders or her own piglets. If this is the case, watch from a distance incase assistance or medical intervention is needed. As she prepares to give birth she will lie down and become very still. If she is comforted by your presence you can rub her belly to calm her, while feeling the contractions with your hand. Time to prepare, the babies are coming!! For detailed farrowing information click here.


A rescued pregnant sow could potentially exhibit more aggression than a typical pregnancy. The pregnancy itself puts strain on her body and mood. On top of that, being rescued puts her in more life changes, confusion, and feeling of abandonment. She could have issues trusting people she doesn’t know. She could have been neglected or abused, adding to her confusion and fears. Be compassionate, gentle, and patient as she learns to trust her new caretakers.
Around the time of farrowing, or shortly after, the sow will get a rush of maternal hormones causing her to feel fiercely protective of her infants. These natural hormones are intended to keep the piglets safe from danger. There is no corrected or training needed her. Simply give the sow her space, allow her to care for her young, and she will relax as the hormonal rush dissipates. If you do need to tend to the babies when the mother is not welcoming, protect yourself using a sorting board or separate her from babies before entering the farrowing area.


Initially, caring for the babies is the sow’s duty. Pigs are excellent mothers under ideal circumstances. In most cases nothing is needed from the caretakers besides plenty of food (for the sow to produce milk) and socialization with the piglets as the mother allows. Unfortunately, in rescue situations there is sometimes added stress that can affect her parenting. In rare cases if the sow rejects the babies or acts aggressively towards them, as sometimes happens with young confused first time mothers, it may be needed to remove the babies and hand raise them. The ONLY reason to remove piglets from their mother prematurely is if their life is in danger. Taking the babies away puts them in grave danger and should only be done as a last resort. For help hand raising the babies (click here.)
  • Males should be neutered as early as your veterinarian will allow. Plan ahead to schedule this important procedure. Piglet neuters are often done between 3-4 weeks old but no later than 8 weeks old. If males have not been neutered by 8 weeks old they should be securely separated from their mothers and sisters to avoid dangerous pregnancies. The veterinarian can insert a microchip during this procedure. Alternatively, the rescuer can insert the microchip at home.
  • At 6 weeks old it is advised by Cathy Zolicani, DVM to deworm the piglets with ivermectin at the dose listed above in the “deworming” section. Repeat deworming in 10-14 days. If parasites or mites are suspected then deworm the sow again with ivermectin. If parasites are suspected in the piglets younger than 6 weeks old, consult your veterinarian for guidance on treating them safely.
  • At 8 weeks old it is time to vaccinate the piglets against erysipelas, leptospirosis, and tetanus. This can be done with FarrowSure Gold and a tetanus toxoid vaccine. The piglets are dosed according to label directions. In FarrowSure Gold the dose is 2 ml per piglet. Repeat vaccination in two weeks.
  • Females should be spayed before adoption. Consult your veterinarian on the age they are comfortable to perform the procedure. Typically 8-12 weeks is an optimum time for a spay surgery. The veterinarian can insert the microchip during this surgery. Alternatively, the rescuer can insert the microchip at home.
All piglets should be spayed, neutered, dewormed, and microchipped before they are available for adoption.