Dr. Dorman Asks: Up Close and Personal with Piglets

July 6, 2022

Delicious pork comes from healthy pigs. It all starts in farrowing barns where sows give birth to piglets in an environment designed for them to thrive.  

In this installment of Dr. Dorman Asks, we go inside a farrowing barn at the South Dakota State University Swine Education and Research Center, where recently graduated animal science major Courtney Sellner goes “live” for an inside scoop on how farmers get piglets off to a great start.   

Caring for pigs is nothing new to Courtney. She grew up on a dairy farm where her family also raised pigs, sheep and chickens. When her family stepped back from farming, Courtney leaned in – working on a pig farm in the farrowing barns and pursuing a swine certification along with her degree at SDSU.  

Courtney’s passion shows as she details piglets’ first days of life and the meticulous care required. Some of her answers might just sowprize you.  

  • Why are pigs today raised indoors? 

  • Farrowing stalls are commonly used to house mama sows while giving birth until the piglets are weaned.  What’s a farrowing stall and why are they used? 

DYK? Newborns weigh two pounds. The mom can weigh 550 to 600 pounds. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for piglets to have their own space. 

  • A farrowing barn is a busy place, according to Courtney, who says animal caretakers make regular rounds. What is the animal caretaker’s role?

  • What are the first days of life like for a piglet? 

DYK? In the first day or two piglets are given an iron supplement as they are naturally anemic. Sows can’t transfer iron to their babies.  

  • Can you talk about some of the modern technology used in today’s farrowing barns?   
    • Fancy feeders 

DYK? Although sows can’t order off the menu, they can receive feed on demand. Feed intake is monitored closely to keep sows and their piglets healthy.    

  • Feed on demand

DYK: Sow diets are specially formulated by nutritionists – a registered dietitian of sorts – who tailor feed to her special requirements.  

  • Ear tag tracking

Piglets stay in the farrowing barns for around 24 days before they are weaned and moved on to a nursery. From there, they move to barns where they grow to reach market weight – a lifecycle that spans six to seven months.  

From the moment pigs are born, frequent monitoring, specialized diets, veterinary oversight and high-tech tools help animal caretakers like Courtney keep them healthy from Day One. It’s this commitment on pig farms across the U.S. that ensures a consistent supply of nutritious, high-protein pork products for families here and around the globe.    

Have questions? I’d love to connect with you! Reach out at @AskDrDorman or by email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com.