Purdue Pork Page Archive

How to ...

manage difficult farrowings

W Singleton, SF Amass, LK Clark, LJ Runnels


Fortunately, difficult farrowings are not very common in present swine production systems. The sow will need help in less than 1% of all farrowings. Sows about to farrow should be observed approximately every 30 to 60 minutes. Familiarizing yourself with the normal birthing process is the first step in knowing when your intervention is needed.

Provide a clean and dry farrowing environment. Move sows to farrowing quarters from 1 to 5 days prior to the expected farrowing date.


Behavior of the sow pre-farrowing

The normal farrowing process

Signs of a difficult farrowing

How to examine the birth canal

Types of farrowing problems and methods of assistance

Behavior of the sow prefarrowing

Approximate time before delivery

Sow characteristics/ behavior

0-10 days

Mammary glands enlarge and become firm

0-10 days

Swelling of the vulval lips

2 days

Mammary glands become turgid and tense and secrete a clear fluid

12-24 hours

Mammary glands begin to secrete milk

12-24 hours

Overall restlessness, nesting behavior

6 hours

Abundant milk secretion

30 minutes-4 hours

Increased respiration

15-60 minutes

Sow quiets and lies down on her side

30-90 minutes

Straining, passage of blood tinged, oily fluid and meconium ( fetal feces)

 Rectal temperature is not a reliable predictor of farrowing


The normal farrowing process


Signs of a difficult farrowing


How to examine the birth canal

***When the time between the birth of pigs exceeds one hour, intervention by the manager is necessary.

***Intervention must be gentle. The tissues of the birth canal are easily bruised and torn. Damage can lead to swelling, hemorrhage, and death of the sow and litter. Excessive damage can also negate the option of the use of a cesarean section as a treatment.


Types of farrowing problems and methods of assistance

***Never use oxytocin before determining the cause of the problem

Type of problem

Method of assistance

Uterine inertia (the uterus is unable to contract)

Manual intervention: be certain that the sow is dilated and nothing is blocking the birth canal

Deliver any pigs within reach- grasp the pig by the snout (image1, image 2) or use a snare (image 1, image 2)

Administer oxytocin

Get the sow up

Cool the sow with a mister or fan

Call veterinarian if farrowing does not occur

Improper presentation of pig


Manual intervention: Hook your index finger under the hock of each hind leg. Extend the legs caudally or use a snare.

Manual intervention: Grasp head, lower jaw, or feet to deliver one pig at a time

  • Pig upside down

Manual intervention: Grasp head, lower jaw, or feet

Canal obstruction


  • Hymen constriction in gilt (first pig not delivered)

Manual dilation or severing with scissors

  • Vaginal or cervical prolapse

Call veterinarian

  • Pelvis too small

Call veterinarian

  • Constipation

Manually remove feces

Give enema of warm, soapy water

Get sow to stand up and force exercise

Give oxytocin

Rarely the veterinarian will have to catheterize bladder

Deviation of the uterus


Call veterinarian

Manual intervention

Pig is too large

Call veterinarian

Sow hysteria

Give tranquilizer as prescribed by veterinarian

Give oxytocin

Remove pigs until sow is quiet and finished farrowing

Retained placenta/ blood or pus discharge

Rare- usually indicates that one or more pigs is present in the reproductive tract-Call veterinarian

Vaginal, uterine or bladder prolapse

Call veterinarian


Call veterinarian


Purdue Pork Page Archive