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Potbellied Pig Health Care Articles and Information

The Orphan Piglet - How To Take Care Of The Very Young Baby Pig
by Phyllis Battoe (February 2001)

Many times I have had inquiries on what to do with a baby pig that is for one reason or another without a real Mom. The following is what we do here at the sanctuary and have had good luck with.

Believe me, saving an orphan piglet contains a lot of "luck" and care. It is possible to do it even on new born's, but the odds are fifty-fifty with those very young babies. We do not bottle feed here as for one thing there is not that time available and two, we want to know exactly what goes in and a baby that eats on his own from a flat pan will not aspirate the food into his lungs as easily.

There are cases where an eyedropper has to be used. This should be done carefully to keep the milk from going into the lungs instead of the stomach. Slow and easy will help this process. We know we can't cover all contingencies here, but we can give a good idea of what it takes to raise an orphan.

For The Very Young

The most important thing to remember is that these babies need to be warm, very warm. The ideal temperature for them is 90 degrees. We either use a heating pad or a safety heat lamp hooked where it won't come down. We use a playpen or a pet carrier. If using the playpen we drape sheets on the sides to keep out any drafts. If it's a new born in a small carrier it's placed on a table or up off the floor.

Baby pigs cannot produce their own heat when they are born so by keeping them warm we are saving the energy that they would have to use for this purpose. Their body heat abilities kick in at about two weeks. Even then we give them the choice of having a heating pad if they want it.

Feeding

We use a flat small ash tray here that we can hold with one hand while holding the pig in the other. Dip his nose into the ash tray and he will eventually figure this out. In the beginning he will fight and sputter, but after a few tries of biting the milk instead of eating they do get the picture. We have taught even 12 hour old babies how to eat out of a dish this way.

If you want to do the bottle that's fine too, but they will usually fight that bottle as bad as they fight the flat dish the first few times. That nipple is not Mom and they know that. If you once get them to take the bottle than just like the dish it gets easier each time. Also means you are going to have to break two habits when the baby survives. One being, going from milk to solids the other being the bottle to a dish with solids.

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What to feed

We use a sow milk replacer here, but goats milk is my first choice. You warm it just as you would for a baby. A baby pig won't take much at one time so they need to be fed often when very young. (By very young I mean a few days up to a week.) At a week old they can do quite well on a feeding of every 3 or 4 hours during the day. At one week I no longer feed through the night as I make the last feeding around midnight and as an early riser the first feeding at about 7 or 8 am. Its important to make the formula as close to the same each time as possible. Also to make sure all utensils are clean along with the dish you give it in.

Most replacer milks tell you that it is only good made up for 12 hours. Pay attention as old formula can cause you a problem. We never change formulas as this can cause diarrhea which can take a piglet down very quickly.

We start adding Gerber's rice baby cereal at about three days, making it very liquid at first then gradually increasing the cereal as we go along. At about two weeks it will be a more of a paste. (At that time we also offer just a little water during the day.) The cereal not only gives them more nutrition, but it also keeps the chance of diarrhea down.

New born piglets will have a dark stool to start with. This is the old stuff from before they were born that must come out. At about three days it will be more yellow. This also is normal. What you don't want to see is a clear liquid stool (more felt than seen). This is why we run our hand over the butt every day to make sure it is dry. Nothing will kill a baby pig any quicker than bad diarrhea. They dehydrate quickly and by feeding more you are feeding the E-coli which produces the diarrhea (more on this in a different article). For now just know that if that diarrhea starts, get to a vet for an antibiotic as soon as possible.

Does This Baby Need An Iron Shot?

NO HE DOESN'T! Sometimes the iron shot can set off the diarrhea that we are trying to avoid. It is true that all baby pigs are born anemic and they do not get iron from the mother. There is a natural way to give this to them that is much safer and better for them.

Baby pigs born outside don't need iron as they get it from the dirt as they go along. If you supply a flat cookie sheet of clean dirt (dirt that has not had pigs on it) then he will walk through it and snuffle it and get his own iron from it. If it has tufts of grass in it, all the better as he will enjoy rooting them around the pan. The less you put into this baby that isn't necessary the better off he will be. No extras till he hits an age that is safe.

Every day that goes by gives him more of a chance of survival. So the idea is to keep him going as best you can until that time when you can switch him to solid pellets and heave a big sigh of relief.

Hand Raised Pigs More Aggressive?

Just another note here on the rumor that pigs raised by hand tend to be aggressive when grown. We have found NO relationship between hand raised babies and mom raised babies here at the sanctuary. All babies will try you at some point in their life and to think that a hand raised baby will be worse than a sow fed baby is just not been proved to our satisfaction.

Yes, Mom's discipline the young, so do we. The only thing we have noticed about babies not having a mom is their lack of liking the pellet food. As babies with mom they pick up pieces that she leaves or spills and learn to eat faster than the hand raised babies on formula. That is the only difference we have seen with our hand raised kids and there have been many of them here.

Copyrighted by Phyllis Battoe - All Rights Reserved
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