Neonatal piglets require much care -- including feeding, warmth and cleaning -- from their warm, protective mothers. Taking care of piglets without their mother can prove challenging, but it isn't much different than taking care of other orphaned animals. A caring hand, soothing voice and attention to the smallest of details will prove pivotal in raising healthy piglets.
Like other baby animals, pre-weaned piglets need warmth and a stable temperature because they can't regulate their body temperatures in the same way adult pigs do. Their body-temperature regulating kicks in after about two weeks. With their mother, the piglets are kept warm by her and their litter-mates. They need a temperature of about 90 degrees, so a secured heat lamp, or a heating pad or hot-water bottle under a blanket, are ideal to make sure they're not expending too much energy keeping their body heat up. After a few days to a week, you can lower the temperature to around 75 degrees.
After about 15 minutes of their birth, healthy piglets will eagerly attack their mom's teats and move from teat to teat getting the vital milk and nutrients their mother provides. The first feedings are the most important as they get the nutrition-packed colostrum from their mother's milk. This provides powerful antibodies and without it, your piglet has a high chance of dying. Replacement sow colostrum is a necessity for newborn piglets.
Newborn piglets need to be fed every 20 minutes during the first 48 hours of life. Expect a bit of fighting, but work steadily with your baby by massaging the nipple to allow some milk to flow into her little mouth. Warm the milk to body temperature just like a baby human's bottle. Test it on your wrist to make sure it's not too hot or too cold. Feed young piglets -- 3 days to 1 week old -- every two hours or so with a bottle filled with sow milk replacement. If you can't get sow milk replacement quickly, substitute goat's (kid's) milk replacement. Fill the bottle with 40 milliliters of formula and put the nipple in the piglet's mouth. After the piglet is 1 week old, offer 50 milliliters, and she should start telling you when she's hungry as opposed to your feeding schedule. As they get a bit older, you'll notice they don't eat as much at night. They'll eagerly make up for this at their morning feeding, however, so expect to offer a bit more during the morning feedings.
Offer piglet pellets -- those designed for baby pigs, not adults -- at about 3 1/2 weeks old. Give them a pan of fresh water and still offer milk. It might take them a while to get over the frustration of not being hand-fed as much, but they'll soon catch on to the pellets. If you find your babies aren't taking to the pellets, try putting a few berries or something tasty in with them. By 1 month old, your piglets should be graciously rooting outside, taking up grass and eating small, frequent meals of pellets.
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With a professional background in gardening, landscapes, pests and natural ecosystems, Jasey Kelly has been sharing her knowledge through writing since 2009 and has served as an expert writer in these fields. Kelly's background also includes childcare, and animal rescue and care.