Swine Farrowing Barns

The first days of life are critical for keeping baby piglets healthy.

by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
PHOTO: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

A farrowing barn is a space designed for sows and piglets during farrowing. Piglet mortality is a major issue for farmers, and using these barns saves the lives of many piglets. A farrowing barn has crates for individual sows, allowing space for the piglets alongside their mother and room for the sow to move around and access her food and water without polluting them. The problems that a farrowing barn seeks to address include the possibility of a sow crushing her piglets or defecating in her food, and to allow easy access for the farmer to assist with farrowing and piglet care.

Farrowing Barn Requirements

The area for the mother pig is kept separate from the piglets area by a metal bar, and her space should be large enough for her to be able to move from side to side and lie down, but not enough for her to turn around. The piglet area, or “creep,” should be just enough for them to nurse and move around, staying close to their mother while being protected from her bulk.

The entire barn must be kept clean and sterile. Cleanliness is vital to healthy piglets and sows, and keeping your farrowing barn neat is crucial to success. Washing your sow before she goes into the farrowing crates will help to keep the area sterile, and the piglets should be cleaned and dried as soon as they are born.

Your farrowing barn must also be the right temperature. Providing deep straw helps to keep the sow and her piglets warm, but additional heat may be needed. The sow likes to be between 70 and 75 degrees F, while the piglets need it warmer at 90 to 95 degrees F. This means that a heat lamp or other heating is often needed in the piglets’ creep.

Ideal Conditions for Farrowing


A farrowing barn should be warm but not moist. It is best to keep your barn insulated, but allow for proper ventilation of the building. In an insulated barn, keeping the sows area between the temperatures of 70 and 75 degrees is not difficult, but a heating lamp is usually required for the piglets. Additional ventilation may be needed in summer months, when keeping the barn below 100 degrees F can be a struggle.

Space Needs

The full area of a farrowing crate should be at least 5 feet 9 inches wide by 7 feet 9 inches long. The creep for the piglets should extend forward to allow them access not just to the sow’s teats, but also to her head to encourage a maternal bond.

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Food/Water Needs

A farrowing sow needs constant access to food and water. The sooner you can get your sow to eat after farrowing the better, as this will help her produce the milk that her piglets need to survive. Feed should be set up in such a way that the sow cannot defecate in it or knock it over, such as a trough set outside the farrowing crate with an opening large enough for her to put her head through. Water is easiest to keep sanitary by using a watering nipple.


Cleanliness is paramount during farrowing. The farrowing barn must be cleaned thoroughly before the sows are introduced, and every precaution should be taken to prevent introducing possible pathogens to the area. Coveralls and boot covers are necessary for visitors.

Alternatives For Small, Sustainable Farms

A farrowing barn might not be a realistic for a small-scale pig farmer. While you can set up a single farrowing crate for your sow, there are other alternatives for small farms.

Farrowing Yurts

A yurt is a common solution to small-farm farrowing. An insulated tent, yurts are semi-permanent structures that can easily be modified for farrowing and provide protection for the sow and her piglets. A yurt is particularly useful because it can be kept warm in colder climates and can be divided into four farrowing areas for a larger group of sows. Similar structures can be specially built from wood, creating a farrowing hut.

Farrowing On Pasture

A few farmers will allow their sows to farrow while on pasture. This increases the risk of an inattentive sow laying on her piglets, and the temperature is much more difficult to control. However, some farmers maintain that good sows are careful with their piglets and inattentive mothers are not fit for breeding. Pastured farrowing is much less expensive than any other alternative, and during the summer months, temperature concerns can be alleviated.

Preventing Piglet Losses

The goal of farrowing barns is to reduce piglet loss. Mortality in piglets can be as high as 25 percent, and farrowing barns seek to alleviate unnecessary risks to piglets. Cold temperatures, the bodies of large sows, and infection and disease are all threats to the survival of piglets, which the farrowing barn addresses.

Tiny and defenseless, the safety of the piglet should always be a concern when raising pigs. With a few considerations, such hazards can be avoided and your sow and piglets can thrive.

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