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Breeding and Reproduction of Potbellied Pigs

By D. Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS, Relief Veterinarian; Veterinary Information Network Swine Consultant

Although some basic information on breeding and reproduction is included here, breeding of potbellied pigs is not encouraged for the amateur owner. In addition, it is strongly recommended that male potbellied pigs be neutered early (at 2 to 3 months of age) to minimize the development of aggressive behavior. Males that have not been neutered do not make suitable pets.

Females

Female potbellied pigs are normally able to reproduce as early as 3 months of age. Lack of estrus in a female pig 3 months or older should be considered a possible sign of pregnancy, especially if the pig has been kept with male potbellied pigs. It is recommended that female potbellied pigs kept as pets be completely spayed (the removal of both the uterus and ovaries, not just removal of the ovaries as is sometimes done) at 3 to 6 months of age. This will eliminate irritable behavior during estrus. Spaying also avoids the birth of unwanted pigs—a common problem—and reduces the chance that the pig may suffer from ovarian cysts, uterine tumors, or other problems.

The gestation period for potbellied pigs is 113 to 115 days. As the mother approaches delivery, she will develop a milk line along the teats. She may become restless or show nesting behavior. You will need to have a farrowing box ready. This is a box lightly padded with small blankets or similar soft bedding and large enough that your pig and her offspring can both move around and nestle together comfortably. The farrowing box should be placed out of drafts and away from any other pets. The number of piglets in a litter can range from 1 to 12. Ask your veterinarian for a list of items to have on hand for the delivery. A heat lamp or pad is often recommended because the piglets cannot maintain their own body temperature immediately after birth and require a temperature of 80 to 90°F (26 to 32°C) for 10 to 12 days following birth. However, extreme caution is required when using heat lamps or pads. A heat lamp can easily overheat the mother, and it can burn the skin of the mother or piglets if it is too close. Also, exposed electrical cords of lamps or pads present a danger of electrocution if they are chewed by the piglets. At least a portion of the farrowing box should be kept cooler, as the mother can become overheated.

During birth, it is wise to keep an eye on the new piglets because they may be injured or killed if the mother pig lays on them. However, the new mother can be very protective of her offspring, and any disturbances or handling should be kept to a minimum. A small board placed between you and the mother may help your pig feel more secure during birthing. Once the afterbirth has arrived, be sure she has access to all her piglets.

Note that passage of the placenta (afterbirth) is the last event of farrowing. It almost always signifies that all pigs have been delivered. Retained afterbirth is rare in swine except when unborn pigs remain in the uterus, which quickly becomes a medical problem requiring professional assistance. Veterinarians use x-rays or ultrasonography to detect unborn pigs, and they may use medical or surgical treatment to attempt to remedy the problem.

Males

Potbellied pig boars (males) should be neutered (castrated) at 2 to 3 months of age. Males that are not neutered do not make suitable pets due to unpredictable behaviors around other animals and people and odor from their scent gland. Breeding boars should be kept in secure pens and not in homes. Neutered males can make good pets.

Care of Newborns

Newborn piglets need a warm farrowing box (between 80 to 90°F [26 to 32°C]) and easy access to their mother for nursing. Consumption of the first milk from the mother, known as colostrum, is very important for their health. Colostrum contains antibodies that provide protection against disease. Piglets need this protection during their first months of life.

Newborn piglets will instinctively find one teat and fight to use it. Mother pigs will grunt as they feed their offspring. When the milk is gone, it will take an hour or more for additional milk to be available. Small piglets, usually known as runts, need to nurse at least 4 minutes at a time. They may not fight for a teat and often do not get sufficient milk for growth and development. In such cases, you may have to either supplement their feed or hand feed the piglet entirely. Check with your veterinarian regarding appropriate milk for these piglets.