Dystocia is a Sow

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

The sun was rapidly sinking behind the hills on the western side of the valley when I finally pulled into George’s barnyard. It had been a long trip to Lacomb. I didn’t like to travel this far for a call because it took more time than I could get an adequate fee to cover my time behind the wheel.

But George had a good client, and I had been up here on several scheduled trips. Tonight George had a sow in labor. I am sure that George would be less confident in my abilities if he knew that I had never seen a sow in labor before.

Swine medicine was almost a specialty in veterinary medicine anymore. If you wanted to be a swine veterinarian, you had to go to school in Kanas or Missouri. At Colorado State, I had argued to get a pig cadaver in freshman anatomy class. In clinics, I could count the number of pigs we treated on the fingers of one hand.

“George, what’s up with your sow?” I asked as I got out of the truck.

George was younger than me, but he must have been married longer. He had a whole gaggle of kids with him, all girls. The youngest one was probably the age of our oldest.

“She has been in labor for a couple of hours,” George said. “She has been straining hard, and nothing has happened. I think she is starting to get worn out.”

“She looks like a big sow,” I said. “I assume that she has delivered a litter or two before.”

“Doc, this is my best sow,” George said. “I get two litters a year out of her, and she has never had a problem in the past.”

“I guess I better get a look at her,” I said.

Sows generally have large litters. If there was a problem, delivery of the entire litter could take several hours. The uterus of the sow was long, stretching well into the abdomen. There was no way that a piglet at the far end of the uterus could be reached without surgery.

I scrubbed the sow’s rear end. She was lying on her left side and didn’t move with the prep. I pulled on an OB sleeve and lubed it up well.

I ran my left hand into her vagina. The vagina was also long, and there was little room for my hand to maneuver. Finally, I bumped into a piglet at the pelvic brim. This was a large piglet, and he seemed to be hung up. His nose was down, like a foal in a poll position.

They make a special forceps for retrieving piglets. Of course, with only a few pigs in my practice, I didn’t have such a forceps. I did have a head snare that I used on lambs. Hopefully, that would work.

I grabbed the snare from my truck and went to work, trying to get hold of the piglet.

“I think this is an abnormal piglet,” I said as I struggled. “It is large and seems to be hung up with his nose.”

“Are you going to be able to get him out?” George asked.

I never answered the question. I was working hard to slip the snare over the piglet’s head. Finally, I had it on the head, and I could feel it move as I pulled on the snare with my right hand.

I carried a handful of lube into the birth canal to provide lubrication. Then with slow, steady traction on the snare, the piglet flopped out on the ground.

What a sight! This guy was not alive. That was probably due to being the plug that was pushed on for two hours. This piglet was twice the size of a normal piglet, and his snout looked like an elephant’s trunk.

“Wow! No wonder she was having problems,” George said as he looked at the abnormal piglet.

George and I were engrossed with this piglet when one of the older girls tapped me on the shoulder. When I looked up, she just pointed at the sow. 

This old sow had been waiting to get the plug out of the way. In the couple of minutes since I had pulled this large piglet, she had three babies pushed out on the ground and another one coming.

By the time we got those four cleaned up, she had three more out behind her. She was spitting out a piglet every three or four minutes.

“I think my job here is done after I give her an injection of antibiotics,” I said. “So unless you want me to stay and watch, I will get on my way home. I am late for dinner already.”

“She is an old pro at this stuff,” George said. “I have some Combiotic that I can give her if that is good enough. How much do you think I should give her?”

“That pig was hung up in there for quite some time,” I said. “With most deliveries, I don’t use anything, but I would give her twenty ccs daily for the next three days.”

“Well, I can get it into her now with no problem,” George said. “But tomorrow might be a struggle, and the third dose, I think you are probably dreaming.”

“You’re probably right, George,” I said. “A good dose tonight might be all that is really needed. Maybe a dose tomorrow, but don’t get hurt trying to give it to her.”

It was dark when I started home. It had been an interesting call. As it would turn out, this would be the only sow that I did a vaginal delivery of piglets. I did do a C-section on an old sow some years later. Swine practice was never a significant portion of my practice in Sweet Home.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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