Improving piglet survival

Sows that may experience distress during farrowing may produce less colostrum and ultimately impact the survivability of their offspring.

Improving piglet pre-weaning survival can critically impact profitability in pork production. Keeping pre-weaning mortality low can optimize the number of market pigs sold per sow per year. This can ultimately keep overhead costs low per pig sold. However, improving piglet survival from birth to weaning can be difficult. Newborn piglets need a warm environment, 90-95o F, while sows like the ambient temperature to be near 70o F. In addition, piglets are often born with low energy stores and little immunity to combat environmental pathogens. For piglets to thrive, they must consume ample amounts of colostrums, which is high in energy and immunoglobulins, specifically immunoglobulins G (IgG), which improves passive immunity and help prevents occurrence of disease.

Colostrum production in the sow occurs during the first 24 hours after farrowing begins and curtails quickly after 24 hours in most sows. There appears to be quite a bit of variability in colostrum production and IgG concentration in colostrum from sow to sow. Recently a study was reported that evaluated different factors and their effect on colostrum production and yield (Quesnel, 2011). Characteristics evaluated were those experienced by the sow that may have a roll in colostrum production and IgG concentration.

Few factors evaluated in the study significantly influenced colostrum yield. Sows with differences in litter size at birth, litter birth weight or variation in litter birth weight has similar colostrum yield. However, it was reported that sows that took longer to farrow their third through fifth pigs had lower colostrum yield than sows who took less time. Furthermore sows that had more stillborns also had less colostrum yield than sows that had fewer stillborn pigs. This suggests that sows that might have been in distress during farrowing, may produce less colostrum and subsequently their pigs may also consume less colostrum as well. IgG concentrations were found to be higher in older parity sows than in first parity sows and that the decline of IgG concentrations during the first 24 hours after farrowing was extremely variable, with 15% of the sows maintaining 50% or more of their IgG concentration at 24 hours after farrowing.

This study also reported that colostrum intake by piglets was highly variable as well. Light birth weight piglets had less colostrum intake than heavier birth weight pigs and also colostrum intake was lower within litters with high variability in birth weight. This suggests that piglet viability and competition for colostrum within the first 24 hours after birth can have a large impact on viability to weaning.

This study confirms the need to provide low birth weight piglets ample opportunity to consume colostrum within the first 24 hours after birth. This can be accomplished by split sucking. Larger pigs within the litter can be placed in a warm area away from the sow to allow low birth weight piglets ample opportunity to consume colostrum. The same oversight should be given to smaller piglets that greatly differ in birth weight from their larger litter mates. In addition this study suggests that sows which have a higher incidence of stillborn pigs as well as those that take longer to farrow the first half of their litter may produce less colostrum. Pigs born to these sows may need additional attention during the first hours after birth and along with supplemental energy.

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