Piglet mortality is sadly still a hot TOPIC

Published: 2021-03-15

Over the last 10 years, three more piglets have been born on average per litter. More and sustained focus in the farrowing unit has resulted in mortality rates remaining at the same level as in 2010, despite more piglets per litter.

When Vilomix visits piglet producers, we find that this is an issue very much in focus. Everyone is making the extra effort to keep piglets alive, using a wide range of different measures. The fact that the figures are not falling is not down to lack of commitment from the piglet producers.  

But which piglets are the hardest to keep alive? And how will unit managers motivate the personnel to focus on reducing mortality?

Piglet mortality

Over the last 10 years, three more piglets have been born on average per litter. More and sustained focus in the farrowing unit has resulted in mortality rates remaining at the same level as in 2010, despite more piglets per litter

An increased focus on the issue with piglet mortality can make a difference. The documented piglet mortality is the highest in the first 2-4 days of life and from the total amount of preweaning death percentage almost 50% are caused by squeezing of the piglets by the sow. Often it involves nice and healthy piglets, which is very frustrating. 

Based on farm experiences we share these practical tips:

  • Keep a record of sows which previously have squeezed piglets and mark them before farrowing so you can monitor them more easily
  • Prepare the farrowing box for farrowing: Lean the box’s back door in the direction so it covers the floor holes designed for cleaning, where piglets can get stuck (where it applies)
  • Adjust the sow’s sides and behind bars a little tighter so the sow can’t fall at once and lay directly on the piglets. Pay more attention to the gilts which are unexperienced mothers
  • During farrowing - if necessary - you can already cut shorter the piglet’s umbilical cord. It can happen that the sow is stepping on it or the piglets spin around bars and get stuck and squeezed
  • The piglets have an instinct to sleep next to their mother’s udder and that increases the risk of being squeezed. A good routine is to collect the piglets before every sow feeding time and close them into the creep area (where possible) or to find solutions and train the piglets to sleep as much as possible in the heated floor area - and to release them when the sow is laying down again. This practice is taking a lot of work effort in the first 2 days of the piglet’s life but that very often makes a difference
  • Use the best experienced workers in the farrowing section to take care of the piglets up to 5 days and avoid stressing the sow as much possible
  • Supervise very carefully the sow’s health status. A sick sow in pain will not pay enough attention to the piglets and the risk of squeezing is higher
  • The way the nursing sows are made is quite important so the piglets get accepted by the new mother. The piglets should be moved to the nursing sow right before feeding time and - if possible - be held in the creep area until the sow has eaten and lay down. Then they should be released and supervised for a short period
  • Equalizing the piglets should be done after at least 8 hours after all the piglets have gotten colostrum (Split milking is a good practice when the number of piglets is much higher than the number of functional sow´s teats)
  • The second cause of preweaning mortality is starvation. Identify piglets with an empty stomach quickly and mark them with a colour and help them to get milk immediately using the best solutions available. Treat their mother if she is not milking well, collect them and move them to another sow (nursing sow) etc. Using a high quality milk replacer supplement is always a good solution for the short term - until the sow recovers if sick or untill piglets are accepted by the nursing sow. For a longer term piglets can have an extra milk source at their disposal. In this way piglets will get familiar with the taste of the milk replacer which is usually included in the prestarters so they will show more interest to the feed.

Sow feed and starter feed for piglets are vital elements

Sow feed and starter feed for piglets are elements Vilomix can help on to improve conditions in the farrowing house. Our experience is that you cannot compromise on the nursing feed and the starter mix adapted to piglets.

Another focus point is that many liveborn piglets often mean many nursing sows. This means that the piglets weaned earlier - because their mothers are to be nursing sows - spend fewer days in the farrowing house to get used to eating solids.

We recommend starting with a starter mix on day 4-5 after farrowing to ensure that enzyme training begins as soon as possible. The feed of course has to consist of easily-digestible ingredients, containing as many different protein sources as possible - including milk, blood plasma and fishmeal.

Practical experiences

At the Danish farm Frihedslund they have a constant focus on bringing down the piglet mortality. The focus is on both feed and management.

You can read the entire interview with Frihedslund here on their actions to bring down piglet mortality.

Initially, Frihedslund concentrates on making sure the sow is in good physical shape prior to farrowing. So the personnel is very aware that the sow has plenty of energy when ready to farrow. She receives 3.5 Feso up to farrowing, reduced to 3.3 Feso the day before. Water and feed intake are key to the sow getting off to a good start. The Frihedslund personnel ensures that all sows are up 3 x daily for feeding.  So - do not cut back on her feed – she’s going to need energy for farrowing. The nursing mix used contains 127 units of std. digestible crude protein, and gives no problems with diarrhoea. The mix is composed of wheat, barley, soybean meal, sugar beet pellet and soya oil. Toxin binder is added to the minerals during certain periods.

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