Practical experiences with bringing down piglet mortality

Published: 2021-03-20

The preweaning period is one of the most important and sensitive periods of the piglet´s life. Management and feeding can make a significant difference in the survival of a large number of healthy and well developed pigs - but also to keep their mothers/the sow in a good body condition.

We discussed these themes with Operations Manager Christina Kanstrup from Frihedslund - a Danish farm. 

Piglet mortality is a topic very much in focus at Frihedslund, but even though the rate is not high here, every effort is being made to get it even lower. 


The Danish farm Frihedslund has 1,100 year sows, with sales of 30 kg pigs. Home-mixed feed is used, along with the farm’s own grain and Vilomix minerals. The farrowing house was built in 2005. There are 4 full-time employees and 4 trainees working on the farm

“Let’s not forget that these are lives we are working to save, and of course, every pig we do save also has a financial value”, says Christina - Operations Manager at Frihedslund, a Danish farm. “That's why we concentrate on how we can improve, while still remembering to share what works with each other!”.
Christina is currently taking part in a SEGES project on piglet mortality designed to work with various registration systems able to indicate where particular focus is needed. 

Over the last six months, Frihedslund has had an average of 19.6 liveborn piglets, which puts demands on the personnel. Despite the high level of liveborn, a mortality rate of around 11% has been successfully maintained. 

How to get a sow fighting fit

All sow cards are printed prior to farrowing, and all the sows checked for the number of stillborn in their last litter.

Any number over 1.5 is marked in colour on the card. That makes it easy for the farrowing house personnel to identify which sows need extra attention when farrowing. Once a sow shows signs of farrowing starting, a heating lamp is hung behind her, to keep the new-born piglets warm (see photo).
After farrowing, all piglets have at least 8 hours with their own mother to ensure they get colostrum. During those 8 hours, the personnel also ensure that the sows are split milked, which is necessary with an average of 19.6 live piglets. 

Manpower also makes a difference

The latest measure taken by Frihedslund is a trial period of staggered shifts, to man the farrowing house from 5 am to 10 pm.

Initially, this was a measure introduced to avoid having more than five people in the unit because of Covid-19 – but it may well be permanently adopted!

It makes it possible to ensure that all piglets get those vital 8 hours with their mother, after which a nursing sow can be used, to avoid the sow lying with too many piglets until the next day.
More monitoring in the farrowing house has also meant fewer mortalities for the fourth week in a row. “Everyone has been very positive about the new measure, which is important when changes are implemented”, explains Christina. 
In the last quarter, Christina worked closely with the personnel and the herd vet to raise the level of weaned by weaning without it affecting mortality rates. The sows have been put out with more piglets, and the personnel have been focusing on learning to notice when they are not getting enough to drink, and when they are simply smaller.

In practical terms, they physically palpitate their stomachs to determine whether they contain milk. Piglets in the grey zone are marked and taken to a nursing sow the next day if they do not improve. Using this model, Frihedslund has raised 
weaned by weaning to 0.5 piglets per sow – without any increase in mortality.

The photo shows one of the latest measures: an extra curtain in front of the covered creep area to help retain warmth. 
The biggest challenge at Frihedslund is personnel changes, as there are always four trainees employed. The important thing here is for everyone to appreciate the importance of different ways of working. One of Christina’s most important duties is to check that routines are always followed in the farrowing unit. That also means the chance for the personnel to engage in useful discussions. 

Tips from Frihedslund to lower piglet mortality:

  • Focus on the sow’s record
  • Once there are signs of farrowing, hang up a heating lamp behind the sow
  • The piglets must spend at least 8 hours with the sow to ensure colostrum intake
  • Changes in manning levels due to Covid-19 have been good for production
  • Curtain in front of the covered creep area
  • Work together!
  • Clear guidelines for procedures

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