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Targeting Pre-Weaning Death Loss

Article-Targeting Pre-Weaning Death Loss

As we focus our management skills on saving more newborn pigs, it is critical to spend some time studying the pigs that die after the birthing process, but were not recorded as stillborn or mummified pigs.

Charts 1 and 2 from the Swine Management Services (SMS) database show the trends for pre-weaning death loss has risen for the last 12 quarters. Chart 1, representing the top 49 farms, shows a 1.1% increase for the last 12 quarters. Similarly, Chart 2, encompassing the top 233 farms, shows an increase of 0.40%.

Chart 3 displays the variation in pre-weaning death loss across the 568 farms in the database, where pre-weaning death losses range from <5% to >20%. When we combine stillborn and pre-weaning death loss (piglet survival), the percentage of piglets that survive has declined (Charts 4 and 5) during the last 12 quarters. Looking closer, the top 49 farms have dropped 2%, from 82.9% to 80.9%, and the top 233 farms have dropped 1%, from 82.1% to 81.1%. Also, as Chart 6 shows, there is a big variation in piglet survival among farms – ranging from <65% to 94%.

At SMS, we have 21reasons for a death loss (Table 1). These categorical reasons are used to record the cause of death. In turn, the tabulation of these reasons and day of death are analyzed and serves to guide training programs to reduce death losses and to ensure that piglet deaths are recorded accurately.

As the number of total pigs born per litter (stillborn and live born piglets) increases, the gains in litter size are running on par with an increase in pre-wean mortalities. Some of the factors that affect pre-weaning death loss include: sow parity, mothering ability, health, piglet birth weight, farrowing room temperature, flooring type, supplemental heat source, hygiene, ventilation, farrowing room personal, pig viability at birth, crossfostering methods, feeding and watering of sows, colostrum management, sow teat development, etc.

The following practices may help reduce pre-weaning death loss:

  • Pre-farrowing: Make sure farrowing rooms are clean and dry; load farrowing rooms 2-3 days before sows are due to farrow; make sure heat sources are ready to go.
  • Farrowing personnel: Make sure the staff is trained to identify and treat chilled pigs by drying them off, applying drying agent, and/or placing them under a heat source. Some units have a Day-1 person who is responsible for attending all farrowings, making sure pigs are dry, and ensuring all pigs have nursed before handing the room off on Day 2. This person needs to be able to see pigs that are falling back and understand how to properly cross-foster piglets during the first 24-48 hours of life.
  • Split suckling: Make sure all pigs are split suckled within 6-18 hours after farrowing to improve colostrum intake without excess competition.
  • Environment: Lowering room temperature after farrowing will encourage pigs to stay under the heat source; lower temperatures improve sows’ daily feed and water intake.
  • Hygiene: The farrowing room must be clean, disinfected and dry when new sows are brought in. Sows should be washed before entering farrowing room so new pigs are not exposed to worm eggs, E. coli, etc., which are often found on the sows and in the teat plug.
  • Water and feed intake for sows: To promote optimum growth of the piglets and reduce weight loss of the sows, it is important that lactating sows get all of the feed they can eat. Water is often forgotten as part of the nutrition program. Sows will consume 5-10 gallons of water/day during lactation. Flow rate of nipples in farrowing should provide a minimum of 2 quarts/minute.
It is important to have a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that address each of the points above. Your personnel in the farrowing room have a direct influence on how many live pigs will be weaned. A 2,500-sow unit that improves piglet survival by just 2% will sell, on average, 25 more pigs/week.

Key Performance Indicators
Tables 2 and 3 (attached) provide 52-week and 13-week rolling averages for key performance indicators (KPI) of breeding herd performance. These tables reflect the most current quarterly data available and are presented with each column. The KPI’s in the tables can be used as general guidelines to measure the productivity of your herd compared to the top 10% and top 25% of farms, the average performance for all farms, and the bottom 25% of farms in the SMS database.

If you have questions or comments about these columns, or if you have a specific performance measurement that you would like to see benchmarked in our database, please address them to: [email protected] or [email protected].

Click to view graphs.

By Mark Rix and Ron Ketchem,
Swine Management Services, Inc.