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Assisting sows during farrowing

National Pork Board Two caregivers monitoring a sow and her litter during farrowing
Many farms have adopted an established set of guidelines or SOP with regards to which sows should be checked.

Manually removing piglets from the sow's birth canal during farrowing or "sleeving," is a management practice that both swine industry professionals and the general public view in a positive way. It helps prevent sows from becoming fatigued during farrowing. This should help them maintain the ability to initiate and successfully complete the powerful contractions needed to push piglets out. It also decreases the likelihood that piglets are born weak, hypoxic or dead due to prolonged transit times through the uterus and cervix.

However, what often is challenging for many employees is determining when to intervene versus when to leave sows alone and "let nature take its course." Experienced technicians often rely on changes in sow behavior as a guide provided that they can observe sows frequently and be present during the entire farrowing process. This can be difficult to accomplish consistently, especially when there are a large number of sows farrowing over a short period of time.

Because of this many farms have adopted an established set of guidelines or standard operating procedures with regards to which sows should be checked. While some of the guidelines listed in such a SOP may be farm-specific there are several aspects of which should be universal and fairly easy to implement based on the physiology associated with farrowing.

Several of the SOPs that seem to be the most popular among farrowing barn employees that I have observed during close to 40 years of farm visits are listed below:

  1. The average total number of pigs born (live born + stillborn + mummies) for each sow was written in the corner of her farrowing card. This helped employees estimate whether sows were near beginning, middle or end of farrowing.
  2. Total number born was circled for any sow that had more than two stillborn pigs in her previous parity or average more than two stillborns per litter over all parities. This was done in an attempt to identify potential "problem sows" prior to the start of farrowing with the intention of providing them with more attention.
  3. In the morning immediately after arrival, farrowing technicians checked any sows that were in the process of farrowing piglets but had no afterbirth present in the farrowing crate. If any of these sows had stillborns in the farrowing crate or had reached more than 75% of their average total number born, then they were "sleeved" or checked first.
  4. In the afternoon just before the farrowing technicians left work they also sleeved any sow that had reached 75% of her total number born alive and had a history of stillborn piglets.

For questions or more information, click here to contact the author. 

Source: William Flowers, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

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