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Is There a Top-End Limit to Litter Weaning Average?

Apparently not, or at least we aren’t close to it yet.

At a World Pork Expo seminar on saving more pigs, consulting veterinarian Keith Aljets from southeast Iowa said that sow farms he works with are getting from 14 to 16 pigs born alive in some litters, and go the extra mile to keep ALL of them alive. That compares to the industry average of about 10 pigs weaned per litter.

Aljets says the most commonly accepted number is that 12% to 13% of baby pigs die before weaning. But on the elite sow farms, that number is far lower. “They take the attitude that they are going to save every pig,” he says. “If you want to average 12 pigs weaned or higher, you have to think that way.”

One thing those farms typically do is called split suckling. When a large litter is born, for the first day of life the smallest pigs in the litter are given the boost of no nursing competition for 30- to 60-minute intervals, three or four times. The big pigs are put in a homemade box or a large PVC ring while the little guys nurse uncontested.

“We encourage our sow farms to do this even before they cross-foster pigs to even out litter size,” says Aljets. “That gives the smaller pigs access to colostrum from their own mother in that first 24 hours. Anything you can do to keep that pig alive for another day gives you more of a chance to wean him as a healthy nursery pig. In some herds, we now see enough pigs born alive that you really have to get creative in how you keep them all alive.”

Starvation is the biggest cause of death of the smaller or weaker pigs, Aljets thinks, and 65% of pig deaths happen in the first three days of life. Even pigs that get crushed are often the result of weakness because they aren’t getting anything to eat.

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