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Reduce the Mortality Rate in Your Farrowing Operation

The industry standard for preweaning mortality in piglets, on average, is 14% to 16%. There’s always room for improvement.

Keith Bretey is the director of veterinary services for Standard Nutrition Company in Omaha, Nebraska. When pigs are born, he says, they can’t regulate their body temperature until they’re about 3 days old. So on day one, have your best people making sure the piglets start out in a dry, clean, and warm environment.

“Have a cleaned-out area for that piglet to land as it comes out. Get it dried off and to a warm area that’s a temperature it likes,” says Bretey. “We can have the local microenvironment much warmer than the sow will have. That piglet’s going to have some energy to go get that first drink.”

If you do day one right, days two through eight usually go a lot better. This is also when you focus on the fallback piglets that aren’t getting up and doing what they’re supposed to – and determining the reason why.

“Is there mastitis keeping those piglets from consuming what they need to consume? Is there a splay leg situation? Are they scouring very quickly? That detailed attention during days two through eight is critical,” says Bretey. “That’s why you want your best caretakers right there, because they notice and then deal with a lot of things that could be happening.”

Piglets being laid on and crushed by the sow is a leading cause of death. Sow comfort, stall design, and sensors that detect when pigs are being laid on will save more of them.

piglets and prrs

Another cause of piglet mortality is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). It’s a viral disease that affects pigs of any age, but in a PRRS-positive farrowing system, infected sows can deliver piglets with the disease. The cycle of shedding the virus and infection in a nursery can quickly spread through the herd, especially if piglets are nursed on other sows.

Bretey says needle management and moving piglets around are big deals when you’re trying to squash PRRS transmission on a farm.

“One of the key things that you can do that we suggest most of the time is reducing or eliminating cross-fostering during that time period,” he says. “We know this is one of those things that will transmit PRRS from litter to litter in a farrowing room quicker than just about anything.”

When humans get sick, the best thing is Mom’s chicken noodle soup. Bretey says PRRS-positive piglets also benefit from good nursing care and comfort. Prevent them from being chilled and feed them electrolytes.

“Those things become very important in saving piglets. You can drench products like that, you can put it in front of them and let them drink it, you can do gruel feeding – whatever it takes to get it into them,” says Bretey. “They need the energy, and they need the protein to develop an immune system and fight off infections.”

If your farm breaks with the PRRS virus at 16 weeks postbreak, you should have mostly PRRS-negative pigs being born. 

If your farm is 20 weeks post-PRRS break and some animals are still positive for the illness, either it’s taking a long time to stabilize or you’re moving too many pigs and spreading it around, he says.

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