September 4, 2008


Scottish research finds physical traits key to piglet survival

A research backed by Scotland's government has found that both sow characteristics and piglet physical traits have a key role to play in neonatal mortality. 


Researchers discovered that piglets that find the udder and suckle quickly have better survival rates. Physical features such as body weight and shape also determine survival rate. Stillborn piglets were disproportionately long and thin while surviving piglets were more proportional with greater fat covering.


Piglets are also more likely to survive if a sow provides an efficient placenta that allows the development of the right birth weight and shape. A poor placenta will increase mortality rates.


Development support of piglets and good maternal behaviour are key aspects to look for when selecting sows, according to researchers.


Researchers said sows should be calm and quiet during farrowing, and lie down slowly and carefully therefore reducing the risk of accidentally crushing the piglets.


The researchers also found that survival rates could be improved when breeding from boars with high survival rates. Mortality was 12 percent in litters selected for high survival compared to 18 percent in litters selected for average survival. High survival sows were also better mothers as they displayed less crushing behaviour during farrowing than average survival sows.


This research also indicates that farrowing crates would be phased out in the future.


Farmers traditionally use farrowing crates to protect piglets from being crushed by the sow but the crates are known to stress the sow and may be also causing other types of piglet mortality such as savaging. The research has also shown that piglet survival can be improved in just one generation in non-crate systems.


Farmers suffer an average of 20 percent mortality per litter of piglets. On average, neonatal mortality can cost farmers 2.56 piglets per litter twice per year. With current prices, a farmer with a herd of 250 sows could lose more than EUR 50,000 (US$72,560) per year due to early piglet deaths.
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