I am still surprised when I visit farms where pre-weaning mortality is not only exceeding 20%, but also such performance is considered acceptable and even normal.
Perhaps this was as best as it could had been 50 years ago, but today having a pre-weaning mortality below 10% should be the average target for all operations, with the best shooting for 5% or below.
There are many reasons that cause elevated pre-weaning mortality. These include genetic predisposition, faulty facilities and equipment, diseases, malnutrition, and lack of specialised management. No matter the reason, when mortality exceeds 10% and before it reaches the heights above 20%, it is high time for a careful analysis of the whole operation. Clearly some changes will be needed, not always the easiest ones!
When it comes to nutrition, we have previously discussed how to nourish and support the light-weight pigs that usually end up contribution to high pre-weaning mortality figures. But here, I would like how to feed sows so that they produce and sustain piglets that are more viable and less likely to be crushed or succumb to a disease.
Below is a brief list and I would be delighted to know your thoughts!
1. Flush before farrowing
This is a technique most promising in farms where sows give birth to piglets with an average birth weight below 1.2 kg. It has been estimated that in such cases, sows can benefit from an increase in their diet allotment and (or) energy concentration during the last two or three weeks before farrowing. Unfortunately, research has demonstrated that this is not easy to achieve in most normal farms not suffering from low birth-weights; so it is almost impossible to raise birth weight when sows give birth to piglets approaching 1.5 kg, for example.
2. Avoid overfeeding during gestation
Although a final 'flush' might help raise birth weights, a prolonged overfeeding during the gestation period will certainly fatten up the sows. These not only have problems to give birth, but because they suffer from depressed appetite they tend to milk 'off their backs', meaning they support milk yield from body lipid reserves. But, under this scenario milk yield is always reduced and as such piglets don't achieve their potential. This results in weak piglets getting weaker due to increased competition and limited nutrient supply.
3. Encourage high feed intake during lactation
This is a recurrent theme and chronic problem, but it is the only solution that ensures an abundant milk yield and a quick return to estrus. There are many ways to enhance lactation feed intake, but the most practical one is to increase feeding frequency. Of course, ensuring an unlimited water supply is also very important as is ensuring the feed is of the best quality possible and rich in energy. Also, pelleting and liquid feeding are also strong techniques that can help increase lactation feed intake.
4. Use of certain additives
This can never be the only solution, but within an integrated approach certain additives have a very positive role to play. These include additives that enhance feed intake in sows, or improve the quality of milk (for example, they may increase the immunoglobuling content), or improve the digestibility of feed, or even enhance the health status of the farrowing crate (by helping sows excrete less harmful bacteria).
So, what else can be done?