EU-funded project: Neonatal mortality in pigs
Farmers suffer an average of 20% mortality per litter
of piglets, which represents both a significant animal welfare issue and
economic loss to the farmer. 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 €50,000 per year due to early piglet
However, research carried out through Welfare QualityÂ®
and supported by the Scottish Government, provides practical strategies to help
farmers to increase their profits while improving the quality of life for their
sows and piglets.
The Importance of
Traditionally farmers have used farrowing crates to protect
piglets against being accidentally crushed by the sow. However, farrowing crates
are known to stress the sow and may also be involved in other types of piglet
mortality, such as savaging.
There have been vocal public campaigns
against the use of the farrowing crate. Hence Welfare QualityÂ® researchers have
focused on the genetics of piglet mortality and whether selective breeding can
improve the chances of piglet survival in loose-housed or outdoor systems. The
research has shown that piglet survival can be improved in just one generation
in these non-crate systems.
Researchers found that piglets who find the
udder and suckle quickly have better survival rates. This early vitality
combined with physical features such as the right body weight and shape all lead
to improved survival rates. Piglets that were dead at birth were
disproportionately long and thin while surviving piglets were more proportional
with a greater fat covering.
characteristics are just as important as those of the piglet when it comes to
piglet survival. Piglets were more likely to survive if the sow provided them
with an efficient placenta that allowed them to develop the right birth weight
and shape. Poor placentas increased mortality rates.
As well as
selecting for sows that support the development of their piglets, we should also
select for sows that show good maternal behaviour. Sows should be calm and quiet
during farrowing, and lie down slowly and carefully thereby reducing the risk of
accidentally crushing the piglets.
Welfare QualityÂ® researchers studied
piglets and sows that were sired from boars with high survival rates versus
average survival rates. This study showed survival rates could be substantially
improved when breeding from â€œhigh survivalâ€ boars. Mortality was only 12% in
litters selected for high survival compared to 18% in litters selected for
average survival. High survival sows were better mothers showing less crushing
behaviour during farrowing than average survival sows.
using genetic selection strategies benefits both piglet and sow welfare, as well
as assisting the farmer by making substantial economic savings. Additionally,
this research demonstrates the potential for phasing out of the farrowing crate
in the future.
â€¢ Welfare Quality
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