Pre-weaning mortality

Dr Ioannis Mavromichalis
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?


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    Wes Naab

    The trend toward more liveborn pigs seems to make the goal of 10% almost seem impossible at times. There will be more low quality pigs born, and also more crushing and teat competition do to the higher number of piglets. Has anyone done any research on prewean loss if you make nurse sows and lower the number of piglets per sow?

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    Dr Nikolaos Kotrotsios

    I would like to emphasize how much important is the basis of proper supervision and stockmanship. During farrowing the concern and readiness of the stockperson, ensures that the stragglers find the udder and are able to consume adequate colostrum. The major cause of neonatal death is crushing by the sow. Presence of a stockperson is obligatory to reduce this bad habit and it is critical to examine sow maternal behavior. Also, those piglets need an extra time under the heat lamp can be taken care and avoid hypothermia.
    A disease free state for both the sow and the piglet, decrease the piglet mortality. Common causes of variation, are the presence or absence of agalactia or E.coli organisms. Therefore ingestion of colostrum, the immunoglobulin-rich milk that is produced maximally by 12 hours after parturtion, is critical for piglet survival. Also, we should take in consideration the injection with iron to avoid piglet anaemia.
    Finally, the absolute levels of nutrients required daily by the piglet, the daily feed intake, the concentration of the nutrients in the diet and the nutrient content of feedstuffs constitute the ideal project for reducing pre-weaning mortality. Adequate milk production by the sow is critical for proper nutrition of the piglets. Larger litters require a much greater rate of milk production by the sow to ensure survival of the entire litter. Another important factor in providing quality milk for the piglets is to maintain an environment that allows the sow to maximize feed intake. Environmental and disease stressors can both contribute to decreasing sow feed intake. Heat stress is especially capable of depressing feed intake.

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    harry Neulen

    My name is Harry Neulen and I work for Hendrix Consultancy in Beijing.
    I disagree with the meaning of Dr. Ioannis Mavromichalis regarding the effect of flushing before farrowing on mortality before weaning. Why:
    Flushing before farrowing can cause edema and constipation, this will have effect on the milk production of the sow and the birth process of the piglets. So it can increase the mortality before weaning.
    Better options are:
    1. Feed level must be ad libitum from weaning until mating (improves live born body weight).
    2. Give the sow sugar (200 gr. per day) from weaning until mating (improves quantity and quality of the follicles).
    3. Use a good feed scheme during the lactation period (max. lost of back fat is 4 mm.). In fact the number of live born piglets and the birth weight of the next litter is mostly decided in the farrowing room.
    4. High farm hygiene levels have a big effect on mortality of piglets before weaning.
    5. The use of prostaglandins can also have effect on the birth weight of the piglets. The result is high mortality because of light piglets

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    John Gadd

    Ioannis - you ask for further suggestions.....
    But first, an observation You have rightly trailed an important coat in raising this subject.
    Unfortunately the coat has something of a hole in it, as you are still using % mortality.
    Beware of percentages! Percent of what? AMF (Actual Mortality Figure) is a better measurerment as it takes account of litter size, which as Wes says is rising fast. AMF gives you the actual number of pigs lost which in the case of a large litter, when expressed in percentage terms, looks to be big and inefficient when in such cases could be reasonable (but not 20% - of course, that's just negligent!).
    Please guys, lets look again at some of these outdated measurement terms we are still using, as there are now better ones.

    Now a suggestion. Attending farrowing is a major factor in lowering AMF. When I was in charge of pigs and 62% of farrowings attended, we lost half a pig in the first 12 hours, another half up to 24 hrs and then only a further half up to weaning at 23 daysI I thought if we could reduce that one piglet lost in the first 24 hours to half a pig we could get near the magic 6% losses to weaning everyone tried to achieve in those days. So we tried night shifts on our large farm of 1100 sows and after a while got near it - which was enough to pay for the night shifts as well as getting a good bonus for me.
    Later in my career I promoted the idea to my clients and we did 3 trials. Their records showed that they got mortalities down from a range of 8.8% -11.0% to 6.2 - 7.0%. Later the farmers told me that they had saved, in extra pigs weaned per year per 100 sows, 106, 180, and 190.
    Harry, If prostaglandins are providing too many small, ie slightly premature, piglets then I guess the initial timing needs attention?

    Wes. You ask about nurse sows? I have written about this extensively - the good points and the snags.
    Write to me.

    Sorry to intrude on your blog, Ionnanis!

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    Ioannis Mavromichalis

    Many thanks for the constructive discussion, guys! It is evident, we need all suggestions and different angles of view if we are to find new and more efficient ways of increasing productivity and profitability is today's tough times!

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