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How to reduce piglet mortality figures?

Both the Netherlands and Denmark are under societal pressure to reduce piglet mortality figures. What do both countries do to meet these novel demands?

The Danish pig industry has felt the effects of increased societal pressure to reduce piglet mortality figures since 2010. In that year, the Danish government initiated an initiative to reduce piglet mortality by installing a taskforce. Its goal: by 2020, 1 more piglet per litter should survive than in 2014.

How to reduce piglet mortality figures?

Rikke Ingeman Svarrer, project manager at the Danish Pig Research Centre (VSP), part of SEGES, explained that this target is a major challenge for pig producers. She was interviewed by Boerderij, a sister title to Pig Progress. Nevertheless, the Danish mortality figures are not as high as they appear to be, as in Denmark, stillborn piglets form part of mortality figures.

2 channels

The Danish industry has initiated a double track to achieve a reduction of piglet mortality. On one hand, using breeding techniques, sows can be selected that will combine both excellent maternal qualities with high vitality piglets. For this purpose, the key figure 'LG5' was developed – or the number of piglets alive at day 5 post-farrowing. This figure is included in the Danish breeding goal for 28%.

The 2nd track is to reduce mortality by applying management measures. A start was made in nucleus facilities, which managed to reduce mortality from 22% in 2004 to 16% in 2010.

On the basis of the results achieved in nucleus farms, the task force concluded that a similar improvement can be made at multiplication farms when applying improved management.

Project PattegriseLIV

A 2014 evaluation of the multiplication farm outcomes, resulted in the start of the project PattegriseLIV in 2015. Its goal was to give an extra impetus to attempts to reduce piglet mortality. Main instrument: to share the participating farms' practical experiences with pig producers.

Altogether 30 farms participate in the project. Their results as well as management are being analysed and communicated to other pig producers. One year after the start, the Danes have thus managed to make a good analysis of the large differences between farms with regard to piglet mortality. These differences offer opportunities to reduce mortality and form the basis of a further approach.

Danish piglet mortality

Currently, Danish piglet mortality is over 20%, Ingeman Svarrer said. The goal of 1 additional piglet alive corresponds with a mortality reduction of 15-16%, a figure which includes stillborn piglets. The task force is meeting the Danish ministry of Environment and Food twice a year to update the project group on the progress.

Piglet mortality in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, there has been attention on the reduction of piglet mortality since 2009. A task force 'Piglet Vitality' was set up, aiming for a reduction of 15-20% in 10 years in conventional pig production and a reduction of 30-40% in organic pig production.

All the task force's efforts so far haven't led to concrete results. The most recent update, published in August 2015, showed that mortality in conventional figures in 2014 was even higher than in the reference year 2008.

On organic farms, mortality dropped from almost 25% in 2008 to around 20.5% now. This equals a drop of roughly 15%.

A new plan how to reduce mortality

The Dutch taskforce is currently working on a new plan, aimed at how the pig industry could further reduce mortality. The goals that have been agreed on back in 2009, come down to mortality figures between 10.2 and 10.9% for conventional pig production and 12-14% for organic pig farms. Some speed, however, is advisable, as 7 of the 10 years have already passed.


  • Frank Meulendijks

    Number one pre-weaning killer is crushed piglets, You cannot solve this by only good management and feed. There are technical solutions to reduce the % of crushed piglets with 80%.

  • JN Mr Gadd

    Being there at farrowing can yield dramatic reductions in neonatal mortality. With the correct application of prostaglandin analogues (read the instructions, seek advice when starting, keep good likely farrowing-time records) .They work well in allowing most farrowings - not all, but sufficient to prove cost-effective - to occur in working hours.
    My personal opinion - admittedly open to critcism - is that a ban on the use of such products based on results from producers who just didn`t use them properly, is one of the worst abuses of animal welfare ever in respect of those little piglets who never have the chance to survive, and would do so otherwise. As littersize increases, the problem will increase exponentially.
    John Gadd


    There are 2 discussions here; the high percentage of piglets born dead , as commented by Mr. Gadd above. Sow induction could be helpful with large farrowing groups, along with relatively good personnel. On the other hand, the Pre- weaning mortality however needs a relative 'target" oriented approach, especially against crushed piglets.

  • Georgios Vatzias

    I agree with John Gadd as far the use of the prostaglandin analogues, but even that wouldn't be the panacea to the "problem". Large litter size "used" to be one of the top preferences of the pig producers (including myself) but the hyper prolific genetic lines (within the last decade) exceed any expectation and along with that high mortality rate of the newborn piglets. As far as the aetiology, besides the crushing factor, low birth weight is the factor that you can't prevent and most likely contributes significantly to crushing. Farrowing management and cross fostering may minimize newborn mortality but the need of the management of the low birth weight piglets remains.

  • Georgios Magklaras

    Having in mind the comments from Dr. Vatzias and Mr. John Gadd, I want to point out the management/enviromental effect on pre-weaning mortality as suggested by Prof. P. English (chilling-hypothermia-crushing syndrome). Of course pen design/size and supervision of farrowings can dramatically reduce mortality of these numerous but small piglets, but actually help is needed from breeding programmes and companies in terms of piglet vitality and good sow mothering behaviour. Nevertheless, improved stockmanship techniques still remain a critical factor.
    Georgios Magklaras

  • GA Bisset

    I have had little success with the use of prostaglandins I particularly found Cloprostenel gave a very unwelcomed response in sows in that it made them restless and more liable to savage. To the point I was concern for sow welfare. Dinoprost tromethamine seem to be less severe but could be quite unpredictable. In the end I gave it away and opted for good old supervision. On 1000 sows using a split batch system we had farrowing supervision for the 3 days when most of the sows farrowed. About 18 hours a day. The team member on the night shift basically supervised farrowing, processed litters and fostered. While in Australia our numbers born are low as compared to our European counterparts and therefore birth weights averaging 1.65 – 1.75 kilos are the norm. Our mortality could be kept to between 6%-8.5% weaning 10.5 to 11 year round. At one stage we were increased feeding in the last phase of gestation and were getting average birth weights of 1.85 kgs. This lead to increase in still birth and much slower recovery for sows. For me the greatest challenge is presented when average birth weight in a litter maybe fine but the spread is wide. That is 2kg individual birthweight with 1 kg or lighter piglets.

  • GA Bisset

    Some things we found have greatest impact:

    • Close monitoring and recording of sow birthing intervals on back of crate. Walk around conducted minimum of every 40 minutes.
    • A birth dusting the piglets with powder and placing them on the heater pad
    • Split suckling litters putting the smallest group on first locking the largest piglets in the creep area as soon as farrowing was completed (unless planning to shift big pigs off then they may be first on)
    • Within 24 hours of farrowing get sows out and take them for a walk if at all reluctant to stand or eat feed. Up 70% of the sows were walked as first intervention this seems to improve the sows temperament and also get her passing manure
    • For the first three days locking the piglets in the creep area at feeding time. This gives the sows a break from the piglets whilst feeding and protects them from crushing. The piglets released when all the sows have laid down for about 15 minutes
    • This process also synchronises the sows feeding pattern as they all milk at the same time which leads to less overall disturbance in the rooms
    • Our fostering techniques and creep feeding strategies also contribute to low mortality
    All labour intensive BUT cost benefit analyses proved this to be highly profitable.

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