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Maximizing piglet survival

BERNIE PEET Peet on Pigs

Bernie Peet is president of Pork Chain Consulting Ltd. of Lacombe, Alberta, and editor of Western Hog Journal. His columns will run every second week in the Manitoba Co-operator.

Careful attention to sow and piglet management and close co-operation between staff is the key to maximizing piglet survival, Ciaran Ormond, production manager at Partners in Pork told delegates to the Red Deer Swine Technology Workshop recently. The company’s three 1,200-sow units located near Rimbey, Alta., achieve a stillbirth level of just 0.5 pigs/litter and a death loss of less than eight per cent up to weaning.

The management practices used on the unit were shown using a video shot specially for the event at County Line Farms, one of the production units. In it, Jeri McMaster, the farrowing supervisor, demonstrates the techniques used to maximize survival and quality of weaned pigs.

The low stillbirth rate is achieved by careful management of the farrowing process. When sows enter the farrowing room, important information about previous history, such as high stillbirths, savaging, farrowing problems, early farrowing, health problems etc., are written on the back board of the pen in large letters.

“This enables everyone to see easily the crucial information without having to look up at the sow card all the time,” explains McMaster. Sows are induced to farrow and, once they start, are checked every half hour. A note is made on the back board of the time, the number of piglets born, any problems observed and the actions taken. As sows are checked they are also given 0.5 ml of oxytocin injected into the vulva, to ensure there are no delays in producing piglets. This is continued until farrowing is completed.

Assistance is given to sows that are slow to deliver piglets. “Before we intervene, the sow is made to stand up and, when she lies down in a different position, that often results in a pig being born,” notes McMaster. “We assist older sows more frequently as they farrow more slowly. Also, with older sows that have a history of stillbirths, we may intervene halfway through farrowing and remove as many pigs as we can,” she says.

Sows that are assisted are given a saline flush but antibiotics are only given if there is a discharge, indicating an infection. Good hygiene procedures when assisting mean that routine antibiotic treatment is not needed.

Maximizing the survival of pigs born alive starts right at the time of birth. The pen environment is enhanced by placing two infrared lamps in the back corners of the pen, with rubber mats underneath to prevent drafts from under the slats. As piglets farrow, they are placed under the lamps to dry off.

Split suckling is used to ensure all pigs get sufficient colostrum. “In the larger litters, we confine the biggest six to eight pigs under a heat lamp, giving the smaller pigs better access to the udder,” explains Ciaran Ormond. “They are left for up to two hours before releasing the larger piglets.” No fostering takes place until six hours after farrowing to maximize colostrum intake.

Because the average litter size is large, fostering is an essential part of ensuring maximum survival. When sows are farrowing, the number of functional teats is assessed and noted on the crate. Six hours after farrowing, piglets are fostered to leave 12 on each sow, moving the biggest piglets wherever possible. “We foster the smallest piglets onto a sow with a good udder that has short, easily accessible teats,” Ormond notes. “We also leave an extra heat lamp in the pen for these smaller piglets.”

“Cascade fostering” or “shunt fostering” is used when there are many surplus piglets. “A sow is weaned at 12 days and the piglets placed in a Piggy-Deck,” explains Ormond. “The sow stays where she is and has a litter of five-to seven-day-old pigs put on her, then that sow is used to suckle surplus piglets once they have had colostrum from their own mother. The biggest and best pigs for their age are always used when using this technique.”

Good observation of the sow and piglets is essential to ensure the piglet’s environment and milk supply are good and that the sow is healthy, stresses Mc-Master. “We make sure sows get up after farrowing and that they eat and drink. She should get up several times on the day of farrowing,” she says. “Sows that are not eating are taken out of the crate for a walk. They may also be given starter feed to improve their appetite and are given treatments as necessary.”

To achieve outstanding results, it is necessary for all staff, not just those in the farrowing department, to work together closely. Having well-defined procedures means that the same routines are followed whoever is doing them, which is especially important at weekends. Good communication between the staff in the farrowing and gestation areas is also crucial, Ormond points out.

“Important aspects are sow condition at entry to the farrowing room, backfat level, vaccinations and feedback of farrowing room material such as piglet manure and also cleanliness of the sows coming in to farrow,” he says. “We carry out backfat testing and an estimation of weight using a girth tape during gestation and these measurements are used as the basis for feed adjustments to ensure that sows enter the farrowing room in the correct condition and with the required backfat level.”

The results (see table) speak for themselves, with nearly 11 piglets weaned per litter and over 27 piglets weaned per sow. The clear focus, management skills and enthusiasm of the people in the barn is rewarded by this outstanding herd performance.

Copies of the half-hour video, in DVD format, are available from Bernie Peet by calling (403) 782-3776 or via e-mail to [email protected]They cost $30 each.

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