Those Critical First Days: Farrowing and Colostrum

Good care and management in the farrowing house has a major influence on the number of liveborn piglets that are weaned and on how well they perform in later stages of production. While birthweight is a big factor in terms of piglet survivability, sound management practices can help increase your pigs-weaned average significantly.

The two leading causes of pre-weaning deaths are from pigs being laid on (48.7%) and starvation (20.5%). Some surveys have shown that more than 50% of deaths occur in the first two to three days of life. Newborn piglets are highly reliant on proper management and care, thus, anything that may lead to a reduction in milk production or consumption, such as chilling or exposure to disease organisms, compromises their health and well-being. The following management practices can help increase the number of piglets weaned, and improve their ability to perform in subsequent stages of production.

Attended Farrowings

Research indicates that attending and assisting at farrowing can increase piglet survival and the number of pigs weaned. By being present at farrowing, disadvantaged piglets are quickly identified and the caregiver can begin to assist them.

Each producer should weigh the costs and benefits of supervised farrowings within their own system. Having many litters to supervise at one time (through batch farrowing or continuous farrowing in a multiple farrowing room complex) makes more efficient use of labor.

Assisted farrowings are the norm at Jayce Mountain Pork near St. Louis, Mo. Individualized attention during farrowing has allowed this operation to be in the top 3% in the country for pigs saved. Liz Walls and her cousin, Nikki, arrive at the facility at 4:30 a.m., and two other farrowing-house staff members get there at 8 a.m. Team members take the temperature of every sow at farrowing, and sows are checked every 15 minutes. The information is logged so the sow’s status is evident. The caregivers’ attention to detail helps them improve production and piglet survivability.

Careful observation of piglet behavior and body condition is the best method of determining if a sow is milking well. Lactation failure must be treated aggressively and the litter may need to be given supplemental milk as the sow is recovering.

The farrowing room should have two microclimates: a cool one for the sow (60-65°F) and a warm one for newborn piglets (specialists recommend 85-95°F the first few days, then decreased to the 70-80°F range). To achieve this goal, maintain a room temperature at approximately 65-70°F and provide zone heating for the litter.

Heat lamps, heat pads, radiant heat devices, and hovers are common ways to provide zone heating. Many times, however, the zone heating is placed only to the side of the sow in the creep area. Research indicates that having an additional heat lamp placed at the rear of the sow during farrowing reduces piglet mortality.

Colostrum Intake

Colostrum is rich in disease-preventing immunoglobulins; the very first colostrum is the richest and best, because the quality of colostrum declines over time. Getting a good dose of colostrum, especially from the piglet’s dam, is probably the single most important factor related to a piglet’s survival and long-term health.

The following methods can help ensure piglets obtain an adequate dose of colostrum.