Many pig producers use hyperprolific sows because of the economic benefits large litters create. However, any gain in the number of piglets born has the potential to be offset by reduced survival rates. Farmers Guardian reports.
To maximise the potential of larger litters, producers need to take a holistic approach to sow nutrition and management and make prompt decisions around the need for intervention both during farrowing and immediately after, says Dr Emma Baxter, a pig specialist and researcher at Scotland’s Rural College.
Dr Baxter, who advocates measuring piglet vitality at birth to inform decisions about early piglet interventions, has worked with Lallemand Animal Nutrition to develop a piglet vitality scoring system.
She says: “This system is a visual tool to help identify healthy and compromised piglets.
“One of the reasons why this system is so useful is that while piglets may appear perfectly formed, they could still be compromised in some way.”
The system is based on a score of one to four (with one being stillborn and four being good vitality) and should be used within 15 seconds of birth.
Dr Baxter says: “How a piglet moves and its physical appearance are indicators which will determine the score given. If a piglet displays signs of immediate vigour, is breathing well and is attempting to stand, it is likely to be healthy.
“It is important to not just look at behaviour but also note the piglet’s appearance.
“A piglet with pale or blue skin or one with brown spotted marks on it is likely to have experienced a difficult birth.
“Very big piglets are especially at risk of experiencing a difficult birth and it is crucial to note that although they may appear to be displaying good movement, they may in fact be displaying signs of oxygen starvation and are trying to catch their breath.”
She also says piglets may be obviously compromised and can be born with certain signs of poor pre-natal development, not just very low birth weight but also ‘dolphin heads’, indicating intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR).
She says: “Depending on the severity of this IUGR, it could be that the best course of action is to humanely dispatch these individuals.”
Dr Baxter explains that piglet vitality can be improved once they are born.
“Piglets need to be warmed up immediately after birth and those which are compromised will need assistance.
“Piglets born with brown spots or staining of the skin, suggesting a difficult birth, are more susceptible to hypothermia, so will need to be placed under a heat lamp if the umbilical cord has snapped. Ideally, they
should then be put onto the udder and helped to suckle.”
Dr Baxter adds that piglets receiving their mother’s colostrum within 20 minutes after birth are the ones most likely to survive.
She also says that if fostering is required, because the litter is too big, this should be done after they have had a good dose of their own mother’s colostrum and no later than 48 hours after birth.
She says: “If piglets need to be fostered on, those displaying vigorous behaviour and of a comparable size should be grouped together.
“I would recommend moving more than one sibling to a foster litter and it is important the foster or nurse sow chosen has teats which are compatible with the size of foster piglets’ mouths.”
David Saornil (pictured right), Lallemand Animal Nutrition global swine product manager, says ensuring sows are fit for farrowing by considering their nutritional intake throughout gestation, with a heightened focus on energy requirements in the days leading up to farrowing, will help improve piglet quality and vitality at birth.
Mr Saornil says: “To help avoid prolonged farrowing times and extended birthing intervals, it is important a sow is carefully prepared.
“Feeding a specific high fibre peripartum diet from three to four days before farrowing until three to four days after farrowing can be hugely beneficial because it provides a slow release source of energy which will help her endure the birthing process.”
Mr Saornil says there should be some consideration about feeding times, which can help ensure sows have enough energy available.
He says: “Sows tend to farrow at night, so timing feeds right to ensure she does not have an energy deficit is crucial to help prevent labour difficulties.
“Feeding a high fibre diet three times a day will help overcome this. But do not be tempted to feed during the farrowing process itself as this could cause complex mastitis, metritis and agalactia syndrome from an increase in colostrum in the teats.”