Early Indicators of Iron Deficiency in Large Piglets at Weaning

Larger piglets in the litter are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anaemia than their smaller littermates, a new Danish study has revealed.
calendar icon 18 February 2015
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Two researchers in Denmark have been investigating whether large piglets at weaning have indications of iron deficiency anaemia.

In their paper in Journal of Swine Health and Production, Sheeva Bhattarai and Jens Peter Nielsen of the University of Copenhagen explain that their study was carried out in five conventional high-performing farrow-finish Danish sow herds.

Within each herd, litters belonging to a weekly farrowing batch close to weaning were identified, and 20 litters were randomly selected. From each litter the largest piglet (Large), a random piglet (Random), and the smallest piglet (Small) were chosen.

Blood samples collected at weaning from the selected piglets were subjected to hematological analysis, including serum iron and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC).

They included 296 piglets from 100 litters in the study.

Blood haemoglobin concentrations in Large, Random and Small piglets were 119.6 ± 15.5, 121.5 ± 15.0, and 121.5 ± 13.2g per litre, respectively, which did not differ significantly.

However, large piglets had significantly lower mean corpuscular haemoglobin, reticulocyte cellular volume, reticulocyte haemoglobin content, mean reticulocyte corpuscular haemoglobin concentration, serum iron and transferrin saturation than Random and Small piglets.

As a result, Large piglets had significantly higher red blood cell distribution width, reticulocyte red cell distribution width and TIBC than Random and Small piglets.

These results led Bhattarai and Nielsen to conclude that large piglets in a litter are at greater risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia at weaning than smaller piglets.

They added that alternative haematological indices might serve as better early indicators of iron deficiency than traditionally used haemoglobin values.


Bhattarai S and J.P. Nielsen. 2015. Early indicators of iron deficiency in large piglets at weaning. J Swine Health Prod. 23(1):10-17.

Further Reading

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February 2015

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