The Broken Sow: Fix Your Sow and You Fix the Piglets

Stop looking at the dead piglet in the farrowing pen. By the time you have found it you have missed out on the basic cause of its death. Generally the cause has nothing to do with the dead pig other than the fact it could not survive, write Lorne and Vicki Tannas, swine specialists and nucleus support for Genesus farms in China.
calendar icon 15 January 2016
clock icon 6 minute read

Establish a standard to determine what your expectations are:

  • 14.5 Total Born
  • 13.6 Born Alive
  • 0.7 Still births
  • 0.2 Mummies
  • 1.0 Pre-wean Mortality
  • 12.6 Weaned
  • 86 % Survival
  • 21 day adjusted weight average 6.5 Kgs or 82 Kgs 21 day adjusted litter weight
  • 11.5 average liters of milk produced per day

If any of these expectations are not met then there is something wrong and needs attention. “The sow is Broken”. Learn not to look at the dead piglet for answers but learn to focus on the things that involve the sow. (Add other expectations if you want).

Here are some basic guides:

Prepare the sow and the crate for farrowing

  • Make sure the sow has all the vaccination shots and back feeding done that will provide needed antibodies in the colostrum at your farm
  • Lead feed the sow so average birth weight is around 1.5 Kgs. (3.3 lbs)
  • Wash, disinfect and dry the room.
  • Warm the room to 24 C.
  • Turn on the heat lamps or heat pads

Be pro-active at farrowing

  • Be present
  • Assist after 20 minutes without new piglet
  • Use oxytocin when she has completed farrowing
  • Have a record sheet of the birthing
  • Take the sow’s temperature after farrowing and every 12 hours for the next two days. Treat her if it exceeds 104F (40C).
  • Tube any piglet with 20 ml colostrum if it is less than 900 grams in the first 2 to 6 hours, tube these same piglets 20 ml twice a day for the next 3 days with a quality milk replacer. Make sure it is 36C (96F). In behavior studies, pigs under 900 grams travel twice as far in competition for udder space and milk than larger piglets, using up valuable energy storage.

Keep piglets Warm, dry and draft free

  • The piglet at birth requires a birthing area temperature of 36C (96F). The sow requires an area of 18C (64F).
  • If possible dry the piglet and place it to the udder.
  • The CFMs required during lactation period should not go below or exceed 2 to 25 CFMs for the piglet if the temperature goes below or above the thermal-neutral zone of 32C to 36C (90F to 96F).
  • The CFMs required during lactation period should not go below or exceed 20 to 500 CFMs for the sow if the temperature goes below or above the thermal-neutral zone of 15C to 25C (59F to 77F).
  • Use a cover over the nesting area for the baby pigs. This is a real help when you have such a large difference in temperature and CFM requirements for the piglet and the sow.

Reduce stress during the first 2 days after farrowing

  • Delay castration and tail docking until days 4-7
  • Make sure the piglet has had adequate colostrum before fostering
  • Always foster off the biggest piglets
  • Disinfect navels
  • Keep birthing area clean and use a drying agent

Iron shots

  • Prevent anemia
  • Supplement with an antibiotic to piglet during iron shot if strep-suis and a-suis and other pathogens are problems.

Scour prevention

  • Use back feeding to build up antibodies with the pathogens on your farm. For the gilts per breeding and for the sows pre farrowing. This is a great way to also booster your vaccines and develop antibodies for pathogens that have no vaccines.
  • Use reliable vaccines
  • Do sensitivity testing to be able to use the most effective antibiotic.
  • Use foot baths and stay out of the scouring pens. Wash your hands often.

Sow Nutrition

What are the piglet birth weights?

Birth weights are a direct reflection of how the sow is fed during the last 15 to 20 days of gestation

What are the days return to first estrus?

Long days to estrus is a result of expended energy during lactation. Generally as a function of low energy intake to meet these needs.

What are the weaning weights?

Weaning weights are a reflection of sow milk production and piglet health. Generally the sow should be able to milk 11 to 12 liters of milk per day.

Lactation feed intake and proper lactation feed density (nutrients) is needed to get the required milk production.

What is the milk production of your sow during lactation?

To determine what your sows are milking take the 21 day liter weight subtract the litter birth weight, divide by 21 days and multiply by 4. (It takes 4 grams of milk to make one gram of gain). 82 Kgs (wean weight) – 21.5 Kgs birth weight is 60.5 Kgs of growth, divide by 21 days is 2.87 grams per day times 4 is 11.5 liters of milk per day.

Don’t overfeed in gestation from days 32 to 90.

What is the subsequent litter size?

Subsequent liter size should see an increase each parity beyond the 7th parity. There should not be a non-gain or reduction at any time from one sow interval to another.

It is important to establish if your sow herd is broke by looking at herd averages. But it is also as equally important to determine the frequency of this happening. Look at 30 to 100 sows and establish a frequency. It may be important to look at it by parity. It may be important to look at it seasonally. Ideally you don’t want any sows to break down. Break downs in a herd may be caused by a singularity or can be multifactorial. Don’t think in terms of what is wrong with my piglets. Try to think in terms of what is going on with the sow.

Fix your sow and you fix the piglets.

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