Will Attended Farrowings Help Increase Your Bottom Line?

Suervised farrowings improve production numbers either by increasing the number of piglets born alive or allowing for improved colostrum intake by piglets, reports Beth Ferry, Extension Educator with Michigan State University in 'MSU Pork Quarterly'.
calendar icon 10 July 2014
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In the world of pork production we all know that in order to make a profit there are numerous variables to consider. The price of inputs and market pig value, both of which are influenced by many factors, indicate if your bottom-line is a profit or loss. One thing that we also know is that if we don’t have a product to start with, we won’t have anything to sell regardless of input costs or market value. This is where farrowing room protocols and stock people come into play.

Michigan State University

Proper training of employees, understanding of pig health and viability and having effective protocols in place are a few variables that when done correctly positively influence production numbers.

One protocol that can be considered by farm management is the ability to have attended farrowings at your operation. However, this protocol does not come without a price tag. In order to have attended farrowings, you will need to either implement an induction protocol, increasing your animal health costs or increase the number of hours employees are on site, upping your labour costs. Both of these options are ones to consider for your farm, if you indeed see a benefit to attended farrowings.

In order to help producers weigh the options for attended farrowing, different research projects have taken place to help determine the effect of attended farrowings on number born alive and increased colostrum intake which can lead to increased immunity resulting in healthier piglets.

Research Trial Number 1 – Materials/Methods and Results

In a study reported by Nguyen et al., (2011) 159 multi-parity sows were involved in a trial to evaluate the benefits of attended farrowings. Sows were split into two groups of 75 and 84, respectively.

The protocol for the sows in Group 1 required the sows to be induced on day 114. These sows had their farrowing supervised as needed during working hours. Group 2 sows farrowed naturally and only supervised twice a day during feeding and if assistance was needed at that time, it was given. For Group 1, 75 per cent of the sows farrowed during working hours and only four sows in the group did not complete the farrowing process by the end of the work day at 5pm.

Results from this field trial included a measurable difference in the number of stillborn piglets between groups. For Group 1, 27 per cent of the sows had a stillborn in their litter while for Group 2, 49 per cent of the sows had a stillborn in their litter. This indicates that the risk of stillborn piglets increases by 2.8 when farrowings are not scheduled during work hours so that they can be attended by stockpersons.

Although the results from this study are favourable for attended or scheduled farrowings, it was also found that when the piglets were followed through weaning there was no effect, either increase or decrease, on pre-wean mortality for either of these groups. Management protocols after day one were not considered and can influence pre-wean mortality.

Further work by Smith et al., (2013) found that more sows experience stillborn piglets when induction occurred on day 116 verses induction on day 113. This research showed that when inducing farrowing, it is beneficial to give the treatment the day before the average gestation length for the operation. For example, if the farm’s average gestation length is 114 days, induction should occur on day 113 so that the number of sows farrowing during work hours is maximised.

Research Trial Number 2 – Materials/Methods and Results

The project reported by Nguyen et al., (2011) laid the ground work for further studies by Nguyen et al., (2013). At a 600-sow farrow-to-feeder operation, a research trial was done to determine if induced farrowings resulted in increased colostrum intake for piglets, that should improve piglet immunity levels. This was measured by blood samples taken to verify the serum concentration levels of immunoglobulin G (lgG).

Sows were split into two treatment groups. For Group 1, 56 sows were induced at 8am and 2pm on day 114. Group 2 was made up of 84 sows that were allowed to farrow naturally. The first treatment group received enhanced day one pig care including; drying and warming of piglets as well as ensuring that each piglet received colostrum, as these practices would be a benefit of attended farrowings. Group 2, which served as a control group, were observed twice daily at feeding time, where assistance was given if needed and no additional care was given to piglets.

Blood samples were taken from pigs on day 3 of age to determine serum levels of lgG. It was found that levels of lgG did indeed differ between the control and induced sow treatment groups. In the induced group, Group 1, 59 per cent of the piglets had high levels of lgG, whereas 37 per cent of the piglets from the control or Group 2 had high levels of lgG.

As illustrated in Figure 1, serum concentration levels of lgG differed among piglets in the trial, with piglets from the induced sow that had higher levels of lgG. This indicates that serum lgG levels do increase when piglets have improved colostrum intake during supervised farrowings with sows induced to farrow.

It was also found that heavier pigs, as well as piglets from litters with a small number, also had higher levels of lgG. This trial indicated that birth order of piglets and sow parity had no effect on colostrum intake.

Michigan State University


It can be concluded that attended farrowings benefit production numbers either by increasing the number of piglets born alive or allowing for improved colostrum intake by piglets, resulting in improved immunity. This practice allows stockpersons the ability to work with as many piglets as possible and to give them the best care, resulting in better responses to health challenges due to proper colostrum intake.

Although having a stockperson available when farrowing is underway can be considered a best practice, consideration should be given to the extra cost associated with this practice. Increased animal health or labour costs can impact an operation’s bottom-line as much as an additional pig per sow per year. A complete evaluation of associated costs should be done when considering implementation of a supervised farrowing programme.

Other items that should be considered are the management practices employed through the lactation period. Such practices can have strong influences on pre-wean mortality and health of the piglet. It is important to remember that various factors and stockmanship areas affect the productivity of an operation. Proper training and review of protocols can help assist with evaluation of a farm’s productivity.


  • Nguyen K., Cassar G., Friendship R.M., et al. 2011. Stillbirth and preweaning mortality in litters of sows induced to farrow with supervision compared to litters of naturally farrowing sows with minimal supervision. J Swine Health Prod. 19(4):214-217.
  • Nguyen K., Cassar G., Friendship R.M. et al. 2013. An investigation of the impacts of induced parturition, birth weight, birth order, litter size, and sow parity on piglet serum concentrations of immunoglobulin G. J Swine Health Prod. 21(3):139-143.
  • Smith H.M., Selby C.C., Williams A.M. et al. 2013. Effects of day of farrowing induction and spontaneous versus induced farrowing on sow and suckling piglet performance. J Swine Health Prod. 21(4):195–202.

July 2014

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