Hidden Costs of Sow Lameness

US & CANADA - In recent weeks, Canadian and US researchers have been touring the country delivering a series of workshops aimed at raising awareness of the cost of sow lameness in commercial swine herds, writes Glenn Kuhn, Swine Technical Manager at Genesus Inc.
calendar icon 23 December 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

The workshops, which include researchers Dr Laurie Connor of the University of Manitoba and Dr John Deen of the University of Minnesota are being sponsored by Swine Innovation Porc (swineinnovationporc.ca) and the Prairie Swine Centre Inc. (prairieswine.com) and are part of a growing focus on what has often been a little talked about issue for producers.

According to Dr Laurie Connor, who spoke at the fall meeting held at the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Livestock and the Environment, lameness is the number two reason for culling. She suggests that lameness is clouded in with reproductive issues and may be a bigger problem than producers realise.

Currently, it is estimated that 8-15 per cent of sows culled are removed for lameness. The question for Connor and her colleagues is to dig deeper and unearth just how broad the issue is.

"The percentage [of sows] culled for reproductive issues—how many of these are also lame? This is not just an ‘old sow’ issue" she said. "Development of reliable tools for early identification of lameness traits in order to improve economic selection [is critical]". Dr John Deen also commented on what he feels is a lost opportunity for the swine industry.

"We get rid of our failures [when we cull a sow]. We don’t know if it was the right decision or the wrong decision and we pat ourselves on the back." Dr Deen added that our approach to sow removal has historically been too ‘simplistic’.

Both Dr Deen and Dr Connor agreed that the old axiom, ‘you can’t improve what you can’t measure’ is a challenge rather than a roadblock when it comes to sow lameness. Gilt conformation, housing and flooring type influences, awareness and early detection are all connected with finding effective ways to measure sow lameness on-farm.

While a great deal of research is being done at places like the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment at the University of Manitoba using Genesus Genetics involving state of the art technologies such as force-plate scales, accelerometers and infrared thermography, more simple tools such as a visual numerical scoring system for sows that are observed walking from gestation to farrowing may provide a practical way in which sows can be evaluated and their level of lameness (or absence thereof) recorded as part of the on-farm production data.

Dr Laurie Connor framed the issue in terms of economic impact, "Lameness decreases longevity, decreases PSY, increases expenses, increases workload and decreases salvage value." With reduced productivity alone of 0.02 piglets/sow space/day and an estimated economic impact of $180/sow space, the effects for the US and Canadian industries could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

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