Are we breeding our sows to death?

Reports have emerged that sow death rates in the US are rising at an alarming rate, causing concern for intensive farming methods. Researchers believe the rise in mortality could be linked to a rise in sow prolapse
calendar icon 2 October 2018
clock icon 3 minute read

This week (1 October 2018), a report was released by The Guardian, in collaboration with Civil Eats, which highlighted the concerning number of sow deaths currently observed in the US. According to statistics provided by National Hog Farmer, sow mortality increased from 5.8 percent to 10.2 percent on sow farms over 125 heads, between 2013 and 2016, and mortalities are continuing to rise.

This rise in sow deaths has been significantly linked to an increase in prolapse, a phenomenon caused by the collapse of the animal’s rectum, vagina, or uterus. A report by Successful Farming indicated that, on some farms, between 25 and 50 percent of deaths were caused by prolapse.

Research is underway to determine the reasons for the sudden increase in sow prolapse and subsequent deaths but, to date, this has been inconclusive. Due to the prevalence of the condition in predominantly intensive farming, it has been speculated that intensive breeding methods and sow confinement could be the causative factors. According to USDA statistics, a commercial sow will now mother an average of 23.5 piglets per year, a number that far exceeds their natural reproductive capacity and certainly exceeds that of smaller-scale units.

Intensive breeding methods and sow confinement could be the causative factors of sow deaths resulting from prolapses

A number of other potential causes have also been discussed which include, vitamin deficiency; mycotoxins in feed; high density diets; and abdominal abnormalities.

Vets and industry members are said to be tackling the issue head-on but, with a number of potential causes for the mortalities being observed, determining a universal solution, and quickly, is proving difficult.

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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