Factors to Consider, Actions to Take

A familiar pattern is materializing, which is another reason why pig survivability is a renewed priority. From the late 1990s to early 2000s, the industry was expanding and sow mortality started moving higher. Replacement-gilt demand was high and supplies were tight – similar to today. This was followed by a period of rising mortality and poorer feed efficiency and growth rate of pigs from older sows.

“Light-weight pigs never really catch up,” said the University of Minnesota’s John Deen. “Whether due to competition from penmates or pathogens, these pigs face greater risks.”

Other Factors to Address:

  • The continuous drive to farrow larger litters has contributed to the growing-pig mortality rates.“Birth weights have dropped quite a bit, and weight variations within a large litter are a problem,” Deen said. “This leads to less robust pigs. We need to look at individual pigs to understand mortality in more detail.”

    That means emphasizing individual pig care at the sow level, as well as throughout the growth phase.

    “Individual pig care is really about stockmanship,” he said. “It starts by ensuring newborn pigs get colostrum as well as continued access to the udder.”

  • Establishing farrowing protocols and day-one pig care go a long way in making a difference, said Indiana producer Valerie Duttlinger. She suggests selecting a person or two with exceptional pig observation skills and making their only daily assignment to walk the barns and check pigs.“It’s critical to get at-risk sows and pigs treated quickly and back to health,” Duttlinger said. “But it’s all about people – having enough staff, low turnover, well-trained and committed people.”
  • Disease issues can cause mortality spikes, but a new development with sows in the last couple of years is a rise in prolapses. They seem to come in waves, but other patterns or answers have not surfaced. It’s also not clear how much prolapses are contributing to mortality rates.“We need more information sharing and comparisons to figure out these kinds of infrequent events,” Deen noted. “The Pig Survivability Working Group has made prolapses its first research priority.”
  • Lameness remains a major reason for sow culling and death, but it doesn’t stop there.“Any feet and leg issues with sows will be magnified later, especially with heavier market weights,” Stalder said. “Producers need to pay more attention to soundness and structure when selecting replacement gilts. They need to learn and apply soundness scoring, as well as work to prevent lameness.“
  • More timely euthanasia for enhanced pig well-being and herd health may be contributing to increased mortality rates.“Producers are trying to be more active in euthanasia decisions in the interest of animal welfare,” Deen said. “Overall this is positive for pig well-being and herd health.”