20 February 1998

Keep piglets alive

BASIC improvements in farrowing house management could reduce pre-weaning mortality by 3%, saving £4000-6000 for a 400-500 sow unit, according to ADAS pig consultant Tony Walker.

Speaking at the MAFF/ADAS Profit from Welfare roadshow at Stowmarket last week (see p48), he urged producers to improve piglet survival.

"Overlying, weak piglets and infection are the three main causes of pre-weaning mortality – all are affected by management."

Practical steps to improve survival include culling older sows with lower litter birth weights. Weights are achieved by ensuring sows are condition score 3 at farrowing and fed appropriately in the last three weeks of pregnancy.

Small piglets had less body reserves and were susceptible to chilling. "Theyre less competitive, have lower nutritional intakes and face higher infection risks," said Mr Walker.

Ensure piglets have sufficient colostrum by milking sows and tubing piglets when necessary. Alternatively, foster piglets to match teat numbers, but avoid replacers as they dont contain antibodies, he warned.

Avoid chilling piglets by cutting out drafts. Room temperatures of 20-25C (68-77F) are required at birth, Mr Walker advised.

"Use heat lamps behind and at sides of sows to provide heat. On slatted systems use bedding for insulation against up-draughts."

Cutting out power-washing of crates reduces chilling, but initially increases disease pressure, he warned. "Extra vaccination may be needed, but resistance builds up quickly."