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Improving Key Performance Indicators: Pre-Weaning

by 5m Editor
24 November 2009, at 12:00am

Increasing the number of pigs born alive and piglet survival rate through to weaning have a significant impact on profitability. BPEX offers advice on improving those key performance indicators in number 24 in its series 'Action for Productivity'.

Piglets that are successfully reared through to weaning are the essential building blocks for the sale of finished pigs and income to the business. Improving the number of pigs born alive and piglet survival rate through to weaning has a significant impact on profitability – an increase of 1.3 pigs weaned per litter – the difference between average and top 10 per cent performance – improves net margin by £60 per sow per annum (based on costs and prices reported in the BPEX Yearbook 2009).

Targets

  • Total born: aim for 13+
  • Born alive: aim for 12+
  • Pre-weaning mortality: aim for 10 per cent or less

Based on top 10 per cent national figures 2009

As well as having a significant impact on herd profitability, piglets born and mortality are two of the most straightforward areas of the pig herd to record and monitor. All the activity you need to record happens over a short period (farrowing to weaning) and, on indoor units, within a relatively compact and dry space.

An individual sow card can be used to record numbers born and the age, piglet condition and causes of pre-weaning mortality. Keep the recording as simple as possible and capture useful information, for example to track piglet fosterings.

Sow number & parity Starvation
Farrowing date Weak/poor viability
Number born alive Chilled
Number born dead Agalactia/mastitis
Number born mummified Overlaid
Piglets fostered on Savaged
Piglets fostered off Splayed legs
Pre-weaning deaths –
Record number and age of piglets deaths
Infection/diarrhoea
Other: note detail e.g. deformity, meningitis etc
Small non-viable Total weaned

It is important to decide with your staff the definitions you will use to ensure you are consistent in the way you record deaths. For example, agree how you will differentiate between small non-viable piglets and those that are weak and of poor viability.

Analysing Data from Records


Are piglets too hot or too cold?

Are piglets getting enough milk?

Totalling up each month or per farrowing batch will illustrate your successes and highlight areas where you can improve.

Total born tells you about the overall lifetime management of the sow, from gilt introduction to point of first service, sow condition, nutrition, service, environment and management of the parity profile.

Mummified pigs may indicate a herd health problem and possibly the need for improved hygiene and a vaccination programme.

Pigs (healthy) born dead tells you whether your management at and around farrowing is adequate. It is important to record these piglets as usually they were capable of life but a slow farrowing resulted in death. Monitoring and assisting farrowings where appropriate, especially for older sows, can reduce stillbirths and improve the survival of pigs born alive.

Small, non-viable pigs may be linked to an aged herd profile, with older sows having more variable piglet weights, inducing sows to farrow too early, herd genetics and PRRS (Blue Ear). It can also indicate that you need to look at how you feed the sow during gestation.

Pre-weaning mortality and causes provides valuable pointers to how survival rates can be improved. It is important not to rely on recorded data alone, but to combine this with quality stock observations. For example your records might highlight that a major cause of death is overlying. Stock observation will help you determine whether this is primarily due to:

  • over fat clumsy sows
  • creeps that are too hot or cold
  • drafts leading to restless sows and chilled pigs
  • poor crate design
  • lack of milk so piglets are continually close to the sow and in the danger area.

It is also important to look at the data in a joined-up way. For example high stillbirths can be associated with increased post-weaning mortality as piglets born alive may have been weakened as a result of a protracted farrowing and be more susceptible to overlying.

Farrowing Performance

The farrowing performance of similar herds can be used to provide a standard to assess your herd’s performance against and the scope for improvement. Setting your own targets will enable you to track progress as you put new management practises into effect. Use the table below to set targets for your unit.

Industry averages Average Top Third Top 10 Per Cent Your herd Your targets
Born alive per litter – average all herds
Outdoor herds
Indoor herds
11.1

10.9
11.4
11.7

11.3
12.0
12.2

12.0
12.3
Born dead per litter – average all herds
Outdoor herds
Indoor herds
0.6

0.5
0.6
0.7

0.5
0.7
0.7

0.6
0.8
Mummified – average all herds
Outdoor herds
Indoor herds

Total born per litter – average all herds
Outdoor herds
Indoor herds
0.2
0.0
0.3

11.9

11.4
12.4
0.3
0.0
0.4

12.63

11.8
13.1
0.2
0.0
0.1

13.1

12.6
13.2
Pre-weaning mortality (%) – average all herds
Outdoor herds
Indoor herds
12.6

12.3
13.0
11.1

11.2
10.5
10.3

11.8
9.6
Reared per litter – average all herds
Outdoor herds
Indoor herds
9.7
9.5
10.0
10.4
10.1
10.7
10.9
10.5
11.1
Source: BPEX PigYearbook 2008


Financial Benefits of Increasing Survival Rates


It is important to allocate time to establish newborn piglets.

There has been a gradual reduction of time available for the farrowing department and individual litter management with batch farrowing enterprises.

With the data collected providing important signposts for improving performance, it is important to reassess the cost benefit of strategic labour deployment to allow time for the adoption of colostrum management techniques and the effective establishment of new born piglets. Further information is given in other publications in the Action for Productivity series: 14. Newborn management (indoors)and 17. Colostrum: Food for life.

The following table provides a means of evaluating the potential financial benefits of increasing survival rates and how you can assess the benefit of this against anticipated extra labour costs.

Example Your herd
(A) Number productive sows and gilts 350
(B) Farrowing index 2.33
(C) Current number piglets born dead & number of pre-weaning deaths 0.8 plus 1.4
(D) Target number piglets born dead & number of pre-weaning deaths 0.6 plus 1.2
(E) Number extra pigs weaned per litter (C – D) 0.4
(F) Number of additional pigs weaned/annum (A x B x E) 326
(G) Increase in net margin/year assuming no additional labour costs required (based on BPEX Yearbook 2009 costs and prices for breeder finisher herds) £20/pig weaned
(H) Increase in net margin/year for the unit assuming no additional labour costs required (F x G) £6,560
(I) Additional cost of extra labour/year (Estimate the amount of additional cost
to achieve targeted performance improvements, for example 10 hours/week
at £8/hour for 52 weeks)
£4,160
(J) Increase in net margin/year after deduction of additional labour costs (H – I) £2,400

Further Reading

- You can find other Action for Productivity publications from BPEX by clicking here.

November 2009