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Genetic Improvement Combined with Strong Management Increases Number of Piglets Born Alive

by 5m Editor
4 April 2007, at 8:28am

CANADA - An Iowa based swine veterinarian reports close attention to management has allowed swine producers to take full advantage of increasing litter sizes, writes Bruce Cochrane.

Since the 1980s the number of pigs born alive per litter has increased from an average of eight to between 11 and half and 12.

Dr. James Lowe, the director of health and production services with the Maschoffs, notes this genetic improvement has created some management challenges.

Dr. James Lowe-The Maschoffs

As litter size gets larger average piglet weight in that litter actually decreases.

Although the pounds of litter is increasing the average weight per piglet is decreasing and so that puts more pigs in our light weight less than 800 gram category.

We know that we've been able to maintain our pre-weaning losses to 10 percent or less as we've increased total born.

If you look at the research data larger litter sizes are certainly associated with higher pre-weaning mortality.

We've not seen that trend as we've increased litter size so we think our management strategies are at least bucking the trend that we'd expect biologically with those lower birth weight pigs.

It has a lot to do with getting those pigs started right which means getting them warm.

There are several techniques for doing that.

Certainly getting the environment in the room correct is right, getting the heat lamp adjusted, the alternate source of heat is important.

Then there's some other things we can do and some of those include using survivability boxes which is a tub that we'd place a heat lamp over or heat source over that we'd put the pigs in for 20 or 30 minutes to allow them to dry off.

The other alternative, which we use today because it's less likely to spread disease, would be to actually use towels and dry these pigs off immediately following birth.

Use one towel per litter so we don't cross contaminate and spread any diarrhea that could be there.

That's been very effective for us to get those pigs warmed, get them rubbed off, get them back underneath the heat lamp and get them to get off and suckle.


Dr. Lowe acknowledges there are biological limits to genetic improvement but he believes 13 to 14 born alive is conceivable if management is able to keep pace.

5m Editor