Today's swine facilities can provide an excellent environment for sows if staff time is dedicated to caring for the needs of the individual animal.

Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN, offers these practical steps to increasing longevity and decreasing sow mortality.

Move the animals as little as possible. Every move comes with the potential for injury. Moving is stressful because the sow gets new neighbors and a change in environment.

Never move more than four animals at a time, and take your time. “Don't hurry the animals,” Yeske says. “But, keep them moving along or they'll get into mischief.”

Take the shortest and safest route possible and keep the sorting panel in your hands.

Give the sows and the employees the best footing possible by keeping alleys dry with ag lime. When possible, walk in the direction the slats are laid to reduce the potential of catching toes and dew claws in the slots.

Take time when getting sows up for observation or heat checking. If they jump up quickly, there's a greater chance of injury.

Use a one to five sow conditioning scale and allot time to weekly assessments of each animal's condition. Yeske suggests using the one to five grading system where one is very thin, three is ideal and five is over-conditioned. At the target condition of three, the sow should have 0.6 to 0.8 in. of backfat, the hip and backbone should be felt with slight pressure, the tail head should be visible and the sow shouldn't have a lot of fat between the hind legs.

As a minimum, Yeske suggests sow condition scoring must be done at: after breeding; 30-day ultrasound pregnancy check; 50-day ultrasound pregnancy check; 70-day visual pregnancy check; and 90 days, when feed is increased prior to farrowing.

Have two employees work together — one to do the scoring and another to check and adjust the feeder and offer a second opinion.

Using ultrasound for backfat scanning probably isn't practical for each and every sow, but it offers a good training tool, Yeske says.

The goal is to have 90% of a group of sows with a score of three by Day 50 to 60 of gestation.

Establish a regular daily routine of observing every sow after they get up in the morning to eat. Address the individual sow's needs as determined after observations.

Yeske offers this list of supplies to take along on sow observations: syringes, extra needles, antibiotics, vitamins, anti-inflammatories, pen/notebook, marking chalk, pocket scalpel and thermometer.

What to look for during sow conditioning: sows off feed, sore legs, trouble getting up, unstable standing and constant weight shifting between legs, stool condition, discharges, rough hair coat, pale skin, abscesses, prolapses, coughs and mastitis.

Basic questions that need to be answered for each animal:

  • Can the animal be treated out of this condition?

  • Does the animal need to be culled?

  • When does the next cull truck come?

Based on the answers to those questions, the animal should be treated or moved to a cull pen with a self-feeder.

For treatment, a protocol is necessary so everyone in the barn knows what treatments need to be done on a consistent basis.

Yeske stresses that time must be dedicated to evaluating sow health and condition. He suggests evaluating sows after morning feeding, while they are standing up and eating and the employees are fresh.

“You have to walk slowly, look over each one,” he says. “Keep your mind on the task and don't worry about the details of the rest of the day.”