A Minnesota swine veterinary clinic has started a program of monitoring early piglet deaths to improve survival rates.

To reduce preweaning mortality, producers can have the most impact by focusing on improving conditions for newborn pigs during the first three days of life, when about 60% of losses occur.

That's the conclusion drawn from a study of clients' farms by Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN. He has several large farms participating in a monitoring program to reduce those reoccurring losses.

With the majority of losses in Days 1-3, it just makes sense to focus intervention strategies on that time period, Yeske says.

Farms get caught up in day-to-day activities, and sometimes forget that improving piglet survival is among the most basic of tasks and provides a very high return, he stresses.

“We help focus the staff back to making sure the pigs get started right, because that is what controlling preweaning mortality is all about,” says Yeske.

The ability of farms to maintain a high born-alive survival rate has been challenged as farms farrow larger litters.

Yeske suggests a general goal to shoot for is a preweaning mortality rate of 4-5% for the first three days of life. If that rate is achieved, the farm should be able to hold preweaning mortality to 9-10% when weaning at 20-21 days of age.

The most efficient farms for which Yeske consults are targeting 4% mortality by Day 3 in order to stay under 8% preweaning mortality at weaning.

These rates are recorded on farrowing cards kept with the sow and later transferred to PigChamp records. The process helps farms set goals and routinely track performance. Yeske says supervisors like it, too, because they can quickly scan the latest records and know how farrowing groups are doing.

It also gives staff a good diagnostic read. If newborns are surviving, but pigs are being lost later in lactation, appropriate health intervention steps can be taken.

The pork industry has averaged 8-15% preweaning mortality for many years, and Yeske agrees those figures are common to his practice area. His monitoring data reflects all pigs born alive that later/eventually die.

Basic Management Still Applies

Yeske says basic pigmanship is still integral to saving pigs.

“I think the number one thing is to make sure that the piglets stay warm; don't get chilled; have a good environment, including a good, warm mat; and that all of the piglets get started suckling as soon as possible.”

So the quicker pigs are dried off, get colostrum and established suckling, the better off they will be.

“If pigs are struggling to find the udder before they get started suckling, they are much more likely to get laid on,” Yeske points out.

“If the piglets suckle, and they've got a belly full of colostrum, then they go lie on the mat and sleep. If we can get that pattern established, then they are out of harm's way faster. And that is really the goal — to get them to understand that there is a warm, safe place to sleep,” he says.

Drying agents such as Quick Dry (SLS Marketing, Hector, MN, (320) 848-6212) are useful, as are hot boxes and decks to help increase piglet survival. Split suckling is another useful tool to make sure pigs get enough colostrum.

Farrowing Mats

When it comes to farrowing mats, Yeske says conventional rubber mats perform nearly as well as disposable types, such as the Compost-A-Mat, a commercial product developed by USA Solutions. The latter was identified as one of the top new products featured at the 2005 World Pork Expo by National Hog Farmer's New Product Panel (See the July 15, 2005, National Hog Farmer, page 24).

However, Yeske says the numbers from a couple of recent trials are starting to favor performance with the Compost-A-Mat. The mat is biodegradable, eliminating the labor issue of cleaning up and bacterial contamination with rubber mats.

“The advantage with these mats is you don't have to wash and clean them; the disadvantage is the cost of the mat,” he says. One mat costs about $3.

When pigs have scours from E. coli or clostridium infections, or strep or staph infections, biodegradable mats become very attractive because of their one-time use, Yeske adds.

Pigs break up the mats by 10-14 days of age, by which time they no longer need them to keep warm and dry.

For more information, contact USA Solutions, LLC, Box 303, Waite Park, MN 56387; by phone (320) 363-7554; e-mail tony@compostamat.com or Web site www.compostamat.com.