It has been said that most stillborn or weak pigs are potential live-born pigs if someone is assigned to attend the farrowings. Larry Coleman, DVM, Broken Bow, NE, has been encouraging clients to transition to 24/7 farrowing care for some time. He says many of the farms he works with have been able to reduce pre-weaning mortality significantly by constantly staffing the farrowing room to make sure piglets are getting off to a good start.
“On our farms, if a sow is giving birth, someone is always with them. When a staff member has to take a break, another staff member covers for them, so the sows are always being watched while farrowing,” he explains.
He has prepared a checklist of the basic tasks that staff should be doing while attending farrowings:
1. Make sure bilateral comfort zones (mats) are located adjacent to the sow udder areas for piglets before farrowing begins. Each zone should have heat lamps located over it to provide a mat temperature of 90-95o F.
2. Identify sows that have begun the farrowing process.
3. Observe sows’ progress. Staff should be positioned so that they can easily check sows every 20 to 30 minutes in order to note if sows are making progress. “Be ready to intervene if necessary,” he says. “This also helps you to monitor the newborn piglets’ well-being.”
4. Record observations. “When you have 10 sows farrowing, recording the observations helps you make decisions about the sow’s progress when you come back around,” he says.
5. Manage workload to adequately monitor sows. Overlap schedules at break times so someone is always with farrowing females. Coleman says 5-10 sows that are actively in the process of farrowing is the maximum number one person should attempt to monitor. Extra help should be summoned if more than 10 sows are farrowing at one time.
6. Keep newborn piglets dry and draft-free. “Manually dry off newborn piglets and move them to the udder and warm comfort zone,” he says.
7. Conduct split suckling by placing the piglets that have already obtained colostrum in a box for a period of time.
8. Conduct preliminary cross-fostering for small piglets or super-large litters.
9. Give small piglets colostrum if it does not appear that they will be able to get enough on their own.
10. At shift transitions, make sure that appropriate communications occur between arriving and departing birthing assistants.
“This is the list of essentials,” Coleman relates. “The pork industry currently has close to a 10% stillborn rate. Good people, providing 24/7 care to farrowing sows, can take that figure and move it down as low as 2% in the best cases.”
He is quick to add an extra word of caution, however. “Achieving success really comes down to a leadership challenge, though. If you don’t have engaged, committed workers in the barn, you are not going to get the outcome you want,” he says.
Coleman urges producers to take a hard look at how well attended farrowings are going during a regular shift within their operations before contemplating making the change to 24/7 coverage. He says if stillbirths and farrowing problems are the norm, problems need to be addressed before attempting to implement a new system.
“There are dozens of ‘how-to’ articles and checklists on how to implement the attended farrowing processes,” he notes. “However, getting the leadership and buy-in with employees and managers is the real challenge.”
Coleman provides suggestions for moving toward a more conducive leadership mindset to prepare for implementing 24/7 farrowing in the following article, “The Ultimate Swine Leadership Challenge."
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