Support system offers objective tool to help make culling decisions.

Removing sows from the breeding herd for reproductive problems becomes a relatively easy task for pork producers. But when it comes to making similar decisions for welfare-related reasons, the task is much more challenging. Difficulties include the inability to determine the level of pain in such cases, and the inability to predict the effects of retaining sows with health issues on their subsequent performance.

The Minnesota Pork Board supported a project conducted at the University of Minnesota's Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca to assess the use of a sow removal decision-support system (DSS) to provide an objective tool for decision-making on lameness and downers in breeding herds.

The two-stage research project was as follows:

In the first stage, the level of lameness in gestating, lame sows was assessed on a scale of 1-3, along with the longevity in that parity and farrowing performance, without any medical intervention to account for animal suffering.

In the second stage, another group of lame sows from the same herd was assessed for the same factors, but this time an analgesic or pain medication was provided on three alternate days, starting from Day 1 of identification of lameness. A DSS intervention was implemented.

The DSS was used to calculate reasons for removals due to lameness based on a weighted pain score. That total score considers duration and intensity of the condition, and assignment of the pain score, multiplied by the number of days since the start of the treatment.

The DSS was applied for five days. There were 92 lame sows in the first stage and 88 lame sows in the second stage. Data was also analyzed for 68 sows for which farrowing information was available.

The DSS-implemented group showed higher litter birth and wean weights and lower preweaning mortality rates. Five sows were removed from the group where analgesics were used.

Fewer numbers of piglets were born alive in the group in which the DSS was implemented.

In conclusion, results suggest that retaining sows with health problems such as lameness may appear to reduce immediate production losses, but can adversely affect the herd performance in the long run.

Researchers: Sukumarannair Anil; Leena Anil; John Deen, DVM; Stacy Westen; and Samuel Baidoo, all of the University of Minnesota. Contact S. Anil by phone (612) 625-4243, fax (612) 625-1201 or email

Water Usage Serves as a Tool For Troubleshooting

An electronic device to measure water consumption at the pen level could help pork producers accurately track water usage throughout the year.

The water meter provides fast and effective troubleshooting to hopefully decrease the incidence of a disease outbreak or water pipe leak, according to research conducted by Anna Kerr Johnson of Iowa State University.

Eleven PIC nursery age gilts were housed individually in pens and given ad lib access to a corn-based diet. Each pen contained one nipple waterer.

Two methods of recording water usage were compared. Method one consisted of two experienced observers using software to watch video footage of gilts, and using a specially designed keyboard to indicate when a gilt was at the nipple waterer. Method two was an apparatus attached to the waterline. An electronic meter sensed when and how long a pig drank and a data logger was used to collect and store the data.

Drinking patterns of the gilts were collected on Day 0, 7 and 14 of the trial using a color camera positioned over four attached pens.

In short, human observation underestimated the number of drinks and overestimated the duration of drinking behavior when compared to the water meter.

However, until more research is done, Johnson suggests it cannot be assumed that one method is superior to the other.

Researchers: A. M. Meiszberg, A. K. Johnson, J. Garvey and L. J. Sadler, Iowa State University; J. W. Dailey and J. A. Carroll, USDA Agricultural Research Service; and N. Krebs, Texas Tech University. Contact Johnson by phone (515) 294-2098, fax (515) 294-4471 or e-mail

Sow Behavior May Be Root Cause Of Piglet Crushing

Research at Iowa State University found few behavioral differences between crushed and non-crushed piglets.

The study sought to determine behavior, postures, locations and vicinity to the sow for each piglet one hour prior to piglet death when housed in an outdoor farrowing hut.

In the study, 20 piglets were observed continuously using a video camera that recorded behavior of piglets that were crushed vs. those that survived.

No major differences were noted; however, piglets stood more during the daytime, and at night preferred to be near the sow.

Finding few behavioral differences between treatments may indicate that variation among sow behavior is more important as a cause of piglet crushing than variation among piglet behaviors, according to the researchers.

Researchers: J. R. Garvey, A. K. Johnson and L. J. Sadler, Iowa State University; and J. J. McGlone, Pork Industry Institute, Texas Tech University. Contact Johnson by phone (515) 294-2098, fax (515) 294-4471 or e-mail

Send research submissions to Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor (952) 851-4670;