Trouble-Shooting In the Sow Barn Series: Preweaning Mortality

Pre-weaning piglet mortality is a complex issue, and a large economic issue. Pre-weaning loss can range anywhere from 5 to 35% of piglets lost during the first 3 weeks of life. The largest percent-age of pre-weaning mortality commonly occurs within the first 48 hours post-farrowing when piglets are laid on by the sow. Ultimately, a piglet dies from being laid on, which leaves producers to question how the piglet found itself in that situation in the first place. Cold and hungry piglets tend to lay in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hypothermic conditions occurring shortly after birth can cause piglets to be lethargic, which makes them less likely to compete for a spot at the udder to consume sufficient colostrum. Without the proper heat and the adequate nourishment of colostrum to provide necessary energy and support immune function, a cold and hungry piglet will lay too close to the sow and ultimately runs the risk of being crushed.

Additionally, not all pre-weaning mortality occurs in the first days of life. Keeping good production records in farrowing can help you determine just exactly where the pre-wean mortality is occurring.

Consider the following ways to minimize pre-wean mortality:

  • One of the most important acts a producer can do to reduce the pre-wean mortality is provide a trained herdsman during the time of farrowing. Helping the sow farrow during difficult birthing situations can mean less stress on the piglet and the sow. The longer the farrowing interval, the greater the chance of piglet death including stillborn, born weak, etc.
  • Providing a warm, dry, draft-free environment for the sow to farrow in. Piglets come out of a warm body into an environment that is much cooler than they are accustomed to. Drafts will only continue to chill the wet piglet even during a hot, humid day in July.
  • Drying off piglets either by hand with towels or with some type of drying agent can lessen the drying time and get the piglet moving more quickly to ingest colostrum.
  • Placing heat lamps in the crate on one side to provide a warm, dry space for the newborn pigs away from the sow. Piglets are less likely to lay next to the sow for heat and more likely to lay under the heat lamp. Adjusting the height of the heat lamps within the crate as the piglets age may be necessary. As piglets grow, they may benefit from less heat or no heat at all. The goal is to give the piglets a spot to lay together in the traditional “pig pile” where it is dry and comfortable for them, yet away from the sow’s laying space to minimize deaths.
  • Keep sows comfortable so they are willing to lay nicely in the crate for the piglets to nurse. Anxious sows can create pre-wean mortality by continually getting up and down. Ensure sows are full and environ-mentally comfortable. Young piglets wander under the sow’s feet easily which leads to greater risks of piglet injuries.

Mortality is a fact of life with livestock. However, paying close attention and keeping good production records helps highlight where problems may be occurring in the sow barn. During these economic times, any reduction in death loss from easily preventable deaths helps. If we can help trouble-shoot on farm, just let us know.