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12 questions to tackle sow mortality

Identifying the exact nutritional, health and management issues linked to sow mortality is key to understanding how to address the problem in swine herds, according to a pig health expert.

Writing in Pig Progress, Dr. Monique Pairis-Garcia, assistant professor in animal science at Ohio State University, says increased sow mortality has become a hot topic in the United States as all segments of the industry grapple with the problem.

But Pairis-Garcia says the real questions for scientists, veterinarians, nutritionists and farmers lie in what the exact causes or mortality are, and what can be targeted as possible interventions.

1. Do sows have the right breeding qualities?

To stay in a herd and remain successful, gilts must have the capacity to raise large litter sizes — even if first litters don’t reach the target size.

Gilts that can be successfully bred and nurse a large litter should have a well-developed vulva at sexual maturity, plus a minimum of seven pairs of functional teats.

2. Do sows have healthy legs?

Lameness is one of the biggest reasons for early culling. Structural soundness is key to setting up sows for long-term success in the herd.

3. Is breeding stock being selected to reach production goals?

Poor gilt selection can have a negative impact on the longevity of sows and the profitability of producers, says Pairis-Garcia. Training employees to make better selections and being more stringent during selection could help, she says.

4. Are amino acid and non-essential amino-acid needs accounted for?

There is still a need for extensive, basic research to accurately recommend nutrient requirements for today’s genetics, says Pairis-Garcia. Before nutritionists lower amino acid values in feed, further research is needed.

5. Are fatty acid levels adequate?

Research shows that different types of fatty acids alter sow performance, piglet survivability and growth. Therefore there needs to be a better understanding of fatty acid nutrition for sows beyond just formulating for net energy needs, says Pairis-Garcia.

6. Are calcium and phosphorus correctly formulated?

Similar to amino acid and energy nutrition, there is a large range of calcium and phosphorus recommendations in the industry. Further work in the areas of macro- and micro-mineral are much needed as nutrition is optimized for today’s sow, says Pairis-Garcia.

7. Are vitamin D levels adequate?

Vitamin D not only plays a crucial role in calcium absorption, homeostasis, and bone formation, but it is also involved in the immune system.

A survey by Iowa State University’s Veterinarian Diagnostic Laboratory reported low, if not deficient serum vitamin D levels in mature indoor sows and other classes of swine, when compared to referenced values.

8. Can collagen and elastin play a role?

Collagen is important in the composition of ligaments supportive tissues of the uterus and elastin is essential for these ligaments to stretch with the increase in litter weight during pregnancy.

With collagen important to pregnancy as well as connective tissues throughout the body, could altered collagen be related to lameness and the rise of uterine prolapses, Pairis-Garcia asks.

9. What is the role of vitamin C?

Hereditary vitamin C deficiency has been noted in a herd in Denmark that was noted to exhibit clinical symptoms such as unthriftiness, unwillingness to move, swelling around joints, and signs of pain on touching, similar to scurvy in humans, says Pairis-Garcia. “Vitamin C supplementation cured these symptoms.”

10. Have mycotoxins created more problems?

There is a growing body of evidence that zearalenone at as low as 75 ppb can impact the reproductive tract in as little as six days’ post contamination, says Pairis-Garcia.

Research conducted with 10.8kg gilts indicated that both length and weight of the reproductive tract was increased with zearalenone-contaminated feed.

Additionally, mycotoxin mitigation could potentially absorb essential vitamins and other nutrients.

11. How about relevant trace minerals?

There are numerous trials demonstrating the use of organic trace minerals in preventing lameness in sows. Should we be considering other trace minerals or elements which could improve growth?

12. Are sows being observed closely enough?

A recent Danish study concluded the majority of unassisted deaths (sows that died without being euthanized) occurred in the farrowing barn and among the younger parity sows.

This means that either sows are dying in the farrowing barn from extremely acute pathology, where the process of dying is quick, or they are not being observed frequently enough to catch subtle cues of illness.

“The pig industry has done an excellent job in managing piglets and improving day-one piglet care,” says Pairis-Garcia. “But maybe not enough time is spent observing, managing and evaluating the condition of the sow.

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Posted on March 16, 2018

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