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Monitor growth restrictions to improve long-term piglet success

Tracking signs of pre-natal growth restriction in piglets could help producers select sows that are likely to have healthier offspring with lower rates of mortality, scientists say.

Larger litter sizes from prolific sows are associated with lower and more variable birth weights in commercial pigs. But researchers have discovered that birth weight alone does not distinguish between small piglets, and those that have had their growth restricted during the gestation period.

In a study undertaken as part of the PROHEALTH project — the largest European project ever funded to help combat pig production disease— researchers in the UK studied piglets that had experienced intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) on a commercial farm.

By looking at records from 1,500 farrowing sows and 21,000 piglets, they wanted to understand the impact of IUGR on these animals and identify future strategies to reduce its occurrence.

Over the course of the one-year study, scientists logged piglet birth weight, head shape (piglets that have experienced IUGR have characteristic dolphin-shaped heads), survival records and mortality rates.

The data they collected was used over the year to identify optimal farrowing house design and make changes to farm management to understand the impact specific practices could have.

From the study, researchers concluded that selecting at the sow level against IUGR can be a useful tool in improving piglet survival.

What’s more, the condition is much more heritable than selecting on piglet survival alone, they concluded.

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Posted on October 9, 2018

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