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Study piglet behavior to improve chances of early survival

Encouraging farm staff to study piglets’ movement after farrowing could help them better identify weak animals, take action and improve early survival odds, scientists say.

Researchers from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (Afbi) in the UK and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand said using a “vitality measure” could be a viable tool in helping producers spot piglets which need management help.

By identifying weaker animals as early as possible and prioritizing them for cross-fostering, producers had the best chance of optimizing their survival, they said.

In a presentation at the British Society of Animal Science conference, report author Ramon Muns, Afbi scientific officer, said smaller piglets that show little movement at birth are unlikely to consume the colostrum they need to thrive.

“Movement — or vitality — is an important characteristic of piglets that influences pre-weaning mortality and growth,” he said.

“Sows’ parity and farrowing performance seems to influence colostrum intake of piglets, but piglet vitality has long been used as an indirect measure of their viability.”

Muns said researchers wanted to study the link between piglet vitality at birth and colostrum intake, and from there devise a simple test that could help producers assess piglet vitality more easily.

They chose to study 952 piglets from 79 sows on a commercial pig farm, performing a 30-second evaluation of each piglet after farrowing.

Each animal was placed in a 55 cm (22 in) circular enclosure, with scientists calculating piglet vitality by watching for signs of rooting and a piglet’s ability to turn and walk around the pen.

Colostrum intake was estimated from the piglets’ weight gain over the first day, while mortality rates were also recorded.

The results showed that piglets with higher birth weights and vitality scores were more likely to consume greater quantities of colostrum, giving them a better chance of survival, Muns said.

“Our results show that a visual assessment of the piglets’ vitality after farrowing complements body weight and sow characteristics on estimating colostrum intake.

“Therefore, a vitality test could be a promising tool for producers and farm staff to decide the best management action for animals, and to identify non-viable piglets early in life in normal farm conditions,” he added.


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