While today’s sows produce larger litters, challenges such as high stillbirth rates – around 10% in highly productive herds – as well as other productivity barriers such as low birth weight piglets remain.
Data from Pieter Langendijk, scientist at Trouw Nutrition, at ESPHM 2020 + 1 suggests that targeted intervention can reduce asphyxiation – a lack of oxygen – and stillbirth in both piglets and sows.
“We started this project about six years ago because we knew that the stillbirth rate was a big problem in the pig industry and that it had an impact on productivity. We wanted to lower stillborn rates. What we did first was try to identify the underlying causes of stillbirth. We tried to figure out why some sows take so long to color, one of the biggest problems associated with stillbirth, and to find out why certain sows have stillborn piglets and others [around 40%] do not. After identifying the underlying factors, we wanted to build on that and develop solutions, preferably nutritional, ”he told FeedNavigator.
Risk factors for stillbirth.
Through intensive monitoring, the scientists found that a risk factor for stillbirths was the level of calcium in the sow’s blood. “We often took blood samples and were able to determine that there were differences in the calcium level in the blood of the sows with a long farrowing process and stillborn piglets compared to the sows with shorter farrowing times and no stillbirths. We could see that sows that did not interfere with farrowing were able to maintain calcium levels throughout the farrowing period, while the other sows showed a decrease in blood calcium levels. “
The team also found that constipation contributes to the extended farrowing process. “The hypothesis is that the pain associated with constipation acts as a stressor, and we know that other stressors in sow production – such as being confined to a crate before farrowing – can block the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the uterus Contractions. “
In addition to assessing the status of the sows, the researchers made observations on piglets – some of this work included taking blood samples from the umbilical cord at the time the animals were born. The team wanted to evaluate the lactate levels in the blood of the piglets, as this is an indicator of suffocation.
“We took blood samples immediately after birth, literally when the piglets came out before they started to breathe, to get an indication of the piglets’ oxygen status before they were born. This showed that the longer the farrowing process lasts and the later the piglets arrive – their birth order – the worse their oxygen levels became. “
The researchers also saw that piglets that were born alive but had poor oxygen status affected the development and survival of the newborn. Such animals can do poorly in the sense that they drink their first colostrum more slowly and ingest less colostrum in the first 24 hours of their life. You can show limited profit even in the first few weeks of life. “About four months later we followed piglets through to slaughter and still found that oxygen status at birth was linked to the increase throughout the period. So we see that piglets have short-term and long-term consequences of poor oxygen levels at birth. “
Mobilization of calcium resources .
The research led Trouw Nutrition to develop a drinking water additive that should reduce farrowing time and increase the oxygenation of piglets. The company recommends that the sow ingest the product about five days before farrowing. “The additive is supposed to set off a mechanism that allows the sow to mobilize calcium from her bones so she can maintain calcium levels when she starts staining. That is a way of working. The product also contains some ingredients that improve the transfer of oxygen from the maternal blood through the placenta to the piglets. Through this process we ensure that even these piglets have an improved oxygen content at the end of the farrowing process, ”noted the researcher.
The additive was launched on the Polish market two years ago. Studies carried out there in commercial operations confirmed the effectiveness of the product after launch, Langendijk said. In relation to the feedback generated on the additive since then, Polish farmers have reported “benefits in terms of the number of live-born piglets and the performance of new-born piglets”.
While the product was originally designed for use in water, Trouw Nutrition is currently developing a version for use in dry food, either for use in full diets or as a top dressing, he said.
Increase in colostrum production.
Another of the company’s research is focused on newborn performance, with a particular focus on increasing colostrum production in the sow.
“We are trying to increase the volume of colostrum available for newborn piglets as this is the second bottleneck. After birth, the amount of colostrum piglets ingested has a major impact on their ability to survive.
“We know that the piglet needs at least 250 g for newborns and that the ability to survive increases dramatically. So what we are aiming for is to get piglets over this threshold. We think the sow is the limiting factor. We try to get them to produce more colostrum so that there is enough for these piglets at the end of the farrowing process. “
Another swine-focused Trouw Nutrition project, launched mid last year, is looking at ways to improve piglet birth weight, particularly by enlarging the mother’s placenta. “We know there is a strong relationship between placenta size and final birth weight, but there is also a relationship between placenta size and the variation in litter between the lightest and heaviest piglets. Reducing this variation is really the key to piglet survival, ”added Langendijk.