Most of the factors that contribute to preweaning mortality stem from mistakes in everyday duties, says Tom Fangman, a veterinarian at the University of Missouri.

"The first three days of a pig's life are the most critical," Fangman says. "You have to make sure pigs have an adequate intake of colostrum and a warm, dry environment."

Trauma accounts for about 40 percent of preweaning mortality causes - the leading factor. Fangman adds that 85 percent of trauma-related deaths occur in the pigs' first three days of life. The key to prevention is to encourage piglets to move away from the sow when they're not nursing. He recommends positioning two or three heat lamps at one or both sides of the creep area during farrowing to encourage the piglets to move away from the sow and to avoid getting chilled.

Other factors that often contribute to death loss, Fangman says, are:

  • Birth order. Seventy percent of death loss occurs in the last half of the pigs born. Fangman says having someone check on the sow regularly during farrowing still is the best and only way to reduce mortality in this situation.
  • Induction and attendance. Inducing farrowing helps expedite the natural process and often benefits the piglets by limiting birthing delays. Attendance at farrowing simply allows someone to assist the sow and litter if need be.
  • Starvation and low viability. The key is to remember that piglets need to ingest 10 percent of their body weight in milk each day. This generally means they should nurse every one to two hours in small amounts. Again, monitoring the litter and encouraging nursing activity can help save pigs, especially the small ones.
  • Season. Statistics show death loss is higher between the months of September and March. Chilling is the likely culprit. Making sure piglets are warm, dry and draft-free will go a long way in their survivability.