Pre-weaning mortality costs the U.S. pork industry an estimated $1.6 billion each year, and one of the contributing factors is insufficient colostrum intake. Piglets that fail to nurse and receive enough colostrum within the first 24 hours often do not survive.

USDA scientists have now developed a new method to help increase the survival of newborn piglets, by predicting potential mortality and nursing ability.

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service in Clay Center, Neb., call the measuring technique the “immunocrit,” which determines whether pre-weaning piglets receive adequate antibody-containing colostrum.

The immunocrit measures newborn piglet serum immunoglobulin in blood samples. These measurements indicate a piglet’s mortality risk and nursing ability. The measurements also reflect the sow’s ability to produce colostrum.

In addition, scientists have found a connection between immunocrit measurements and piglet weight. Pigs that weighed more were more likely to survive the challenge of insufficient colostrum intake, as opposed to lighter-weight littermates.

Because test results are obtained quickly, it is possible to identify compromised piglets while they’re still alive, according to Vallet. The immunocrit recognizes piglets within a litter that have not had the chance to nurse. This allows an opportunity apply intervention measures to save at-risk piglets.

Pork producers can use the new technique to test management practices such as split suckling. Using the immunocrit, blood samples can be taken 24 hours after the implementing the split-suckling procedure to determine if colostrum intake has increased in those piglets.

Read more about this research in Agricultural Research magazine at