You want at least 90 percent of the pigs born alive to survive to weaning. But minimizing preweaning mortality in the farrowing house can be a challenge.

Up to 75 percent of baby pig death loss occurs during the first four days of life. During this time, most deaths  result from trauma (being laid on by the sow), low-viability (small, poor-doing) pigs and starvation.

After the first week of life, scours and other infectious diseases begin to play a larger role in pig deaths.

Many preweaning mortality causes are interrelated. For example, about 30 percent of pigs that are laid on are small, listless pigs. They don’t have the energy to get out of the sow’s way.

This can make it difficult to record the cause of death. I prefer to take a more proactive stance. If you can prevent the death, there’s no dilemma over how to categorize it. Here are some ideas to decrease preweaning mortality.

Supervise farrowings

- Attend farrowings and intervene when necessary. This will reduce stillbirths and minimize deaths of low-viability pigs. Piglets may suffocate if a sow takes too long to farrow. Pigs that survive are often born weak and may die soon after.

- It’s easier to attend farrowing if you induce it. However, if your timing is off and the sow is induced to farrow sooner than the 112th day of gestation, pigs will be born prematurely.

Check the temperature

- A room temperature of 70° F can help minimize piglet crushing due to sow discomfort.

- For the first few days of life, pigs can’t regulate their body temperature.  Therefore, zone heating in the creep area is a must. Recommended temperature for the piglet area is 90° F. This requires providing heat lamps, heat mats, heated flooring, hovers or a combination.

You will need to determine heat lamp heights to make the area warm but not too hot for the pigs. Test all heating units periodically.

- If the pigs don’t get adequate supplemental heat, they will become hypothermic. Those pigs tend to be too weak to suckle. As their blood sugar drops, these pigs may have seizures before they die.

- Place heat lamps on either side of the sow and behind the sow during farrowing and for 48 hours thereafter. This helps reduce preweaning mortality. By quickly warming the pig after birth, it will suckle colostrum.

- Cold or fluctuating temperatures and drafts also may predispose piglets to
infectious diseases.

Healthy and happy

- Optimal sow nutrition during gestation and lactation is important to baby pig survival.

- Quality water with adequate flow rate (2 quarts per minute) will optimize the sow’s milk production.

- Prefarrowing sow vaccinations may limit E. coli and Clostridium perfringens piglet scours.

- Vaccination also may temper the shed of pseudorabies and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome viruses to pigs.

Keep it clean

- Pressure wash, disinfect and let farrowing rooms dry at least two days before a group of sows is brought in.

- Wash sows to remove dirt and manure before they enter the farrowing house.

- Scrape fecal material from farrowing crates daily to avoid buildup.

- Disinfect instruments between each pig during processing. Poor sanitation during processing can lead to umbilical infections, joint infections and death.

Crossfoster tips

- Crossfoster piglets within the first 24 hours of birth.

- Place piglets onto sows that have farrowed close to the time of their dam so there’s adequate colostrum.

- Litters composed of all small pigs may not gain well due to their inability to stimulate the udder to produce enough milk.

- Observe pigs to ensure they receive colostrum within the first 24 hours of birth.

Check crate design

- Crates that keep the sow from lying down suddenly, tethering systems and adequate creep areas where the pigs can escape from the sows may help reduce preweaning mortality. However, proper management is probably more important than crate design.

- Preweaning mortality is lower in pigs farrowed on perforated floors than for those farrowed on solid floors. The risk of navel and joint infections increases on concrete floors. Perforated floors also improve sanitation and minimize scour risks. Plastic-coated wire or plastic flooring is recommended. It improves sanitation, provides a nonabrasive surface and the floor holds heat. If the floors are concrete, use bedding.

Many factors affect preweaning mortality. As with all production challenges, good attitudes and management skills are inherent to success.

Sandy Amass is a veterinarian on staff at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.