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Dec 18, 2020

Improving farrowing to maximise large litter potential

Dec 18, 2020

Many pig producers use hyperprolific sows because of the economic benefits large litters create. However, any gain in the number of piglets born has the potential to be offset by reduced survival rates due to an increased risk of piglets from larger litters being compromised.   

To maximise the potential of larger litters, producers need to take a holistic approach to sow nutrition and management and make prompt decisions around the need for intervention both during farrowing and immediately after. 

David Saornil

David SaornilLallemand Animal Nutrition global swine product manager, says increased farrowing times and longer birthing intervals are significant risk factors for the reduction in robust and resilient piglets. 

However, ensuring sows are fit for farrowing by considering their nutritional intake throughout gestation, with a heightened focus on energy requirements in the days leading up to farrowing, will help improve piglet quality and vitality at birth.  

Measuring piglet vitality at birth also enables critical decisions to be made and should improve the number of piglets that are weaned from hyperprolific sows. 


To help avoid prolonged farrowing times and extended birthing intervals, it’s important that a sow is carefully prepared,” says Mr Saornil.  

“Feeding a specific high fibre peripartum diet from 3-4 days before until 3-4 days after farrowing, can be hugely beneficial because it provides a slow release source of energy that will help her to endure the birthing process. 

Mr Saornil adds that considering feeding times can also help ensure sows have enough energy available.  

“Sows tend to farrow at night, so timing feeds right to ensure she doesn’t have an energy deficit is crucial to help prevent labour difficulties.” 

“Feeding a high fibre diet three times a day will help overcome this. But don’t be tempted to feed during the farrowing process itself as this could cause complex mastitis, metritis and agalactia (MMA) syndrome from an increase in colostrum in the teats,” he notes. 

Mr Saornil also suggests adding a specific probiotic yeast to the diet to help the sow cope with the negative effects that farrowing has on the gut. 

“As the sow starts to synthesise milk, she needs to absorb more water. This means there is less water in her intestine which causes constipation and results in an overpopulation of short-lived negative bacteria.”

“As the bacteria die, they release endotoxins that pass through the intestinal wall to other organs. This process will also affect the uterus motility and therefore the farrowing process slows.”

Levucell SB (S. c. boulardii CNCM I-1079) helps to prevent this by modulating the intestinal microbiota, reducing the likelihood of proliferation of negative bacteria,” says Mr Saornil. 

This specific probiotic yeast creates favourable anaerobic conditions for the development of beneficial fibrolytic bacteria to ferment fibre, which helps to keep the amount of energy released consistent throughout the farrowing process,” he says.  


Measuring piglet vitality 

Dr Emma Baxter, a pig specialist and researcher at SRUC, advocates measuring piglet vitality at birth to inform decisions about early piglet interventions. This has led Dr Baxter, in conjunction with Lallemand Animal Nutrition, to develop piglet vitality scoring system.

“This system is a visual tool to help identify healthy and compromised piglets. One of the reasons why this system is so useful is that 

while piglets may appear perfectly formed, they could still be compromised in some way,” she says. The system is based on a score of 14 (1 being stillborn and being good vitality) and should be used within 15 seconds of birth.

Click the link at the bottom of this artical to get your scorecard

How a piglet moves, and its physical appearance are indicators which will determine the score givenIf a piglet displays signs of immediate vigour, is breathing well and is attempting to stand, it is likely to be healthy,” says Dr Baxter.

It is important to not just look at behaviour but also note the piglet’s appearance. piglet with pale or blue skin or one with brown spotted marks on it is likely to have experienced a difficult birth. Very big piglets are especially at risk of experiencing a difficult birth and itcrucial to note that although they may appear to be displaying good movement, they may in fact be displaying signs of oxygen starvation and are trying to catch their breath.” 

She also adds that piglets may be obviously compromised. “Piglets can be born with certain signs of poor prenatal development, not just very low birth weight but also dolphin heads indicating intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR). Depending on the severity of this IUGR, it could be that the best course of action is to humanely dispatch these individuals. 

Improving piglet vitality 

Dr Baxter explains that piglet vitality can be improved once they are born.

Piglets need to be warmed up immediately after birth and those that are compromised will need assistance. 

Piglets born with brown spots or staining of the skin, suggesting a difficult birth, are more susceptible to hypothermia so will need to be placed under a heat lamp if the umbilical cord has snapped. Ideally, they should then be put onto the udder and helped to suckle

“Following this, look for signs that the piglet is doing well independently suckling and staying active at the udder, she says.

Dr Baxter adds that piglets receiving their mother’s colostrum within 20 minutes after birth are the ones most likely to survive. 

Suckling regularly for 6-12 hours after this will ensure optimum colostrum intake to boost energy and transfer immunity.If they are struggling to suckle independently, they should be given help. 

If fostering is required, because the litter is too big, this should be done after they have had a good dose of their own mother’s colostrum (minimum 6 hours) and no later than 48 hours after birth.

“If piglets need to be fostered on, those displaying vigorous behaviour, and of a comparable size, should be grouped together. I would recommend moving more than one sibling to a foster litter, and it’s important the foster or nurse sow chosen has teats that are compatible with the size of foster piglets’ mouths.”

She notes it is worth keeping an eye on farrowing time and birthing intervals too, because obstetric assistance could reduce the number of piglets that experience a difficult birth. 

Click here to request your vitality scoring card