View from the Northern Ireland: Liz Donnelly from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in the college’s latest management notes outlined some key priorities for pig farmers at this time of the year.

Keeping pigs alive

In previous management notes Donnelly has written about the increase in litter size over recent years. In fact she noted the average born alive figure on units using WinPig to monitor performance is 13.0. Although there was a slight decrease in born alive figures on some units over the last couple of months due to the high temperatures last summer, many units are still averaging over 14.0 born alive.

Donnelly said keeping piglets alive from large litters is a challenge. It is inevitable that some piglets will die. This is because, when born, they are very small, have little hair, no fat insulation, low energy reserves and no brown fat (fat that helps them regulate their body temperature).

Although she cited that there are many reasons why pigs die before they reach weaning age, including starvation, overlying, scour, chilling, low viability and congenital defects, the vast majority die of starvation.


What can you do to increase the number of pigs that reach weaning age?

According to Donnelly the first step is to make sure EVERY pig born gets its FAIR SHARE of colostrum. Colostrum is often described as a life-giving food. In addition to providing piglets with vital energy, it is also a source of warmth (it is 38oC) and immunity. Colostrum contains antibodies which protect the piglets against disease on the unit. It is important piglets get antibodies through the colostrum as antibody transfer does not take place across the placenta.

She said piglets must get colostrum as soon as possible after farrowing. In fact the first six hours after birth are vital. This is because after six hours, not only does the antibody content of the colostrum decrease, the ability of piglets to absorb the immunoglobulins in the colostrum also decreases. The piglets ability to absorb immunoglobulins is reduced by about 50 per cent due to changes in the gut lining.

Split suckling

Donnelly noted making sure every pig born gets its fair share of colostrum sounds simple but in practice it is often difficult to achieve. This is because the first born and larger pigs often take more than their fair share leaving less for the last born and weaker pigs.

She outlined there are ‘tricks of the trade’ you can use to help pigs get colostrum and increase their survival rate. These include split suckling, assisting smaller weaker pigs to suckle and hand feeding colostrum. Split suckling is probably the simplest to do and involves closing the largest and strongest pigs in a box / creep for one to one and a half hours. This gives the smaller, weaker pigs a better chance to get their share of colostrum. When carrying out split suckling leave at least six or seven of the smallest pigs on the sow to ensure adequate stimulation of the udder.

Safety on pig units

Donnelly highlighted that farms are great places to live and work (most of the time!), but unfortunately they are also dangerous places. Pig units are no different to any other farm and accidents can and do occur on pig farms.

She said: “Unfortunately I know a number of pig farmers who have been involved in farming accidents, some of which have been quite serious. The accidents that have occurred on pig farms involved the four key danger areas – Slurry, Animals, Falls and Equipment (SAFE).”

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