Porcine Research : Defining New Criteria to Assess Piglets Maturity at Birth

Date of publication : 3/26/2010
Source : Lallemand

Blagnac, France - Lallemand Animal Nutrition has presented an innovative study on piglets maturity during this week's Porcine Research Days in Paris (Journées de la Recherche Porcine 2010). This study allowed to define a set of criteria to assess piglets maturity at birth. This new tool can help farmers evaluate future performances of the new-born piglets and assist in reducing their related costs thanks to a more fluid litter management.

In recent years, the race to the hyper-prolific sow has given rise to important litter heterogeneity at birth. Heterogeneity which latter affects zootechnical performances: mortality, daily weight gain, live weight at weaning... Nevertheless, piglet weight at birth by itself is not discriminating enough to predict the animal's productive life. Its level of maturity, linked to its intra-uterine development, appears as a more accurate prediction tool to evaluate piglet survival chances and its weaning weight.

Audrey Sacy, who conducted the study, explains: " Piglets immaturity is largely under-estimated, while it plays a great part in litter heterogeneity. It does affect survival in maternity (in our study, immature piglets survival attaiened no more than 62% vs. 89% for the mature piglets). It also causes growth retardation: average live weight at weaning was 4.7Kg for the immature piglets vs. 5.7Kg for the mature ones. Far from being an isolated phenomenon, immaturity affects all sows at every birth rank. In our study, 11% of the live born piglets were concerned. This can go up to 25% for older sows."

The study presented in Paris congress was conducted in 2008 in a 400 sows farm in Brittany. In total, more that 900 piglets were monitored from birth to weaning.

This study has allowed to provide pig farmers a  new tool made of a set of simple criteria aimed at identifying immature piglets at birth :

  • - Morphological criteria: immature piglets are generally lighter, with a big oval head, a straight, "dolphin-like" forehead and bulging eyes, no skin folds characteristic of older piglets....
  • - Behavioral criteria: immature piglets are usually found isolated from the other piglets, lying on their side, and show characteristic behavior: vocalize, contractions-stretches alternance...

These criteria have been validated by anatomic data: mature and immature piglets show significant difference in their vital organs weight ratios.

Considering the outcome of immature piglets at farm level as well as the associated costs (mortality, care, delay in building rotation..), piglet maturity at birth is indeed an interesting criteria which could be evaluated on a regular basis at farm-level, but which could also be integrated into future sows genetic selection schemes.

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