Can Sow Behaviour At Farrowing Predict Future Health Issues? By Denise Cowie from Southwest Ontario Veterinary Services

Mar 13, 2023

The period of time before and after farrowing is a particularly risky time for sows. Sow health issues are common at this point in the reproductive cycle. Poor outcomes from these peri-farrowing health issues can result in reduced performance, premature culling or even death in sows.  Sows are generally more easily observed once they are placed in the farrowing pen and this allows for more intense monitoring of sows. The behaviour of sows at this time can help predict whether or not sows are more likely to get into trouble. These researchers wanted see if they could quantify various risk factors that predicted poor farrowing outcomes. Their thinking was that if these predictive factors could be identified then farrowing staff would have greater potential to intervene before things got worse. As a result animal welfare and performance would be improved. Data from 1,103 sows sourced from two nucleus herds were recorded for a range of variables investigated as potential predictors of poor outcomes in the farrowing house.

The researchers found the following:

  • Normal appetite compared to feed refusals reduced the risk of farrowing failure (13.5 vs 22.2%, P=0.025) and removals (10.4 vs 20.4%, P<0.001). ( This would seem to have been a fairly predictable)
  • Fit in the farrowing crate was significant (P<0.001) for farrowing and lactation outcomes and actual individual fit within the crate was more predictive than by going with parity as a proxy for size of sow and fit in the crate. In fact, sows with sufficient space had two to three times reduced risk of poor outcomes compared to restrictive crates relative to sow dimensions.
  • Sows with good locomotion score pre-farrowing
    • had two to three times reduced risk of farrowing failure (P=0.025)
    • reduced piglet mortality (P<0.001)
    • weaned two piglets more relative to affected sows (P<0.001)
    • were less likely to be removed before weaning (3.24 vs 12.3%, P=0.014).
  • Sows with higher respiration rate had significantly (P<0.001) reduced risk of poor farrowing outcomes.

Take Home Message

  • Abnormal sow behaviours that are detected prior to farrowing are predictive of an increased risk for poor farrowing outcomes and early culling from the herd.
  • Previous studies have demonstrated that close observation of gestation sows accompanied by early intervention can reduce sow losses. Close observation at the time of farrowing followed by early intervention when necessary will help reduce the risk of bad outcomes.

Ref: Laura Vargovic , Rebecca Z Athorn , Susanne Hermesch, Kim L Bunter   Improving sow welfare and outcomes in the farrowing house by identifying early indicators from pre-farrowing assessment  J Anim Sci . 2022 Sep 5;skac294. doi: 10.1093/jas/skac294. Online ahead of print.

Source : Swine Web
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