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Improving Piglet Survival

piglet survival adPre-weaning piglet mortality continues to be a major economic and welfare concern in all farrowing and lactation systems. Average total piglet mortality (i.e. stillbirths + live-born deaths) ranges from 16-20%. In most breeds this means two piglets in every litter die pre-weaning.

How can we Reduce Piglet Mortality?

  • Identify the causes
  • Identify whether the causes are the same in different systems
  • Identify the pre-disposing risk factors
  • Target those risk factors

What are the Causes of Piglet Mortality?

The majority of piglet deaths occur during birth or within the first 72h of postnatal life. Eight different causes of death have been identified but the main three are:

  • Stillbirth
  • Starvation
  • Crushing

But piglet mortality is multifaceted and the sow, piglets and their environment all interact to contribute to these causal factors.

Are Causes the same in all Farrowing Systems?

No, generally in conventional crated systems there is a greater prevalence for stillbirths and starvation related deaths, whereas in systems where the sow is kept loose crushing is the main cause of death.

What are the Pre-disposing Risk Factors for Piglet Mortality?

We can separate the risk factors into prenatal (before birth) and postnatal (i.e. live-born). The diagrams below show the different events that can result in either stillbirth (Fig 1) or live-born death (Fig 2).

Fig1 stillbirth risk factorsFig2 live-born piglet mortality risk factors

How do we Target Risk Factors?

Please download our document on Risk Factors in Piglet Mortality and How to Target Them.

Are there Specific Strategies for Loose Farrowing Environments?


Piglet and sowManaging the farrowing and lactation system requires targeted interventions by stockpeople but in loose farrowing systems these are still being optimised. To learn about the current recommendations for specific free farrowing management please visit Free Farrowing Husbandry.


Design features that optimise interventions are important in free farrowing systems. To learn more about these features please visit our Specific Pen Features pages.

Should there be a Specific Free Farrowing Genotype used in Loose Systems?

Some sows perform very well in free farrowing systems whilst others show more variable results. In order to increase consistent performance it is likely that selecting sows for appropriate maternal behaviours in these systems will be an important endeavour. Research has shown that maternal behaviour is a heritable trait. Work is currently being undertaken to identify the key traits that make a successful free farrowing mother. To learn more please get in touch.

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