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By Staff | May 10, 2013

As feed costs rise and margins in the pork industry narrow, it’s important that producers put as many pigs into production as possible. A recent article in National Hog Farmer estimated that 20 percent of piglets born in the U.S. die before weaning, meaning that early care is critical to the success of a farrow-to-finish operation.

Through attentive management, pre-farrow preparation and proper care during the early weeks of life, more piglets survive to weaning and eventually reach market. Pigs given a healthy start typically finish faster and spend fewer days on feed.

Like most areas of livestock management, the task of raising healthy pigs begins with early planning. Sow care undoubtedly plays a role in the health of newborn pigs so sows should be at a healthy weight and be vaccinated prior to farrowing. Many pre-farrowing vaccines recommend treating pregnant females at five and two weeks before farrowing. Sows should be in good body condition and be eating about four pounds of feed per day during the last few days of gestation.

A clean environment is necessary to given pigs a healthy start. Farrowing rooms should be cleaned and disinfected as often as possible. The temperature should be around 70 to 75 degrees and heat lamps should be adjusted so the temperature on mats is between 92 and 95 degrees.

Make sure hot boxes and split suckle boxes have been disinfected, dried and re-bedded. Keep a farrowing box handy with any supplies that may be needed, such as oxytocin, ob sleeves or lube. It is best to limit the stress sows incur during farrowing so keeping noise to a minimum is preferred.

Many larger farrowing operations are now monitoring sows 24 hours a day and that vigilant practice is yielding more live pigs. After birth, piglets are dried off using a drying powder or towel and kept warm in hot boxes. Regular, careful monitoring allows producers to mark piglets that have nursed and received colostrum and split suckle litters.

Split suckling means removing the larger, stronger pigs for an hour or two twice within 12 hours of farrowing to allow smaller pigs to nurse. Navels should be cut and treated with an iodine solution within a day or so of farrowing.

Most producers process pigs within a few days of birth. In addition to tail docking, ear tagging and castration of males, it’s important to give pigs an iron supplement. Newborn pigs battle anemia and this is often treated by injecting 1 mL of Iron Dextran. These injections are typically given in the neck with a 20-guage by -inch needle.

At about three weeks of age pigs should be ready to wean. Most vaccines for common pathogens like porcine circovirus and PRRS require injection at three to four weeks of age. Some will require a second dose to be administered two to three weeks later. Producers should work with a veterinarian to establish an immunization protocol based on each site’s history, genetics, location and other factors.

Taking these steps in the early stages of life can reduce the mortality rate of a farrowing operation, ensure healthier pigs that are likely to gain at an optimum rate and put pigs on track to faster finishing. Intensive management during the first days of life has cut pre-weaning mortality in half for some operations. With tight margins in the forecast for 2013 it’s especially important to maximize the number of pigs that survive to weaning by implementing these simple management practices.

Gentry handles inside sales for JRG in Fort Dodge.

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