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  • Real Pork Trust Consortium

Continuing to Improve Piglet Survivability by Examining Different Birthing Systems

Group housing for sows and gilts can affect piglets after their mothers have given birth
An example of bedded group-farrowing on a farm. Photo: National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa.

Dr. Pedro Urriola, an Assistant Professor of Animal Science at the University of Minnesota, was part of a research team that wanted to determine if the housing systems for mother pigs affected how many of their piglets survived until weaning. The research findings from this peer-reviewed study are detailed below.

Major Finding

In a 2010 study, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that about 23% of piglets in bedded group-farrowing systems – or open birthing rooms with natural bedding – didn't survive until weaning. Notably, researchers saw that mortality surged to 30% during hot summers compared with the rest of the year at 22%. Additionally, mortality was higher (29%) in litters from mature sows (mother pigs with two litters or more) compared to gilts (sows with their first litter, 19%). Interestingly, every sow was different in how many piglets survived until weaning. This large difference among individual sows suggests genetics and sow behaviors can also affect pre-weaning survival of piglets.


Why It Matters

In the U.S., most farms using individual sow farrowing systems (or birthing) systems report an average pre-weaning piglet mortality of about 12% (Metafarms data), lower than the 23% found in this 2010 study.

Individual sow farrowing systems provide personalized attention to sows and newborns and could potentially lead to decreased pre-weaning mortality rates. Therefore, this study highlights the need for further research on optimizing and implementing individual sow farrowing systems across the pig farming industry while prioritizing the welfare of both sows and piglets.


How the Research Was Conducted

The West Central Research and Outreach Center of the University of Minnesota maintains alternative swine housing systems. Researchers examined data from 2003 to 2008 on 421 sows and their litters weaned between 4 and 5 weeks of age. The sows and piglets examined were all housed in bedded group-farrowing systems, which provide open floor plans in which sows can move around freely. Researchers used statistical methods to study associations between farming and environmental conditions with pre-weaning mortality.


Learn More

To learn more about this research study and how it affects the pork industry, farmers, and the food you eat, read the full peer-reviewed journal article.

Continuing to Improve Piglet Survivability by Examining Different Birthing Systems
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