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Author(s): Boulot,Sylviane, Hélène Quesnel and Nathalie Quiniou
Publication Date: January 1, 2007
Country: France


In general the development of hyper prolific sows has been associated with a dramatic increase in perinatal mortality. Analysis of the performance of French sow herds (IFIP, 2007) indicates that total number of piglets born per litter increased from 11.9 in 1996 to 13.8 in 2006. Simultaneously, total mortality increased from less than 19% up to 21%, with about 25% of herds losing more than 25% of piglets born before weaning (Badouard, personal communication). Stillborn piglets (8% of total born) presently account for about 40% of total mortality. With 12.7 born alive per litter, mortality frequently reaches 15% during lactation, mainly due to crushing of starved and weak piglets. However, the size of weaned litters and sow productivity are still increasing with prolificacy, without an apparent negative impact on sow fertility or longevity (Boulot, 2004). In 2006, the 10% most efficient French farms weaned 30 piglets/productive sow /year, with 14.3 total born per litter and only 17.3% total piglet losses. That may represent a somewhat optimistic perception of prolificacy, despite negative ethical impacts and economic wastes. Recently, Quiniou et al. (2007a) described the association between litter size and heterogeneity in hyperprolific LWxLR experimental IFIP’s herd. When litter size increased from less than 10 piglets to more than 15, mean birth weight (BW) was reduced by 500 g. Variability was high with a coefficient of variation increasing from 15 to about 24%. Consequently, the proportion of piglets weighing less than 1 kg increased from 3 to 15%. It is still debatable whether these small piglets have a higher risk of being stillborn but they clearly have a lower survival rate than their heavier littermates. Techniques that may reduce stillbirths and enhance neonate survival have been extensively reviewed. IFIP’s inventory consists in 10 key points and not less than 100 technical proposals! Priorities may vary according to farms and can be investigated with mortality checkup grids. Successful managers of large litters avoid practices that may amplify detrimental effects of low birth weight (anticipated or lengthened farrowings, low ambient temperatures, low colostrum intake, competition for teats, etc). According to field studies (IFIP, 2005) these managers concentrate on best practices, with a special attention paid to birth and neonatal supervision, specific care of weak and supernumerary piglets and promotion of the sow’s health and high milk production. Despite a considerable amount of research, poor piglet survival slows down the progress expected from the move towards sow hyper prolificacy. Although very few management procedures may directly improve piglet quality, specific strategies may be implemented at farm level that will partly compensate side effects of large litters, before and after weaning. According to economic simulations, 0.85 kg is the minimum limit to save piglets from modern genotypes (IFIP, 2005). French solutions are time consuming and may be less efficient without batch management. However, things may change favorably in the near future due to re-orientation of selection objectives. Since 2002, born alive instead of total-born, and functional teat numbers, are included in LW and LR French breeding programs. The addition of new components of maternal ability such as sow behavior, farrowing quality, colostrum production, and piglet weight, vitality or growth rate may also improve survival and reduce the demand for human intervention.

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