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Management interventions for large litters: Economic assessment

Milk supplementation shows much higher growth rates in the fattening stage, so its implementation would be interesting to regain body condition in animals with low birth weight.

Trying to minimize the number of movements on farrowing day and maximazing the number of piglets per sow, are the characteristics of a system that reduces extra handling in the farrowing unit and can improve pig performance in later stages.

The following article tries to evaluate different types of piglet management in the farrowing unit of the same pig farm, and calculate its economic value to an age close to slaughter. This should allow us to know which one provides the best financial results, so it can be taken as a reference point for extrapolation to other pig farms of the same characteristics.



In recent decades, pig production has experienced great genetic progress, achieving an increase in litter size and survival of young piglets, which results in an increase in piglet production per sow per year..


Different management interventions in the farrowing unit

Transfer of surplus piglets at farrowing depends on the batch system used, and the success of these movements depends on the gap the piglet needs to overcome with every movement. The two most widely used management methods to move surplus piglets are "Litter transfers" and "Sow transfers"

We conducted a study to compare productive results in the different stages of common piglet management interventions on the farm (control group) in which piglets are distributed to even out litters, with three different piglet management groups:

* Litter transfers: Piglets are moved to the nurse sow from the previous batch.

* Sow transfers: Nurse sows are moved to the piglets they are going to foster.

* Milk supplement: A milk replacer is given to piglets through special equipment during all the time they remain in the farrowing unit. This milk does not replace the dam's milk but supplements it (photo 1.)


The milk supplement does not replace the dam's milk, but supplements it.

Photo 1. The milk supplement does not replace the dam's milk, but supplements it.

Productivity and economic analysis

All management interventions result in a significantly greater average weight at the end of the nursery phase than the one achieved with the litter transfer method.

The groups with a higher weight at the end of nursery are the control group and the sow transfers group (Table 1.) However, the milk supplement group reaches a bigger average weight than the rest of them at 45-50 kg (fattening phase 1) thanks to increased post-weaning growth.

Table 1. Summary of productive data through different production phases for each of the management methods studied.

  Control Sow transfers Litter transfers Milk supplement
N Mean SE N Mean SE N Mean SE N Mean SE
Birth weight  (kg) 222 1.44a ±0.02 175 1.80b ±0.02 130 2.10c ±0.06 397 1.43a ±0.02
Weight at weaning (kg) 197 7.18a ±0.13 147 7.13a ±0.23 104 6.33a ±0.26 315 6.02b ±0.12
End of nursery  (kg) 183 18.20a ±0.25 141 17.36a,b ±0.43 91 14.65c ±0.41 296 16.75b ±0.22
Weight at fattening1 (kg) 171 46.34a ±0.63 122 46.06a ±0.91 83 47.14a ±0.75 241 54.19b ±0.55
Weight at fattening2 (kg) 148 75.64 ±0.70 100 74.04 ±0.86 65 67.23 ±1.15 328 80 ±8.03
Pre-weaning ADG (g/day) 197 214a ±4.72 147 212a ±8.65 104 158b ±5.93 315 169b ±4.45
Nursery ADG (g/day) 183 318a ±6,77 141 300b ±11,84 91 204c ±9,23 297 279b ±6,02
Fattening1 ADG (g/day) 171 686a ±13,24 121 693a ±23,44 83 659a ±19,47 240 757b ±12,12
Fattening2 ADG (g/day) 148 765 ±7,49 100 792 ±1,05 65 729 ±13,99 328 852 ±85,28

The fattening 1 phase continues through age 16 weeks, i.e., 15.5 to 45-51 kg.
The fattening 2 phase continues through age 20 weeks, with final weights of 67-80 kg.

In this test, supplementation with milk allows great weight recovery in the fattening phase. In that period, average daily gain is also higher than in the other groups. This treatment allows an average weight of 80 kg at age 20 weeks.

As shown in Table 2, costs in the farrowing phase are lower with the litter transfers method, as the lactation period is shorter, and therefore rotation in the farrowing crates is greater, although this lower cost is not carried forward to the end. This study does not calculate the actual cost for the different treatments in the nursery and fattening phases. However, assuming an equal cost per phase in the 4 treatments, we can infer that the final cost per kilo is higher for the litter transfer pigs due to their lower final weight.

Regarding the control management, it is the second cheapest management and does not involve any movements.

We have seen the benefits in production during the fattening phase generated with milk supplementation. However, this intervention requires special facilities, investments in maintenance and training, and a large farm that allows a good return and early amortisation. Still, this extra cost is mostly offset by the good productive results.

Finally, the sow transfers system implies an additional cost in the farrowing phase by decreasing the weekly number of services and having empty farrowing crates, although it is a good management method when used as an alternative to fill the empty farrowing crates due to casualties in the lactation phase or culling.

Table 2. Costs per management type.

Costs Control Sow transfers Litter transfers Milk supplement
Piglet (€/animal) 20.7 22.4 19.5 21.6
Pig at end of fattening (€/animal) (*) 101.7 103.4 100.5 102.6
Fattener (20 weeks)(€/kg) 1.05 1.10 1.17 1.01

(*) The cost of the pig at the end of fattening is the result of adding the actual cost of the piglet to an estimated cost that is equal for the 4 treatments during the nursery and fattening phases.
Differences in the cost per kg reflect the differences in the cost per piglet, and especially the different growth rates in the nursery and fattening phases depending on the treatment (Table 1.)

However, in our opinion, and after assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each method (Table 3), preference should be given to sow transfers vs. litter transfers, especially when considering the number of piglets weaned early in each method.

Once all methods have been reviewed, it is useful to know the advantages and disadvantages of each one:

Table 3. Advantages and disadvantages of the different types of piglet management in the farrowing unit.

Type of management Benefits Disadvantages
Litter transfers Lower cost of the piglet.
More cycles per sow and year.
3 litters weaned early in each movement (per each litter transfer).
Sow transfers We take advantage of the empty farrowing crates; only one litter is weaned early in each movement by creating a nurse sow. Empty farrowing crates required, reduction of weekly services, time consumed in moving sows, fewer cycles per sow per year.
Milk supplement No extra movements required such as litter transfers or sow transfers, no pigs are weaned early, higher weight and ADG in post-weaning phases. Sows can rear the largest possible number of piglets. The milk helps unthrifty piglets. Investment needed for special facilities, staff training and maintenance.

In short, the usual management techniques of distribution of small piglets and evening of litters are not enough to properly manage the farrowing unit in our farm; Hyper-prolificacy takes us beyond that and requires a more specific management for the surplus piglets (10% of the movements), which will depend on the characteristics of our farm. This study concludes that the lower cost achieved in the farrowing phase with the litter transfer method is not carried forward onto the final phase due to a slower growth in subsequent stages.

Conversely, the management method known as milk supplement compensates a higher cost in the farrowing phase with a higher growth in the fattening phase.

Milk supplementation shows much higher growth rates in the fattening phase, so its implementation would be interesting to regain body condition in animals with low birth weight; it also helps to maximize the number of piglets per sow and to reduce the number of piglets movements.

Piglet care

Foster sows, how to make them?27-Jun-2016 1 years 3 months 25 days ago

Article Comments

This area is not intended to be a place to consult authors about their articles, but rather a place for open discussion among pig333.com users.

Allan Schinckel30-Aug-2016 (1 years 1 months 22 days ago)

the table 1 that I see has three treatments (columns) control , sow transfers and pig transfers and has no column for milk supplemented. The increase in ADG with milk supplementation -- was it only because the pigs were heavier at weaning and heavier pigs at weaning grow faster from weaning to market weight ( also same effect of increasing weaning age). Would be good to do growth curves.

Allan Schinckel30-Aug-2016 (1 years 1 months 22 days ago)

okay - I found a way to see the 4th column and the milk supplement means. The difference in birth weight of the treatments -- why did it occur ? Not such a large difference would have impacted weaning weights and all later weights. One should do plot of later BW;s relative to Birth BW for each treatment ( like paper with Dean Boyd on different weaning ages. Schinckel, A. P., R. Cabrera, R. D. Boyd, S. Jungst, C. Booher, M. Johnston, and M. E. Einstein. "Impact of Birth and Body Weight at Twenty Days on thePostweaning Growth of Pigs with Different Weaning Management." The Professional Animal Scientist 23, no. 3 (2007): 197-210.

elena90_27Veterinary practitioner/consultant02-Sep-2016 (1 years 1 months 20 days ago)

Hi Allan, thank you for your attention. At first I would like to say that all pigs in this challenge were weighed five times from birth to slaughtering (birth, weaning, end of nursery, fattening 1 and fattening 2) and the extra information would extend this article too much to explain it well. Then i would like explain that difference weight at birth is determinated by future management in farrowing unit and so heavier piglets were managed by litter transfers because of they are heavier and his colostrum intake is better than weaks and also they will have one week less of lactation period. Finally sow transfer would be the second drastic management for the piglet, we change his sow and they must be bigger and well inmmunized. The aim of this article is to give importance to management from first day of life can affect to performance in slaughtering house.

austinmlowokaEducation/research21-Sep-2016 (1 years 1 months 1 days ago)

On milk supplement what type of the milk were you supplementing is it any milk or its a pig milk did you evaluate the milk composition because the composition can also have a significance in in the growth and the milk was it powdered or fresh.

Luis24-Feb-2017 (7 months 28 days ago)

Hi; and sorry but i didn´t read your question before.
We used a fresh pig milk in the milk group.

Andrew Zarkos-Smith01-Mar-2017 (7 months 21 days ago)

I have found similar results to this and have run some large scale trials using cups in crates. We designed our own piglet milk to go in the cups for 14 days and then another liquid feed in the cups until weaning. Due to the morphology of the gut changing and running these trials for 18 months we have stopped using Zinc Oxide and Tylan on the farm. I have a full set of results if anyone is interested.

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