How to Improve Pre-Wean Survivability

Strategies to prioritise piglet care tasks when labour is tight

The performance increases in piglet production observed in recent years have fortunately been accompanied by constant survival rates of piglets until weaning – see figures 1 and 2.

Nevertheless, interesting differences can be seen, namely between the top 10% producers and the average.

While the difference in litter size between the two groups has remained constant at about 1-1.5 piglets, the top 10% have been better able to handle the larger litters. On average, the survival rate at the top farms is more than five percentage points better than the average for all farms, see again figures 1 and 2.

Source: PIC EMEAR Benchmark,
ca. 820 k sows

What are these farms doing differently than others? They make piglet survivability a priority.

Prioritising piglet care can be especially difficult when labour is tight. The PIC Technical Services Team has compiled tips to help you achieve high-quality care of new-born piglets (Day 1 care) even with staffing limitations.

Two strategies that can have the biggest impact on piglet survivability are:

1.            Reducing the number of stillborn piglets

2.            Minimizing pre weaning mortality in pigs (PWM)

Strategy 1: Decrease the incidence of stillborn piglets

Decreasing stillborn rates by 1% could save you almost £ 14 per sow per year1

Piglet survivability starts before farrowing. Make sure all farrowing room surfaces are clean and disinfected, including the mats, floors, and ceilings. Ensure fans, drinkers, feeders, and heat sources, including mats and heat lamps, are clean and functioning properly. Always use hot water when cleaning and be sure the room is dry before loading in sows.

“I recently visited a farm with farrowing rooms that appeared to be clean,” says Sebastian Casiro, Technical Services Manager at PIC UK. “When we looked more closely, we discovered the bulbs in the heat lamps were dirty. That made it impossible for the heat lamps to function properly.”

Another potential risk factor to piglet survivability is the length of farrowing. PIC data shows the rate of stillborn piglets increases when farrowing continues for more than 5 hours.

One way to reduce farrowing time is to choose the right people from your team to work in the farrowing house. The ideal individual pays close attention to the actively farrowing sow and consistently returns to check on the sow every 20-30 minutes.

Rotate breaks to ensure an employee is in the farrowing house as often as possible. Make sure tasks that need fewer people are being staffed accordingly so you can prioritize farrowing coverage.

Strategy 2: Decrease pre weaning mortality in pigs

When labour is short, your best bet is to focus on your small but viable piglets – those weighing between 1 and 1,5 kg. Larger piglets are more capable of finding teats and nursing without help.

If you have the capacity to dry piglets, use drying powder, paper towels or a hand towel. If time won’t allow you to dry every piglet, focus on drying and marking the small but viable piglets and placing the others on or under the heat source.

Colostrum intake is also important for all pigs. However, the survival of small pigs is highly dependent on them consuming the right amount of colostrum. Therefore, focus on helping the small but viable piglets start nursing. Complete udder training within 30 minutes of birth and again 60 minutes after birth. More on colostrum management also in THIS ARTICLE.

PIC research trials show that drying piglets and udder training can reduce PWM. Results showed the total reduction in PWM was 38% over the first three days post-farrowing. Drying and udder training piglets reduced PWM by 53% on day one, meaning up to 19% of your reduction in PWM can happen on day one by drying and facilitating colostrum intake.

PIC Females: Control: 1,022 pigs. Trial: 1,044 pigs, dried and udder trained at birth, 30 min, and 60 min after birth.

*Compared to litters without drying of piglets and udder training.

Keep the following facts in mind when considering how much colostrum is available for each pig.

  • Older sows produce more colostrum than younger ones.
  • After 24 hours, the benefits of colostrum are no longer available to the piglet.
  • The gap in mortality rates between light and heavy pigs is reduced when small pigs consume more than 250 ml of colostrum.
  • Previous research found that piglets consume about 40 ml less colostrum for every additional piglet born.²

Choosing between multiple priorities can feel impossible, but you can be confident in your choices when they are based on data. By reducing the number of stillborn piglets and minimizing pre weaning mortality, you can improve piglet survivability across your operation.

“If you focus on day 1 piglet care, you can shorten farrowing times, facilitate colostrum intake, and support piglet warmth and well-being,” says Sebastian. “These tasks reduce pre weaning mortality in piglets and set piglets up for success.”

Looking for more strategies to improve day 1 piglet care? Listen to episode 30 of PIC’s podcast “The Squeal” for recommendations on measuring day 1 care key performance indicators.


1 Typisch Ökonomie, Boehringer Ingelheim, 2018 (converted)

2 Devillers et al., 2005