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An epidemiological study of risk factors associated with preweaning mortality on commercial pig farms - AW0133

The 1998 review of MAFF-funded research on on-farm pig welfare identified a need "to undertake an epidemiological study to identify the main risk factors affecting piglet mortality in outdoor and indoor farrowing systems". Currently in the UK pig herd, nearly 1 in 5 piglets die over a 4-week period before, during and after farrowing. These losses have major implications for pig welfare and the economics of production. Whereas a considerable amount is known about the causes and timings of piglet mortality within experimental farrowing systems, relatively little is known about predisposing factors, and how they interact, on commercial units.
The main objectives of this study, therefore, are to obtain information about risk factors affecting piglet mortality in a variety of conventional and alternative farrowing systems on commercial farms, and to identify practical interventions to reduce piglet mortality.
Our proposed programme of work directly addresses DEFRA policies; 1) to develop commercially viable farrowing systems which do not closely confine the sow while providing adequate welfare protection to piglets from overlying by the sow; 2) to ensure high standards of animal welfare, and 3) to promote a competitive food supply chain which is responsive to the needs of consumers.
We will first analyse existing data, previous research and industry expert opinion to ensure the accurate selection of variables for the main study. Detailed epidemiological data will then be collected on 150 farms including indoor crate, indoor loose-housing, and outdoor farrowing systems. Data collected will include measures of sow and litter characteristics, productivity, housing, husbandry techniques and behaviour. Comprehensive analysis will then determine whether different types of farrowing system differ in timing, mean level and variability of piglet mortality and what risk factors predict high and low mortality within and across systems. Effects of systems and risk factors on sow condition, injury etc. will also be identified.
Our analysis will yield testable predictions about the types of practical measures that are most likely to minimise mortality in different systems. These would need to be formally tested in an intervention study. We have already developed plans for such a study (Phase 2 of our original proposal) and would be happy to discuss the details, feasibility and funding of this with DEFRA and the project steering committee, towards the end of this work.
Results of the epidemiological study will be communicated to DEFRA, the scientific community and the end-users of the different farrowing systems - the farmers. This will be achieved through publicity across the farming media, pig discussion group presentations, peer-reviewed articles and presentations at conferences. The study will suggest practical measures to decrease piglet mortality in alternative and conventional farrowing systems within the UK herd, thereby improving pig welfare and potential profitability of farms, whilst addressing consumer concerns over methods of modern pig production. Management methods that yield low mortality in loose-housing systems may be identified, facilitating further development of these systems.
01: To analyse existing data and gather industry opinion in order to select variables for the data collection methods to be used in the epidemiology study.
02: To colect data from pig units on the risk factors associated with piglet mortality (6-20 months)
03: To analyse data and determine whether different farrowing systems differ in the timing, mean level and variability of pre-weaning mortality, and what risk factors predict high and low mortality within and across systems (20-26 months).
Project Documents
• Final Report : An epidemiological study of risk factors associated with preweaning mortality on commercial pig farms   (414k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2002

To: 2005

Cost: £223,415
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University - Warwick, University - Bristol
Livestock Farming              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study
Animal Welfare