Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, March 18, 1995, Image 67

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    RESEARCH EFFORTS
TO REDUCE
BABY PIG LOSSES
Ronald S. Kensinger
Associate Professor
Animal Nutrition/
Physiology
Defining The
Problem
During the past decade, my
laboratory group has studied vari
ous aspects of mammary develop
ment and regulation of milk syn
thesis in the sow mammary gland
Much of this research was rather
fundamental in nature, meaning
that we have learned a lot about
changes in important cells and
molecules within the mammary
glands which must occur for suc
cessful lactation.
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Last year, however, we initiated
an exciting research project to
learn more about the underlying
causes of lactation failure in swine
herds. In a state with such a large
dairy industry, it may not be obvi
ous that adequate milk production
is essential for efficient production
of all livestock species, including
swine. The issue is best illustrated
with the following statistics:
• Sows give birth to an average
of 10 live pigs per litter, yet wean
only about eight This loss is very
significant given that a swine pro
ducer has already invested the
rearing costs through puberty and
the maintenance cost of that sow’s
pregnancy by the time the pigs are
bom. To remain in the swine pro
duction business in an increasingly
difficult market producers must
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Ronald S. Kensinger
save every pig possible.
• Baby pigs can die from a num
ber of different causes, but most
relate to the initial milk production
of the sow. Each pig is bom with
very little energy stored in its
body. In fact, it has only a small
fraction of the energy stored as fat
compared to what can be found in a
newborn calf or human infant. And
since pigs have little hair covering
their bodies, they must receive
energy quickly after birth to main
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tain body temperature or they will
become chilled and die. This ener
gy comes in the form of colostrum,
or first milk, produced by the sow
at farrowing. The energy in the
colostrum provides a second
equally important function to the
pigs the energy to keep them
mentally alert and to power their
skeletal muscles so they can get
out of the way when Mom decides
to lay down. Failure to get out of
the way leads to a problem known
as “flat pig syndrome” a
euphemism for being crushed by
the sow. It is true in these cases that
the death was caused by the physi
cal trauma, but the real cause likely
was insufficient milk production
by the sow.
• A third essential function of
the energy in colostrum is that it
provides the newborn pigs with
energy to keep suckling. These
pigs will generally suckle about
once every hour, and there may be
considerable fighting to get to the
most desirable teats. Often, a small
pig will lose several fights before it
can find an available teat Since the
process of milk let-down in a sow
is very brief, a piglet must find an
available teat quickly or miss a
meal.
• Colostrum and milk provide at
least a dozen other important attri
butes for baby mammals, too many
to describe here. However, a key
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Lancaster Farming, Saturday, March 18, 1995-C3
characteristic of colostrum is that it
is loaded with maternal antibodies
which are absorbed intact into the
baby pig’s bloodstream. This is
another fascinating feat designed
by Mother Nature to provide new
born mammals with a ready “pack
age of protection” against foreign
particles present in a particular
environment Armed with suffi
cient antibodies and energy, all
derived from colostrum, a new
born pig can make the rough trans
ition to life outside its mother. For
a number of different reasons, the
sow may not provide baby pigs
with enough colostrum to get
through this transitional period.
The underlying causes of insuffi
cient colostrum and milk produc
tion are the focus of our research.
Lactation failure really is any
problem leading to insufficient
milk production by the sow that
results in pigs that fail to thrive.
Lactation failure was previously
described as the mastitis/metritis/
agalactia syndrome, or MMA.
Recently, it has become clear
that lactation failure can often
occur in cases where there is no
evidence of mastitis or metritis.
What is clear is that there can be
many causes of this important pro-
P.O. Box 126,
PhiHipsburg, NJ 08865
What Causes
Lactation Failure?
(Turn to Pago C 4)