Increase in sow deaths baffles hog industry

The mystery has yet to be fully resolved, but some in the sector point to potential problems with water and feed quality

Top hog producers expect relatively steady gains in productivity and performance.

So why are sow death rates increasing at some top-performing farms?

That’s something Ron Ketchum of Swine Management Services is pondering after seeing a trend that doesn’t make sense.

“What’s going on?” he said during a presentation at the Manitoba Swine Seminar Feb. 6.

“I don’t think anybody has the answers yet.”

Ketchum’s company analyzes data from more than 1.5 million sows at more than 80 farms in Canada, the United States and Australia. It is able to separate farms into best-performing and worst-performing groups in order to identify key production differences that are probably responsible for the differences.

However, a troubling trend has been the rising death loss of sows across farm sizes and types in recent years.

“In data we look at, there has been a trend to higher death loss of the younger parity females,” Ketchum wrote in the report, which was published as part of the seminar proceedings.

With a general industry trend of steadily improving results across most areas of production, this anomaly is troubling.

While there is no good evidence of what is causing the increasing death rate, Ketchum suspects it could be problems with both water and feed quality.

“Mycotoxins, I think, is a big thing,” he said.

Those could be coming from poor quality feed — common from harvest challenges of recent years — or water sources.

“Those two things are probably playing with us a lot.”

Female death losses rose from 9.2 to 10 percent in recent years across all farm sizes that were surveyed, but the top 10 percent of farms saw their rate rise more sharply, from 5.9 percent to 8.1 percent.

There seems to be a correlation with increased prolapse rates, which could be a clue because farms with water treatment systems are having lower prolapse rates than barns with untreated water.

“It looked like it was something related to the quality or purity of the water,” said Ketchum.

Piglet survival rates have also declined, so something has been challenging pigs’ health that is not yet fully understood.

Production differences can be large between barns. Some barns have sow death rates of less than two percent while others are more than 22 percent.

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