Implications of early-life indicators for survival rate, subsequent growth performance, and carcass characteristics of commercial pigs

Zhikai K. Zeng, Pedro E. Urriola, Jenelle R. Dunkelberger, John M. Eggert, Roos Vogelzang, Gerald C. Shurson, Lee J. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


As a result of genetic selection for increased litter size, modern, highly prolific sows often produce large litters with an increased percentage of light birth weight (BiW) piglets compared with less prolific females. However, there is limited information elucidating what proportion of light BiW piglets that express compensatory growth and how these pigs might be identified at a young age. The objective of this study was to analyze the effect of birth weight and early phase growth on preweaning mortality, subsequent growth performance, and carcass characteristics of pigs. Individual records collected on 7,654 commercial crossbred pigs were used for analyses. A segmented regression model was used to analyze the effect of birth weight on preweaning survival and a series of mixed models were used to analyze the effect of birth weight (n = 7,654) group on weights recorded at: weaning (n = 6,777), nursery exit (n = 4,805), and finishing exit (n = 1,417); hot carcass weight (HCW), and lean percentage (n = 4,572). The effect of growth rate group was defined during suckling (< 225 or ≥ 225 g/d) or the nursery phase (< 424 or ≥ 424 g/d). Preweaning mortality, growth rate, BW, and carcass traits were adjusted to a standard age, and ADG and lean percentage were calculated. Results of segmented regression analysis showed that the slope of preweaning mortality on birth weights below 0.99 kg differed (P < 0.05) from the slope of preweaning mortality regressed on birth weights above 0.99 kg. The mixed model analyses showed a positive linear effect (P < 0.05) of BiW and quadratic effect (P < 0.05) of sow parity on age-adjusted finishing weight (FiW), HCW, and lean percentage. The positive influences of increasing BiW were greater (P < 0.05) in age-adjusted FiW and HCW for pigs with slow suckling growth rate compared with those with fast suckling growth rate. Pigs with fast nursery growth rate had greater (P < 0.05) age-adjusted FiW and HCW compared with the slow growing nursery contemporaries. In conclusion, piglets born weighing less than 1 kg were at a higher risk of preweaning mortality than piglets born weighing 1 kg or greater. Light BiW pigs, but not heavy BiW pigs, may lose compensatory growth capability if growth rate during the suckling phase is below the average level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3313-3325
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved.


  • birth weight
  • carcass characteristics
  • early phase growth
  • growth performance
  • pigs
  • Litter Size
  • Swine/growth & development
  • Weaning
  • Male
  • Survival Rate
  • Pregnancy
  • Birth Weight
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Weight Gain
  • Parity

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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