Preweaning mortality in group-housed lactating sows: Hormonal differences between high risk and low risk sows

C. E. Phillips, C. Farmer, J. E. Anderson, L. J. Johnston, G. C. Shurson, J. Deen, D. H. Keisler, A. M. Conner, Y. Z. Li

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6 Scopus citations


This study used an endocrinological approach to explain the differences between sows that have higher vs. lower preweaning mortality in a group-farrowing system. The association between sows that had 2 or more piglets die within the first 72 h postfarrowing (high risk) or sows that had 1 or no piglets die within the first 72 h postfarrowing (low risk) with changes in serum hormone concentrations was investigated. Multiparous sows (n = 63; parity 2 to 7) from 4 contemporary breeding groups, each mated within a week, were used. Sows were housed in a group-farrowing system where 8 sows farrowed in individual pens and shared a communal feeding and dunging area in each room. Reproductive performance, including total born, born alive, and stillborn per litter, individual weight of piglets at birth and weaning (at 5 wk postfarrowing), litter size at weaning, preweaning mortality of piglets, and sow BW before farrowing and after weaning, were recorded for all sows. Of these sows, 14 sows from 2 breeding groups were selected randomly for blood sampling through an indwelling ear vein catheter. A blood sample was collected daily from each sow 2 d prefarrowing through 2 d postfarrowing. Serum sam-ples were analyzed for prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol, and urocortin concentrations using RIA. Among the 14 sows, 7 sows lost 2 or more piglets during the frst 72 h after farrowing and were classifed as high risk sows, and the other 7 sows lost 0 or 1 piglet during the same period and were classifed as low risk sows. Catheters in 11 sows (5 high risk sows and 6 low risk sows) remained functional for the entire sampling period. Results indicate that high risk sows farrowed larger litters (live born = 13.8 ± 0.50 vs. 11.3 ± 0.48 piglets; P = 0.03) with lighter piglets (1.4 ± 0.04 vs. 1.7 ± 0.05 kg; P < 0.001) compared with low risk sows. In addition, high risk sows had greater oxytocin concentrations (0.09 vs. 0.07 ng/mL; SE = 0.02, P = 0.01), which might be associated with larger litters farrowed, compared with low risk sows. There were no differences between high risk and low risk sows (P > 0.30) in terms of serum prolactin, cortisol, or urocortin concentrations. These results suggest that litter size and birth weight of piglets played an important role in pre-weaning mortality of piglets and hormone concentrations in sows were not associated with piglet mortality in the group-farrowing system used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2603-2611
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Group farrowing
  • Maternal hormones
  • Piglet mortality
  • Sow


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