By Anne-Laure Ledoux (Global Swine Category Manager)

When we talk about welfare in farming, we immediately, and rightly, think about animal welfare and proper living conditions for livestock animals. Concerning welfare, no one can deny the tremendous progress made during the last few years to support animal welfare in swine. Less common to consider is the well-being of the farmer and the animal caretakers. Improving the diet of sows and piglets can lead to an overall increase in the well-being of both animals and people.

For people in charge of rearing animals, especially swine, one of the main stress factors is found in the farrowing house. Birth and body conditions of the piglets, vitality, and health status at birth and until weaning are major concerns for the farm staff entering the maternity rooms each and every morning.
Many factors can degrade piglets’ health status, which will not only lower the number of piglets weaned per sow but also add worry to the caretakers. Ultimately, this added stress and loss of production will negatively impact the profitability of the farm. Additionally, remember that some factors—such as embryo viability or mobilization of the immune capacities of sows—are triggered before birth. Therefore, it is important to consider investments in both gestation and lactation feeds to positively impact those critical factors.

In most operations, health expenses are assigned to the veterinarian item of farm accounting, expenses here are seen as responsive. Meanwhile, any investment made in feed falls into the “feed” category. Both categories impact the final line of production costs. In the context of expensive feed—as is experienced today—the question of investing more in premium feed can logically be challenged; indeed, this economic topic is stressful for farmers. Nevertheless, studies have shown that specific functional feed ingredients can, in the long term, bring real financial benefits and—by reducing health issues—provide serenity to the caretakers. A final benefit is the time-savings for proactive tasks instead of time-consuming reactions to solve performance issues.

Do not be infected by a potential pathogen

Among the various aggressors to piglets in maternity houses, there is Streptococcus suis. Many animals are healthy carriers of this bacteria and will not show any signs of sickness or even contamination. Unfortunately, in case of a lesion (even of low severity), S. suis is an opportunistic contaminate and will multiply and spread between animals to cause clinical signs such as arthritis, meningitis, and even insidious mortality.

As the pathogen resides in the sow, acting upstream (as early as gestation) is important to control the disease. Proper cleaning of the animals and premium health management are obviously the basis for prevention. However, farmers know exemplary cleaning and disinfection are sometimes not enough, especially when the targeted germ is already present inside the animals. It has been shown that the Streptococcus genus is present in a sow’s saliva and that S. suis is often the most represented (Murase et al., 2019).

Proportion of Streptococcus sp. and S. suis amongst the Streptoccus sp. in saliva of pigs at different stages

Figure 1: Prevalence of Streptococcus sp. and S. suis in saliva of pigs at various stages (adapted from Murase et al., 2019)

Obtain the best care from your mother

Colostrum intake is a critical time in the life of young piglets with a long-lasting impact since—due to epitheliochorial placentation, antibodies and immune cells cannot cross the placental barrier—piglets are born without active immune protection.

Ensuring the well-being of piglets means allowing them to express their natural physiological behavior with their mother. This means helping the mother to produce a sufficient quantity and quality colostrum. However, hyper-prolificacy brings new challenges to the sow as producing and providing enough nutritional and immunologic colostrum to each of her young is a challenge. Indeed, it is well known that the quantity of colostrum produced is not fully correlated with litter size (Decaluwé et al., 2014).

At birth, a significant amount of time is spent in helping newborns suckle. Typically though, it is not possible to act on insufficient colostrum intake during the birth day. A possible time-saving strategy is to expect low colostrum quality and act by supporting the sow’s feeds, during both the gestation and lactation phases.

Colostrum quality of sows

Figure 1: Providing C-vita during gestation allows the piglets to receive a better qualitatively first feed, which will result in a higher blood immunocrit. This strongly favors the positive capacities to face the first challenges of life

The staff care about the animals

When considering that, after feed costs, labor is the second highest cost item, time is critical. Incidentally,
labor is the first item the farm staff has control over. Well-being for farmers and their employees means
enabling them to be proactive in prevention rather than reacting to events. Since activities in the farrowing house are numerous and critical for the future life of the piglets, finding a time saving solution allows for other valuable long-term tasks; like better gilt and sow impregnation.

Being able to act upstream via the feed is a zero-time investment, as better herd health allows the number of actions (time spent on treatment) to be lower. When most of the herd is performing well, more time is available to dedicate to piglets who require extra attention and care. One example is from a farm in the Netherlands. This farm was achieving great weaning results (over 13 piglets weaned per sow on average). However, a high pressure of S. suis was found in the maternity house with ~30% of piglets showing clinical signs, leading to necessary antibiotic treatments.

PeriodPiglets (n)Liveborn (n/litter)Mortality (%)Weaned / sow
Before C-vita98614.59.713.1
After 5 weeks C-vita 109614.85.013.8

On that farm, the addition of C-vita in the gestation and lactation feeds of sows found that, after 5 weeks of supplementation, there was a decrease of both sick piglets and antibiotic treatments by 7-fold. The results were so obvious for the daily staff that the owner confessed “C-vita is probably here forever, my employees wouldn’t let me stop anyway”. This is where animal and human welfare topics merge harmoniously. Healthy animals lead to serene humans and serene humans bring less anxiety, thus less stress for animals. One could even say happy pigs and happy people are better together.

By taking care of farmers, farmers are better equipped to take care of their sows and piglets. Through appropriate feed supplementation and functional feed ingredients, Agrimprove’s mission is to improve wellbeing for both animals and farmers.