February 2015: Pig industry research from around the world

The internet is a wonderful tool for keeping up with developments in our industry. As well as picking up news stories from here in Britain, there’s a whole world of pig production that’s working towards the same goals we are – high-welfare, efficiently-produced pork – and regularly produces interesting research. This month I thought I’d share a couple of recent examples.

The first is a study from Australia, where PhD student Alice Weaver investigated whether oestrus could be stimulated in sows while they were still feeding their piglets so they could be mated before weaning.

Traditionally, weaning takes place at 24 days in Australia to maximise the number of litters a sow can produce each year, but this is recognised to disadvantage the smaller piglets.

Ms Weaver’s research, at the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, showed that providing sows with daily boar contact from as early as seven days after giving birth was sufficient to stimulate oestrus, regardless of whether they were still suckling a litter or not.

The suggestion is that piglets should be allowed to suckle for up to 30 days, but that the sow is still served in time to produce the average 2.4 litters/year the industry targets.

Research is now continuing to discover if this strategy has any negative impacts on the litter conceived during lactation.

The second study comes from Iowa State University in the US, where Jessica Bates and colleagues investigated the efficacy of delivering pain control to piglets via their mother’s milk.

Oral meloxicam was administered to sows post-farrowing to investigate a novel route of providing analgesia to piglets via translactational drug transfer.

Physiologic indicators of piglet pain were analysed to determine the effects on pain control, and an effective meloxicam dosage was reached in four out of five sow litters tested with no adverse clinical effects.

The study demonstrated the successful transfer of meloxicam (a dose of 30mg/kg was given to the sows for three consecutive days) to the piglets via sow’s milk, and the researchers say the results provide the foundation for future research into refining a novel, efficacious and practical method of providing analgesia to piglets.

This study shows just how much pig welfare has grown as an issue in the US in recent years, and the researchers acknowledge that a major driving force for their work was increasing concern from consumers about the well-being and quality of life of animals raised for food. In particular, the management of pain associated with routine animal husbandry practices such as castration and tail docking in piglets has regularly come under the spotlight.

The ability to easily deliver analgesia to piglets with minimal stress and without injections would be a major benefit to both the pigs and stockmen.

> Graeme Kirk has been editor of Pig World since March 2013. Born into a farming family in South-west Scotland, he’s been an agricultural journalist for nearly 30 years

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