Piglet Management- Birth to warning part B
Iron is necessary to prevent anemia in piglets. Iron deficiency anemia develops rapidly in nursing piglets because of low iron reserves in the newborn piglet, the low iron in sow’s colostrum and milk, the lack of contact with iron in the soil, and the rapid growth rate of piglets. With no access to soil, iron deficiency anemia may result within 7-10 days after birth.
Iron can be administered either by injection or orally. Injection is preferred because iron given orally is not as well absorbed by piglets, thus reducing the quantity of iron that reaches critical tissues. Oral iron also may predispose some piglets to enteric disease (scour) problems, because iron is a necessary nutrient for the growth of microorganisms in the piglet’s digestive tract. In addition, oral iron may not be absorbed in piglets with diarrhea.
Administer iron to piglets while they are one to three days old. Give piglets 200mg of iron either as one injection while they are one to three days old or in two-100 mg injections—one between one and three days of age and again at weaning. Injectable iron products are available in both the 100 and 200mg of iron/ml concentrations. Read the label carefully to learn the iron concentration of the product you are using. Do not overdose, as too much iron can be toxic.
Using a clean syringe, withdraw iron solution from its container, using a 14 or 16 gauge (large diameter) needle which is left inserted in bottle. The idea is to avoid using a contaminated needle to draw iron from the bottle. Otherwise, foreign matter and pathogens will likely be introduced into the bottle. Some producers decide to change needles after they have finished giving iron injections to each litter. In this case, it is not necessary to use a different needle to draw iron from the bottle.
After filling the syringe, use an 18-20 gauge, 5/8 to 1/2 inch needle to inject iron into the piglet’s muscle. If there are air bubbles in the syringe, point the needle up, tap the syringe and push the air out. Inject iron into the neck muscle just off the midline (Figure 7). Iron should not be injected into the ham. The injection should be given in the neck because of possible sciatic nerve damage, scarring, and also, because of residual iron stain in the carcass of market hogs if it is given in the ham. If the injection site is dirty, wipe it clean with an antiseptic before injecting. Be careful not to inject into the spinal area.
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Injecting. Be careful not to inject into the spinal area. Pull or roll back the skin with your finger or bend the piglet’s neck sideways prior to inserting the needle. Insert the needle perpendicular to site and inject. If you have pulled or rolled the skin back or bent the piglet’s neck to tighten the skin properly, when the needle is withdrawn, the skin will help seal the injection site and runback will be minimal. Consider placing a finger on the site momentarily to help prevent or reduce runback if necessary. Be sure to inject the iron into the muscle, not just beneath the skin.
For convenience, some producers mix various injectables together with iron and inject the solution into piglets while they are processed. This practice is not recommended unless prescribed by a veterinarian, because it is possible that the products could be rendered ineffective and possibly toxic to piglets.
In some pork producing operations, it is important that piglets be permanently identified at birth. Options for permanent identification included ear notching or tattooing. Ear notching is the more common method. Each piglet must have a unique ear notch or tattoo in seedstock herds because it is a requirement for pedigree and performance records. It is not necessary that each piglet have an individual number in operations where all hogs except replacement gilts are marketed for slaughter. Each litter, or all piglets in a farrowing group, or only gilts to be considered for replacements might be ear notched or tattooed at birth with the same patterns.
The most common ear notching system is shown in Figure 8. It is the identification system required by the purebred swine associations in the U.S. The litter number is notched in the piglet’s right ear and the individual piglet number in the piglet’s left ear. Several modifications of the system exist.
Use a V-ear notcher designed for piglets to ear notch. Some producers use a hole puncher to place a hole in one ear for identification. Firmly hold the ear you are notching and place the portion of the ear you are notching well back into the jaws of the notcher (Figure 9). Notches that are too shallow may fill in, heal over, and be difficult to read. Leave at least one-fourth inch between notches. Do not make notches too close to the tip of the ear, as these can be torn off. When you have notches on both top and bottom of the ear near the tip, position them so that the deep points of the notches are offset from each other. When making notches on top of the ear close to the head, uncurl the ear with your fingers so you can make it deep into the cartilage. Otherwise, it might be unreadable after it heals.
Use tattooing pliers designed for small animals to tattoo piglets. Apply the tattoo to the backside of the ear so it can be read easily as the piglet grows. Be sure to apply even pressure across the entire tattoo area (i.e., avoid the cartilage ribs in the ear). Avoid tattooing piglets with color on their ears, because the tattoo will be hard to read. Green ink seems to work the best.
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Many liveborn piglets die because they starve. Disadvantaged piglets are most affected because they cannot compete well for milk and they are most vulnerable to chilling. Producers can improve their survival rate by giving a supplemental source of nutrients the first few hours of life.
Provide disadvantaged piglets with 10 to 15 ml of milk every six to 12 hours during the first day or two following farrowing. The economic benefit of providing supplemental milk to piglets depends primarily on the preweaning survival rate of piglets in the herd and on the anticipated profit from the piglet. In general, if the average preweaning survival rate of piglets in the herd is over 90% and the market value of the piglets is low, the cost of the extra labor to feed the small ones may not be recovered.
It is critical that the first dose be colostrum, especially if the piglet has not suckled. Colostrum from the dam is best, but obtaining it is time consuming. Commercial milk replacers have proven effective after the piglets receive an adequate dose of colostrum. Some people use products containing medium chain fatty acids (MCT) in lieu of milk, but research results on their effectiveness are mixed. Use a stomach tube or a syringe to give the supplemental milk to the piglets.
Splaylegged piglets appear to be normal except when they attempt to stand, their hind legs (and sometimes front legs) extend sideways. The condition appears to be a congenital disease with a higher incidence in litters with a 113 day or shorter gestation period. Also, a slippery floor in the farrowing quarters can be an important predisposing factor. Nutrition does not appear to play a role. The mortality rate in piglets where only the back legs are splayed can be reduced by taping the legs soon after birth to prevent them from extending sideways. Piglets that are splayed in both their front and back legs often are not worth trying to save. Consider euthanizing them.
Use either elastic wrapping tape, adhesive tape, or duct tape. Obtain elastic tape from medical supply stores or veterinary offices and adhesive tape from sporting goods store or pharmacies. Cut the tape in ½ to 3/4 inch strips. Apply tape to the rear legs allowing a two-inch gap between legs so the piglet can stand properly. Avoid wrapping the tape too tightly as to restrict circulation of blood and be sure to remove the tape a few days later.
Castration, the surgical removal of the two testicles, is a routine management practice for male piglets destined for slaughter. The testicles produce sperm and the male hormone, testosterone. Pork from boars, or uncastrated male piglets at slaughter weight, may have an odor during cooking that is very offensive to many people. This is called a “boar odor” or a “boar taint”.
There are various ways to castrate piglets. The position of the animal during surgery and the method and degree of restraint are dictated by the age and size of the animal. The best time to castrate a piglet is when it is four to 14 days of age. Young piglets are easier to hold or restrain, bleed less from surgery, and have antibody protection from the sow’s colostrum and milk. Piglets can be successfully castrated when they are less than four days old; however, one of the major disadvantages of castrating very young piglets is that scrotal hernias are more difficult to detect and the testicles may not have descended.
Examine each piglet carefully before castrating to identify those with a scrotal hernia. A piglet with a scrotal hernia has a loop of intestine in its scrotum. Hold the piglet upright so the scrotum is down to see if the scrotum is uniform in size, or hold the piglet with its head down and squeeze the back legs together to lift the testicles. If there is an enlargement in one or both halves of the scrotum, the piglet probably has a hernia. Do not castrate the piglet unless you are trained to repair hernias. The piglet’s intestines will be forced through the incision. Sometimes the testicle is removed before a scrotal hernia is discovered. If this happens, the herniation must be repaired by suturing immediately. Most scrotal hernias are genetic in origin. Do not keep replacement animals from any litter in which one or more piglets was herniated.
If one or both testicles are not found, the piglet may be a cryptorchid. This means that the testicle(s) failed to descend through the inguinal canal from the abdomen during development. When this condition is noticed, ear notch or mark the piglet and make a record of it. Often, the testicle(s) will descend to a normal position as the piglet grows. The piglet should be castrated after the testicle presents itself. If one testicle has descended at the time of castration, it should be removed. Use either a surgical knife or side cutter to castrate. The surgical knife can be either a #12 hooked blade or straight blade. The instrument of choice must be sharp and disinfected. If the scrotum is dirty, clean it and surrounding area with a cotton swab soaked in a mild disinfectant.
Castration Methods for One Person Using a Knife
Hold the piglet by both hind legs with its head down. Push up on both testicles and make an incision through the skin toward the tail. Be sure to cut low in the scrotal sac to ensure good drainage. It does not matter if you cut through the white membrane or not. Pop the testicles through the incision and pull on them slightly. Pull each testicle out pressing your thumb against the pelvis of the piglet. Use of your thumb is very important to ensure the cord will break off at the point of your thumb and not from deeper inside the piglet’s body. Otherwise, you may cause a hernia.
Alternatively, place the piglet’s head between your legs after you have made the incisions as described above, grab each testicle and cut the cord close to the incision with a scraping motion. Also, cut any cord or tissue protruding from the incision and spray the wound with an antiseptic.
Castration Method for One Person Using Side Cutters
This technique is best performed on piglets between four and 10 days of age. There is little or no bleeding with this method. Hold the piglet between your legs with the belly outward. Use your index finger, or whichever is comfortable to use, to push up on one testicle to make it more pronounced. The resulting fold of skin is where the incision is made. Position disinfected side cutters about two thirds of the way into the fold and make a cut directly through the scrotal tissue (right of the midline). Make a similar incision through the scrotal tissue, but to the left of the midline. Pop the testicles out through the incisions by pinching your thumb and index finger together.
Press very firmly with your index finger against the pelvis of the piglet in front of the scrotum and pull the testicles out with the side cutters (Figure 11c). Use of your index finger is very important to ensure the cord will break off at the point of your index finger and not from deeper inside the piglet’s body. Otherwise, you may cause a hernia. Care is taken to avoid cutting through the cords beneath the testicle. Remove any loose cord tissue left outside the incision. Nothing but the disinfected side cutters touches the exposed tissue. Spray the wound with an antiseptic.
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Castration Method for Two People Using a Knife
One person holds the piglet by the rear legs while another does the castrating. With one hand, tighten the skin over the scrotum to help expose the testicle and the site for the incision. With the castration knife, make two incisions about as long as the testicles near the center of each. Cut deeply enough to go through the outside body skin. It does not matter whether you cut through the white membrane (tunica vaginalis), which surrounds the testicle, or not. Squeeze, or pop, the testicles through the incision. Enlarge the incision slightly at the end closest to the tail if the testicle will not pop out.
Pull out the end of the testicle which is toward the tail at a right angle to the length of the body and cut the cord close to the incision. Do not pull straight up on the testicle. Repeat the procedure for the second testicle. Spray the wound with an antiseptic.
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Observe castrated animals for excess bleeding or the presence of tissue or intestines (hernia). Apply pressure to the wound for about two minutes to stop any bleeding. Cut off any cord that may be protruding from the incision as this may serve as a wick for infection, but make sure it is not intestine.
If intestines protrude and they are black or torn, it is usually best to euthanize the piglet. If the problem was recognized promptly after the intestines came out, it is possible to save the piglet. First, gently clean the intestines with clean, warm water containing a surgical disinfectant, and push them back through the opening holding the piglet’s head down by its rear legs. Close up by suturing the tunica vaginalis (white membrane which surrounds the testicle). If a skilled professional is not available to suture the tunica vaginalis, simply suture the castration incision closed to allow time for a skilled surgeon to repair the hernia properly a few hours later. If a skilled surgeon is not available in a few hours, the piglet should be euthanized. It is much easier to replace the intestines if the tunica vaginalis covering the testicle is not removed during castration. Administer an antibiotic after surgery.
Proper equipment care will help ensure that piglets will be processed with minimal discomfort and complications from infection. After each use, place equipment such as side cutters and ear notchers in a bowl of nonirritating disinfectant. Do this rather than laying equipment on the cart or platform after they have been used to process each piglet. Change the disinfectant after about every ten litters. Before moving to another farrowing room to process, clean and disinfect the cart and equipment. Also, check needles to ensure they are not bent or blunt on the end. Replace needles after they have been used on 30-50 piglets or earlier if damaged. Dispose of needles in a sharps container.
Pork producers who use birth weights as part of their management system can incorporate the weighing into the piglet processing routine. Most piglets are not weighed at birth, but if they are, this should be done first, followed by the rest of the processing. Some producers weigh each piglet and record the sex and weight. Others place the entire litter on the scales and record total litter weight.
We recommend pork producers use production records to identify strengths and weaknesses in the operation. If problems are experienced in the farrowing quarters, these problems will continue to propagate if accurate records are not kept. It is important to realize that reproductive traits are heritable. Record keeping allows superior sows to be identified and retained on the farm. This will lead to successive improvements in lactational performance which should lead to fewer problems in the farrowing quarters. In addition, accurate records provide an important view of the animal caretaker’s job performance. Records help management identify people who are doing a good job (which may be rewarded) and they help identify weak areas that the caretaker can work to improve.
Records kept in the farrowing quarters include: birth date, number of piglets born alive and dead, date and cause of death of piglets, pedigree information, number of piglets weaned, and piglet (or litter) weaning weight. Remarks on anything unusual or wrong with the piglet should be noted as well. In addition, many producers are recording feed intake during lactation. Medications given to animals should be recorded to ensure treatment protocols and withdrawal periods are followed.
Have cards, clipboards, or other recording devices near each farrowing crate or pen. Having the opportunity to record information the moment it is collected or observed ensures accuracy. Always have a pencil or pen in your pocket and also with the equipment used to process piglets. Record data in ink whenever possible and practical. This makes the forms easier to read and ink also withstands the environment of the farrowing quarters better. Also, record data in legible handwriting and make it a habit to write your initials beside the entry if more than one person routinely works in the farrowing quarters.
Daily Piglet Observation
Closely observe each piglet at least twice daily for evidence of adequate milk production by the sow. Careful observation of piglet behavior and body condition is the best method of determining if a sow is milking well. Lactation failure must be treated aggressively and the litter may need to be given supplemental milk as the sow is recovering.
Healthy, well-nourished piglets run around and play, especially when the sow rises to eat. For the first few days of their lives, piglets do little more than eat and sleep. However, in a few days they begin to be active away from the udder. These activities are delayed in piglets that are sick or undernourished. After a successful nursing, piglets will often settle down and sleep. Milk is frequently seen around their mouths.
In the normal sow, milk ejection from the teats starts about one to three minutes following initiation of nursing behavior (which occurs about once each hour in early lactation). Then oxytocin is released and milk letdown occurs. The piglets will nurse steadily for about 30 seconds then gradually quit. Piglets nursing a sow with lactation failure will spend more time at the udder, including fighting, and will be less content. If the piglets’ needle teeth have not been clipped, they can inflict severe damage to the faces and snouts of litter mates and sometimes to the sow’s udder.
Well-nourished piglets have tight, shiny skin and a thrifty look, i.e., “bloom”. Piglets go from having less than 1% body fat at birth to about 10% by 10 days of age. Much of that fat is stored just under the skin. It is that rapid accumulation of subcutaneous fat that gives piglets tight, shiny skin and a thrifty look. Piglets that are not performing well, have loose skin, look depressed, and have a “hairy” appearance.
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