Automatic monitoring of the health of neonates and sows during the peri-partum period


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Objectives, impacts and benefits

Modern pig breeding programs have resulted in super-prolific sows. Finland has seen a dramatic increase in total born per litter of four piglets over the last ten years, resulting in an average of 16.3 total born piglets per litter. A large litter size has been associated with increased stillborn rate, increased mortality rates of neonatal piglets, increased proportion of piglets being born small and weak and not receiving the minimal amount of colostrum.

Piglet mortality is a problem with complex and multifactorial aetiology. Proper peri- and postpartum management of the sow and the piglets becomes increasingly important and absolutely necessary to reduce the incidence of piglet mortality. There are some obvious areas within the farrowing unit where a stockperson can have positive influence on piglet mortality. Failure to assist weak piglets with colostrum intake or maintaining thermoregulation, and failure to intervene when a sow experiences birth complications will inevitably result in piglet losses. On the other hand, interventions performed by stockpeople are often done on a routine basis and not on an evidence-based approach. This means that performed interventions are often redundant and disturb the sows and piglets unnecessarily leading to increased restlessness and nervousness in the animals. In addition, management of parturient sows and her offspring is very labor-intensive and expensive and there an increasing societal focus on the ethical and welfare issues in pig reproduction. Therefore, further research in reduction in piglet survival most focus on improving management of parturient sows and meeting economic and societal goals.

The objective of this proposed study is to develop an automated monitoring system for sows and piglets at parturition. An automated monitoring system can decrease the need of constant supervision by stockpersons and will lead from routine to evidence-based parturition management with a positive effect on piglet survival and health of the sow. The aim is that the automated monitoring system will constantly collect data about maternal behavior, piglet behavior, farrowing process, and the number, size, vitality and temperature of the piglets as well as position of the piglets within in the pen and the time needed to reach the udder. The system can be used to give information to the farmer if certain recorded parameters deviate from normality and give suggestions about possible interventions.