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Licentiate thesis, 2018

Impact of litter size on sow health and welfare

Andersson, Emma


Genetic improvement of litter size has been the main breeding goal in piglet production during the last decades, resulting in a steady increase in total number of born piglets in each litter both in Sweden and in other European countries. It has been suggested that large litters pose a major welfare problem for sows and piglets. However, there is a lack of recent studies investigating the impact of litter size on the health and welfare of sows. Therefore the objective of this thesis was to investigate the association between litter sizes and sow health and welfare. The two studies included in this thesis were performed as observational studies and investigated by retrospective analysis of available pig production data. The first study investigated the association between litter sizes and sow stayability, and the second study the association between litter size and medical treatment of sows during farrowing and lactation. The final dataset used in the first study included a study population of 38 878 sows in 24 herds and the final dataset in the second study included observations from 1 947 litters from 655 sows. Associations between litter size and sow health and welfare was found. There was an association between litter size and stayability of the sow, as well as association between litter size and medical treatment of the sow. The results from both studies imply that sows with medium sized litters have a better lifetime production than sows with very small or large litters. Piglet producers should therefore pay even more attention to prophylactic management of sows during gestation and lactation. In planning of breeding strategies and annual removal of sows, piglet producers should also aim for keeping sows giving birth to a medium-sized litter, with approximately 12 to 14 piglets born in total in their breeding program, as this seems to improve sows’ stayability and decreasing the risk of unplanned removal which would favour health and welfare of both sow and piglets.


stayability; removal reason; piglet production; oxytocin; antibiotics

Published in

Avhandling (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa)
2018, number: 7
ISBN: 978-91-576-9600-7, eISBN: 978-91-576-9600-7
Publisher: Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Andersson, Emma
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science

URI (permanent link to this page)