Summary: The effect of piglet vitality, birth order, and blood lactate on the piglet growth performances and preweaning survival

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week’s Science Page is a summary of research done by Md Karim Uddin, Shah Hasan, Olli Peltoniemi, and Claudio Oliviero of the University of Helsinki in Helsinki, Finland. The authors looked at the effect of several factors, including birth order, on piglet growth performances and preweaning survival rates.

Main Points:

  • Higher-vitality piglets had higher colostrum intake, higher body weight at birth and at weaning, and higher average daily gain at weaning than low-vitality piglets. 
  • Early-born piglets had high vitality and consumed a higher amount of colostrum than those born later. 
  • Piglets with high umbilical cord blood-lactate levels had a lower birthweight, showed less vitality, and consumed a lower amount of colostrum than did those with low umbilical cord blood lactate.


Litter size continues to increase in modern pig production. Due to large litter size and increased farrowing duration, newborn piglets, during parturition, can suffer from asphyxiation. This alters their blood energy parameters and can contribute to their reduced vitality (i.e., strength and vigor) at birth. However, studies exploring the effects of piglet vitality on piglet performance and survival are scarce. Therefore, this study aimed to evaluate the effects of vitality score, piglets’ umbilical cord blood lactate, glucose, and butyrate, and birth order on growth performance and the preweaning mortality.

Materials and Methods

The experiment was conducted from April, 2020 to June, 2020, on a commercial pig farm in Kauhava, Finland. This study included 140 piglets from 10 sows. None of the sows included in the study were induced to farrow. The average farrowing duration was 354.6 ± 191.89 min (mean ± standard deviation), and obstetrical intervention was applied in one sow when the birth interval exceeded 1 h. In this study, the average total piglets born was 14.0 ± 2.54 piglets per sow, with no stillbirth occurrences. 

Piglet vitality was visually assessed immediately after birth and measured on a vitality scale (VS) described by Baxter et al. (2008). The VS of 0 = When there is no movement, no breathing after 15 seconds , stillbirth (VS0, dead piglets); 1 = No movement within 15 seconds but piglet was breathing or attempting to breathe (VS1 piglet); 2 = When piglet showed little movement within 15 seconds, breathing or attempting to breathe (VS2 piglets); and 3 = When piglet had good movement, good breathing, and piglet attempted to stand within 15 seconds (VS3 piglet). Umbilical cord blood was collected from the intact or slightly broken umbilical cord after vitality score assessment. In other cases, the required amount of blood (3–4 drops) was collected by pressing the cord backwards with two fingertips for quick strip testing of blood glucose, lactate, and butyrate. After birth, the piglets were marked in different birth-order groups (BOG, BOG1 = 1–5, BOG2 = 6–10, BOG3 = 11–15, and BOG4 = 16–20), and were weighed. After 24 h from the first piglet’s birth, piglets were again weighed to calculate their colostrum intake. Other piglet parameters recorded were weight at weaning, average daily gain (ADG) from birth to weaning, and pre-weaning mortality rate. Statistical analyses were conducted in STATA 17. 

Results and Discussion

No piglets presented with VS0 and VS3. VS2 piglets had higher body weight at birth, umbilical cord blood glucose and butyrate levels, colostrum consumption, weaning body weight, and ADG than VS1 piglets (p < 0.01), but there was no significant difference in preweaning mortality (p > 0.05). Umbilical cord lactate negatively correlated with vitality, colostrum intake, and growth before weaning. Among the four birth-order groups (BOGs), piglets born earlier during parturition had a higher mean vitality score than those born later. BOG1 and BOG2 had significantly higher colostrum intake (p < 0.05) than BOG3 and BOG4.

In this study, VS1 consumed about 135 g less colostrum than VS2. This difference may mean that the more vigorous VS2 piglets could more easily reach the udder and produce higher pressure during suckling, allowing them to consume more colostrum than the less vigorous VS1 piglets. In addition, VS2 piglets had higher birth weights, body weight, and ADG at weaning than VS1 piglets. This may be due to high-vitality piglets consuming a greater amount of colostrum, providing more growth metabolites and immunomodulators, which facilitate their intestinal development and consequently bodily growth. Results of this study imply that the increased farrowing duration of hyper-prolific sows leads to the risk during parturition, of piglet asphyxiation. This prolonged asphyxiation raises lactate production, which lowers piglet vitality in the extrauterine environment. Being unable to consume adequate colostrum, these piglets of less vitality have reduced transfer of immunoglobulin and growth factors from their mother, which affects production performance and survival. 


Changes in piglets’ body weight, colostrum intake, and umbilical cord lactate are associated with piglet vitality and asphyxiation during farrowing. In addition, asphyxiation induced higher umbilical cord lactate may serve as an indicator of low vitality and low colostrum consumption. 


Baxter, E. M., S. Jarvis, R. B. D’eath, D. W. Ross, S. K. Robson, M. Farish, I. M. Nevison, A. B. Lawrence, and S. A. Edwards. “Investigating the behavioural and physiological indicators of neonatal survival in pigs.” Theriogenology 69, no. 6 (2008): 773-783.

The entire publication is available at 10.1186/s40813-022-00299-2

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