Unlocking the secrets of maternal instinct with advanced monitoring

Topigs Norsvin has initiated several projects to improve the survival rate of piglets during lactation, while at the same time improving the sow’s welfare. Currently, sows are usually kept in crates to avoid them lying on the piglets. However, there are individual differences in the occurrence of crushing events. Therefore, the goal of Topigs Norsvin is to identify the characteristics of sows that exhibit better maternal instincts. An important step in opening opportunities for free farrowing.

The general goal is to enhance the survival of piglets. Lisette van der Zande, Researcher at Topigs Norsvin, focuses her efforts on the installment of monitoring cameras and the subsequent data gathering at Innova Canada. She explains:

“We will gather large datasets on maternal behavior during the lactation period in the free farrowing housing system that will be installed at our new nucleus Innova Canada. Our aim is to identify the indicators for good maternal behavior and correlate that with the preweaning mortality rate. At the moment we can only measure the total mortality. However this only shows us the final results but doesn’t tell us the possible causes. In due course we will utilize this data to select sows with better maternal instincts, effectively increasing the genetic progress and robustness of our TN70 sows. To gather these data sets, 40 cameras will be installed in free farrowing pens. Because watching hundreds of hours of video of every sow is way too time consuming, our team is searching for a way to automate that process, mainly by creating and using algorithms.”

More than 1000 sows

“The general goal is to enhance the survival of piglets. During monitoring we see sows and piglets as two different entities in the free farrowing crates. Variables we’re focusing on include the frequency the sow will change her posture, the location of the piglets and the distance to their mother, or signals the sow gives to her piglets before laying down to suckle.

“Before any definitive conclusions can be drawn, we need data of more than 1000 sows. This means gathering data for a year minimum. As soon as we know what phenotype we’re looking for, implementation of this information in our selection process can go fast. However, at Topigs Norsvin we always strive to improve, which is why we want to build on this monitoring system and our algorithms. For example, there is a lot to gain by researching the correlation between SINS (Swine Inflammation and Necrosis Syndrome) in piglets and tail biting, and natural nestbuilding instincts in sows. Enabling us to better our genetics in combination with animal welfare.”

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