Baby pigs

AMES, Iowa — A research project led by the Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State University seeks to increase pork producers’ profits by improving the survivability of their animals.

Jason Ross, professor in animal science and director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State, will lead the project that includes scientists from Iowa State, Kansas State University and Purdue University. The National Pork Board and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) are providing nearly $2 million for the five-year study, according to a university news release.

Across the pork industry, an estimated 30 to 35 percent of pigs born die before reaching the market, creating significant economic losses for farmers. Research indicates that mortality rates across all phases of production have been increasing, presenting a major challenge to animal wellbeing and sustainability.

An interdisciplinary team of nutritionists, physiologists, veterinarians, wellbeing and behavior experts, geneticists, toxicologists and economists will examine the causes of mortality occurring on commercial swine farms.

“We know that improving survivability will increase the efficiency and environmental sustainability of the whole industry,” said Tim Kurt, FFAR’s scientific program director, “but solutions need to be economically feasible.”

“Increasing sow and piglet survivability is one of the most intractable issues facing the pork industry. While this is a clear animal welfare problem, it is also one of the most important productivity and economic issue for producers,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director.

The project seeks a full understanding of the biological mechanisms that limit pig and sow survivability, how they interact and how they can be effectively improved.

The project’s overarching goal is to improve swine survivability by 1 percent or more each year. Increasing the wean-to-finish survival of animals by 1 percent would represent an estimated gain in productivity of approximately 1.2 million pigs a year for the nation’s swine industry.