Iowa State University to Lead Research to Increase Pig Survivability

December 6th, 2018

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, the Lloyd L. Anderson 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.

“This project is a great example of industry leadership coming together to address emerging issues through university and industry research partnerships,” Ross said.

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.

“The members of the animal science and welfare committees of the National Pork Board recognize improving pig health, welfare and productivity are keys in extending pig survivability,” said Chris Hostetler, director of animal science for the National Pork Board. “While this project is slated to last five years, it is the vision of the committees that this effort will fundamentally shape the way pigs are raised to provide safe, wholesome pork far into the future.”

An interdisciplinary team of nutritionists, physiologists, veterinarians, well-being and behavior experts, geneticists, toxicologists, extension specialists 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. “FFAR is pleased to be part of this important research that unquestionably will have a multitude of positive impacts.”

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 through effective research and extension activities 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.

The research team objectives include:

  • Evaluate producers’ management attitudes and economics associated with improving survivability in U.S. swine production
  • Identify the causes of mortality on U.S. sow farms to support development and implementation of targeted strategies to maximize survivability
  • Define factors that influence wean-to-finish survivability and implement management strategies based on production-based research
  • Develop national extension, outreach and education resources and strategies to encourage adoption and implementation of management practices to improve survivability in pork production.

Another aspect of the project is the significant effort placed on training future industry leaders. This includes graduate students and staff, but is also expected to employ many undergraduate and veterinary students through internship programs.  

Additional information on the project team, specific efforts and progress can be followed on the project website www.piglivability.org.

About the National Pork Board

The National Pork Board has responsibility for checkoff-funded research, promotion and consumer information projects and for communicating with pork producers and the public. The Pork Checkoff funds national and state programs in advertising, consumer information, retail and foodservice marketing, export market promotion, production improvement, science and technology, swine health, pork safety and sustainability and environmental management. For information on checkoff-funded programs, pork producers can call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at 800-456-7675 or check the internet at www.pork.org.

About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. Learn more: http://www.foundationfar.org  Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

Contacts: 

Jason Ross, Animal Science, Iowa Pork Industry Center, 515-294-8647, jwross@iastate.edu
Ed Adcock, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service, 515-294-2314, edadcock@iastate.edu