Effect of within-litter birth weight variation after cross-fostering on piglet preweaning growth and mortality

Katherine D. Vande Pol, Rafael O. Bautista, Heath Harper, Caleb M. Shull, Catherine B. Brown, Michael Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cross-fostering is commonly used in commercial swine production to equalize litter sizes and/or adjust piglet birth weights within litters. However, there is limited published information on optimum cross-fostering procedures. This study evaluated the effects of within-litter birth weight variation after cross-fostering (using litters of 14 piglets) on piglet preweaning mortality (PWM) and weaning weight (WW). An RCBD was used (blocking factors were day of farrowing and sow parity, body condition score, and functional teat number) with an incomplete factorial arrangement of the following two treatments: 1) birth weight category (BWC): light (<1.0 kg), medium (1.0 to 1.5 kg), or heavy (1.5 to 2.0 kg); 2) litter composition: uniform, all piglets in the litter of the same BWC [uniform light (14 light piglets); uniform medium (14 medium piglets); uniform heavy (14 heavy piglets)]; mixed, piglets in the litter of two or more BWC [L+M (seven light and seven medium piglets); M+H (seven medium and seven heavy piglets); L+M+H (three light, six medium, and five heavy piglets)]. Piglets were weighed at 24 h after birth and randomly allotted to litter composition treatment from within BWC; all piglets were cross-fostered. There were 47 blocks of six litters (total 282 litters and 3,948 piglets). Weaning weights were collected at 18.7 ± 0.64 d of age; all PWM was recorded. Individual piglet WW and PWM data were analyzed using PROC MIXED and PROC GLIMMIX of SAS, respectively; models included fixed effects of BWC, litter composition, and the interaction, and random effects of sow within the block. There was litter composition by BWC interactions (P ≤ 0.05) for WW and PWM. Within each BWC, WW generally increased and PWM generally decreased as littermate weight decreased. For example, WW was greatest (P ≤ 0.05) for light piglets in uniform light litters, for medium piglets in L+M litters, and for heavy piglets in L+M+H litters. Preweaning mortality was lowest (P ≤ 0.05) for medium piglets in L+M litters, and for heavy piglets in L+M+H litters; however, litter composition had no effect (P > 0.05) on PWM of light piglets. In conclusion, increasing the average birth weight of littermates after cross-fostering generally decreased WW and increased PWM for piglets of all birth weight categories. This implies that the optimum approach to cross-fostering that maximizes piglet preweaning growth and survival is likely to vary depending on the birth weight distribution of the population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbertxab039
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalTranslational Animal Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • birth weight
  • cross-fostering
  • piglet
  • preweaning mortality
  • weaning weight
  • within-litter birth weight variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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