CLAY CENTER, Neb. – US Department of Agriculture scientists have developed a method to predict a newborn piglet’s nursing ability and likelihood of mortality.

Researchers have developed a measuring technique called the “immunocrit,” which determines whether piglets receive adequate colostrum from the sow. Colostrum, which is produced by the sow after giving birth, contains antibodies that help build immunity against viruses and bacteria. Piglets that don’t receive enough colostrum within 24 hours after birth usually die.

The immunocrit measures serum antibodies in blood samples from newborn piglets, and the results indicate a newborn piglet’s mortality and nursing ability, according to physiologist Jeffrey Vallet of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Clay Center, Neb. The measurement also reflects a sow’s ability to produce colostrum.

Results are obtained quickly, and this allows producers to identify piglets that are at risk of mortality. Producers can intervene if a piglet has not eaten or had a chance to nurse. The immunocrit, which also works with cattle, can be used by swine producers to test management practices such as split suckling, according to Vallet.