To help increase the survival of newborn piglets, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have developed a new method that predicts animals' mortality and nursing ability.

Physiologist Jeffrey Vallet and his colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center call the measuring technique the "immunocrit," which determines whether preweaning piglets receive adequate colostrum from the sow. The immunocrit measures newborn piglet serum immunoglobulin in blood samples. These measurements indicate piglets' mortality and nursing ability, according to Vallet, who is also the research leader of the research center’s reproduction unit. Immunocrit results also show that the average measurement of piglets in a litter reflects the sow's ability to produce colostrum. 

In addition, scientists have found a connection between immunocrit measurements, piglets' weight and mortality. Pigs that weighed more were more likely to survive the challenge of not getting colostrum within the critical timeframe, as opposed to those that weighed less, said the researchers. 

Because test results are obtained so quickly, it is possible to identify compromised piglets while they're still alive, according to Vallet. The immunocrit recognizes piglets within a litter that have not eaten or had the chance to nurse. This provides an opportunity to save at-risk piglets by using intervention strategies.