Unraveling the actual background of second litter syndrome in pigs: based on Large White data

Ewa Sell-Kubiak*, Egbert Frank Knol, Herman Arend Mulder, Marcin Pszczola

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Second litter syndrome (SLS) in sows is when fertility performance is lower in the second parity than in the first parity. The causes of SLS have been associated with lactation weight loss, premature first insemination, short lactation length, short weaning to insemination interval, season, and farm of farrowing. There is little known about the genetic background of SLS or if it is a real biological problem or just a statistical issue. Thus, we aimed to evaluate risk factors, investigate genetic background of SLS, and estimate the probability of SLS existing due to the statistical properties of the trait. The records of 246 799 litters (total number born, TNB) from 46 218 Large White sows were used. A total of 15 398 sows had SLS. Two traits were defined: first a binominal trait if a sow had SLS or not (biSLS) and second a continuous trait (Range) created by subtracting the total number of piglets born in the first parity (TNB1) from the piglets born in the second parity (TNB2). Lactation length, farm, and season of the farrowing had significant effects on SLS traits when tested as fixed effects in the genetic model. These effects are farm management-related factors. The age at first insemination and weaning to insemination interval were significant only for other reproduction traits (e.g., TNB1, TNB2, litter weight in parity 1 and 2). The heritability of biSLS was 0.05 (on observed scale), whereas heritability of Range was 0.03. To verify the existence of SLS data with records of 50 000 sows and 9 parities was simulated. The simulations showed that the average expected frequency of SLS across all the parities was 0.49 (±0.05) while the observed frequency in the actual data was 0.46 (±0.04). We compared this to SLS frequencies in 67 farms and only 2 farms had more piglets born in the first parity compared to the second. Therefore, on the individual sow level SLS is likely due to statistical properties of the trait, whereas on the farm level SLS is likely due to farm management. Thus, SLS should not be considered an abnormality nor a syndrome if on average the herd litter size in parity 2 is larger than in parity 1.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100033
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Dec 2020


  • Fertility
  • Reproduction traits
  • Simulation
  • Trait's distribution
  • Trait's genetics

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